BMW: AN EXERCISE IN ALIGNING IDENTITY, BRAND AND REPUTATION* BMW, the German car manufacturer, has been strategically focused on premium segments in the international car market. With its BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce brands, the company has become one of the leading premium car companies in the world. BMW’s strong identity and marketing campaigns are often credited as the building blocks of the company’s continuing success. There are four values that define the BMW identity inside the organization (organizational identity) and its corporate brand and communication to external stakeholders: dynamism, aesthetics, exclusivity and innovation.
These values have been central to BMW’s success in terms of the company’s leadership in design and are consistently communicated across all its corporate communication, corporate design, consumer advertising as well as through the behaviour of managers, designers, and retail staff. The brand consultancy Interbrand argues that these four brand values align customers’ images and associations with the vision and culture of BMW. BMW has long focused on innovation but made it the driving force for its product development process and its philosophy at the end of the 1990s.
Since then, the company has put a lot of emphasis on its research and development (R), making it a core element of its corporate strategy. BMW’s success has been its ability to nurture new ideas, short-list the potential ones and process them till the end stage through an integrated innovation process. The innovation process within BMW is aimed at systematically channelling potential innovations to the actual product development stage. The process focuses on three major areas: unique selling propositions for each car to be launched, breakthrough innovations, and concept cars to convey BMW’s brand image at automobile shows.
For this purpose, the company has implemented systems to search for and filter innovative ideas from across the world (within and outside of the company), which after further development can be carried over into actual product development and car vehicle manufacturing processes. Besides its focus on innovation, the company has also been a powerhouse of creative and aesthetic designs of cars. According to Christopher Bangle, global chief of design for BMW, ‘our fanaticism about design excellence is matched only by the company’s driving desire to remain profitable’.
Bangle sees the company’s core value as being ‘an engineering-driven company whose cars and motorcycles are born from passion’. In his words; “We don’t make ‘automobiles’, which are utilitarian machines you use to get from point A to point B. We make ‘cars’, moving works of art that express the driver’s love of quality. ” The values of dynamism, aesthetics, innovation and exclusivity are carried through in all of the company’s communication to consumers and to other stakeholders. They feature as brand promises in dealer and customer materials including showroom interior design, tradeshow materials, advertising and customer promotion packages.
These values also featured as part of the company’s branded entertainment strategy. This strategy consisted of product placement in movies (including a series of James Bond films) and an initial set of five short promotional films in 2000 that were made available online on the BMW website. The online films cleverly built BMW’s brand image and were promoted using trailers on television, print and online advertisements that drove customers to visit the website. In 2002, BMW produced three more promotional films inspired by the success of the first five films.
Particularly because of its creative advertising, the BMW brand has come to be associated with the words ‘driving’ and ‘performance’. The company’s taglines in many adverts were ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ and ‘Sheer Driving Pleasure’. According to marketing guru Al Ries, this association with ‘driving’ was a very powerful component of BMW’s brand as it led consumers to associate BMW with high-performing cars. However, a study commissioned by BMW in 2005 revealed that in the USA a large percentage of luxury car buyers did not consider BMW at the point of purchase.
The management of BMW in the USA realized that some kind of change was needed in the company’s communication. In the words of US Marketing Director Jack Pitney:’”We’re entering new product segments all the time, and we can’t afford to not be on the shopping lists of this many people … People think we have a cool persona as a brand, but say we lack humanity. ” Pitney felt that BMW needed to draw upon its brand history and particularly its four identity values to add a sense of humanity to the brand.
Pitney and his colleagues in the USA felt that the situation faced by BMW was actually a direct result of the company’s overemphasis on ‘performance driving’ over the past 33 years. He felt that consumers instead were looking for brands that stood for larger values. In the company’s brief to ad agencies pitching for the account, the company said that ‘BMW wants to bring the excitement back to the brand and restore the equilibrium between its products and its marketing communications. Remember your challenge is not to reinvent the brand but to evolve the marketing from its current one-dimensional focus on performance. A new agency was successfully recruited and in May 2006, the North American arm of BMW released a new advertising campaign promoting itself as a ‘company of ideas’. The tone and tenor of the new campaign were different from previous adverts in the past. The series of new ads no longer stressed the BMW car’s performance, but were intended to project the company’s competence in design and its corporate culture that fostered innovation. In doing so, BMW wanted to build demand by reaching out to consumers who had until now not considered purchasing a 13MW vehicle.
At the same time, the company wanted to make the existing BMW loyal customers proud of the company’s success story. The ad campaign was unveiled through various media including adverts in magazines, on television, on outdoor billboards and on the internet. The campaign tried to communicate BMW’s independence and freedom to pursue innovative ideas, as it was neither owned by nor part of a division of another company. The ads still featured the tagline ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’, but placed little emphasis on its high performance features.
The focus instead was on the theme of BMW as a ‘company of ideas’, where radical design and ideas are encouraged as a way of supporting the tagline around performance. According to Pitney, the idea was to draw upon the company’s distinctive identity based on aesthetics and innovation and show consumers and the general public how a BMW car actually becomes an ultimate driving machine. Questions for reflection: 1. Describe the alignment between vision, culture and image for BMW and discuss the potential for gaps between them. 2.
Consider the four values of the identity and brand positioning of BMW Are these values, authentic, distinctive and unique from the perspective of consumers and other stakeholders in the premium car market? Note: ‘This case study is based upon Bangle, C. (2001), ‘The ultimate creativity machine: how BMW turns art into profit’, Harvard Business Review, January, 5-11; Ries, A. and Ries, L. (2000), 77te 22 Immutable Laws of Branding. Harper Collins: New York, Kiley, 1). (2006), ‘BMW targets new drivers’, www. businessweek. com, 5 May.