Finding mobility solutions to tomorrow's challenges: Q&A with Mercedes-Benz

Q&A with Mercedes-Benz Brand and Marketing Strategy Director Bernd Stegmann

What are your predictions on how your brand will look in 10 years from now? Will you be in the same industry? The same markets? Who will your customer be?

For years, Daimler has been evolving from an automobile manufacturer to an integrated mobility provider, thereby systematically implementing what we refer to as our CASE strategy. The four letters stand for the mobility topics of the future: “Connected,” “Autonomous,” “Shared & Services,” and “Electric”.

In the global automobile context, there is a need for us to differentiate. It is clear that networked mobility proposals will find significantly greater acceptance from customers in an urban environment than from those in rural areas. We can sense that already. On the other hand, there will still be a long-term place for the automobile itself, especially in countries with a more traditional understanding of mobility, like the US.

The significance of our brand will continue to play a crucial role in buying decisions in the future. Alongside well-known aspects such as awareness and reputation, brand orientation will also be increasingly important. In times where products are becoming increasingly more and more digital, and the wealth of technical refinements is growing further, strong brands like Mercedes-Benz can provide security, confidence, and therefore orientation. Those deciding in favour of a Mercedes-Benz will also receive the most progressive mobility package in the competitive line-up in the future.

Naturally, a company must always remain in motion, and above all, be focused on innovation to actively help shape the industry transformation and  the future’s relevant challenges. For Mercedes-Benz, the readiness to systematically, and sometimes radically, re-examine the status quo to find answers to questions and solutions to tomorrow’s challenges is an important part of our DNA. The fact that we are already systematically thinking beyond the typical product is illustrated by our commitment to innovating what mobility means, seen with the Volocopter or our Mercedes me eco-system, in which we consolidate all car-related services in a tailor-made form for our customers.

In everything that we do, we are still driven by our promise of “The Best Or Nothing,” even after more than 130 years. “The Best” represents the very core of our brand and will remain its core well into the future. It is important to apply “The Best” in more and more new contexts and meet the needs of our customers. In the process, Mercedes-Benz is reinterpreting mobility and the luxury of the future and setting new, innovative standards.

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

We are in the middle of a comprehensive process of transformation. We are following unconventional strategies inspired by the approaches of start-ups and the digital world, which few people would have expected of Mercedes-Benz. . With our in-house “Leadership 2020” program, we are specifically encouraging agile forms of working within the company, such as swarm intelligence, co-creation, and flat hierarchies. Every employee is encouraged to contribute new ideas. These approaches have the advantage of using the collective power of interdisciplinary teams, so as not only to become more innovative, but also more efficient and effective. Innovation management has become an integral part of what we do and given a solid underpinning in the form of the Daimler innovation lab ‘Lab1886.’

We are constantly in search of the “next big thing” and aim to be game changers. To help us achieve this, we are deliberately engaging with visionaries, futurologists, and people outside the company who have innovative ideas. For example, inthe last two years, we have created our me Future Talks, a completely new platform for sharing and discussing ideas about future-related topics with experts and customers.

We are also adopting new approaches in our campaign communication. The best example here is our Grow-Up campaign for a new generation of compact cars in 2017. It goes beyond a campaign, but is a call to be more modern, fresh, and authentic. Instead of just showing cars, it focuses on people and the individual situations they’re in. The campaign shows that our thinking goes beyond classic advertising. In the future, we want to address people in their current situations in life and enter into a dialogue with them.

Our eSports sponsoring activities should also be seen in this context. Like no other platform, eSports illustrates social change. As a brand, it brings us into close contact with a very interesting target group that is new for Mercedes-Bendz, generating excitement,empathy, and allowing us to become part of their lifestyle.

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

Our approach in terms of communications aligns with the concept of “always on” and adheres to a strict content strategy. Our Content House was established for precisely this purpose. We apply very detailed, data-based analysis, which allows us to predict the relevance of our messaging and content. This enables us to continually optimize communication between our content and target groups. This approach also applies to paid, owned, and earned platforms and ensures that customer relevance becomes the starting point for the design of our communications.

We use AI for our data segment analysis as well as for predictive algorithms. Once a campaign is up and running, AI is used in the dialogue with our customers via “Ask Mercedes,” which is a key element of our communication strategy. This has enabled us to establish a systematic pull logic for both PR and campaign, but particularly in terms of “always on”. We believe that the use of AI—and in coming years EI (Emotional Intelligence)—will accelerate dramatically and have a fundamental impact on our dialogue with the customer.

Having said that, personal contact will continue to be extremely relevant for us as a luxury brand. The challenge will be to blend the two worlds together seamlessly in order to offer customers the best experience possible. We are therefore optimistic that progress in AI and data will bring major added value to our interaction with customers.

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 to react to short-term events, while simultaneously steering your brand towards its long-term objectives?

Our desire is that, in the future too, Mercedes-Benz will be the guiding star of mobility in the eyes of its customers and prospective customers. This is why we have moved our brand model away from a static to a dynamic system. This will help us on our journey from car manufacturer to integrated mobility provider and give us the flexibility that we need to find the necessary balance between short-term events and the long-term aspiration towards the “north star.”

In the process, we are continuously shortening our lead times, especially in terms of communication, but also in certain aspects of product development to remain as up to date and relevant for customers as possible. We are therefore systematically implementing new working methods and models, as well as agencies that reflect this.

Alongside short-term, individual approaches to customers, our aims include a uniform brand presence on digital platforms and greater international intermeshing of central and local digital content. This is the particular focus of our new network agency Publicis Emil.

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

We have a dense network of international bodies and effective tools for the monitoring and detailed analysis of our brand image on a worldwide basis. Our brand monitoring, for example, delivers insight into how the brand and the individual products are performing around the world, thereby allowing us to intervene and make tweaks very quickly. Our internal brand management is also on a solid footing: Our international brand academy, along with an intensive dialogue on the internet, ensure that we are continually exchanging and sharing information with our employees. Last but not least, our brand strategy is closely integrated into the product development and product creation processes.

We are aware–especially thanks to the annual Interbrand ranking–that our brand is one of our strongest assets. Since the days of our founding fathers, our commitment to our customers has been to deliver “The Best.” The trust that our customers have in our brand and our products is what constantly motivates us to further strengthen our brand.