How brand investment is key to withstanding industry disruption: Q&A with BMW VP of Brand Strategy

Q&A with BMW Vice President Brand Strategy and Brand Management Bernd Körber

What does your brand look like 10 years from now? Will you be in the same industry? The same markets? Who will your customer be?

The BMW brand stands for sheer driving pleasure or simply: joy. That has always been the promise and purpose of our brand; it is our company’s “why.” It’s not surprising that we are standing by this purpose. After all, joy is highly emotional, universal, and timeless. We are convinced that in ten years from now, we’ll still be promising joy. However, just as the world around us is changing dramatically, we are transforming how joy from its original intent of “joyful driving” to joy of individual mobility, as BMW is evolving from a car company to a tech company and a premium mobility provider.

We see ourselves as an active agent of the huge changes going on in our industry right now. BMW will become a comprehensive brand ecosystem that offers products and services to our customers, while also partnering with other relevant services. These new services and partnerships will also help drive growth in our customer base. Our goal is to provide 100 million customers with our premium mobility solutions by 2025.

How are you incorporating brave, innovative thinking in your marketing/brand strategy?

We need to understand where technology, societal trends, and customers are heading. Our newly established Data Analytics Center helps us track upcoming topics in real time. This is a great resource, but it can’t replace qualitative studies and personal experiences, so we also regularly conduct learning journeys and listen to external impulses.

Right now, we are paying special attention to upcoming customer generations for premium mobility: the Millennials and Post-90s generation. How these consumers interact with mobility, media, and technology differs greatly from preceding generations. However, BMW serves various customer groups and it is therefore essential to maintain a certain balance and adopt a multilevel approach to remain relevant to all our fans and customers.

Our BMW Group corporate strategy is centered on these leading future technologies which we have defined as ACES (Autonomous, Connected, Electrified, Services/Shared). In 2021, the BMW iNext will be the next step towards this future and will bring many new innovations like autonomous driving capabilities and unmatched connectivity into consumer-facing mass production. We want to make sure that whenever people want to experience or find out more about these upcoming technologies, they will come to us first—this is one of our primary goals in our marketing and communications strategies.

Brand marketing has shifted from the right product, place and time to a continuous dialogue that puts the customer in charge. How are advances in AI, data, and Experience Design enabling brand experiences at scale for your brand?

In the past, we’ve been primarily a product and experience brand. Our products have been a key pillar for all our marketing communications. Today, digitalization enables us to build true relationships between our customers and our brand. 80% of our customer interactions already involve digital communication.

Customers move with ease between digital and physical channels and we have to make sure that we are able to seamlessly follow them. We want to make sure that BMW speaks to its customers in a consistent voice. This voice will have relevant messages and a consistent look and feel. It will be supported by digital technology and could also be the actual voice of a digital personal assistant, which will be available in our cars in the future.

There is so much pressure on short term results and yet a business must also have a long term ‘north star’. How are you setting yourself up internally react to short term events while simultaneously steering your brand towards its long-term objectives?

The BMW i sub-brand is our north star in many ways. BMW i is pioneering our mobility offerings for the future. Based on the brand vision of making mobility a joyful experience, BMW i is our forerunner in developing new technologies, such as electro mobility, the BMW Personal CoPilot for autonomous driving, and BMW Connected Drive or any purpose of connectivity.

In the short term, we will become even more data driven in our communications. Our Data Analytics Center helps us identify relevant topics, and we are able to react to them very quickly. It helps us offer meaningful and relevant brand communications to our customers. We are able to compare multiple communication measurements with each other and evaluate them through social listening. That gives us a good indication of the effectiveness and efficiency of our activities.

How do you make the case for building a strong brand within your company—to your CEO and peers—in order to get for investment for the long-term in the brand?

Our brand is one of the most valuable assets of our company. This is understood and embraced by the entire staff, from our worldwide associates to our board members.

To further sharpen our team’s understanding of the BMW brands, we established the BMW Group Brand and Customer Institute to ensure that all associates and BMW representatives fully understand the brand, its purpose, its offerings, and its promises to our customers. We want them to understand our customers and their needs because every BMW employee is a true brand ambassador, and it is essential for our success to be knowledgeable and aware of our customers.

Our brand performance is tracked very closely and subject to regular and intense board discussions. Due to the high importance of strong brands for our business model and the success of the company, we have a strong focus on brand performance and brand strategy in our organization. We are certain that if we keep combining our strong brand and excellent products with a second-to-none customer centricity, the BMW Group will be the most successful provider of premium mobility solutions around the globe.