The BMW story

In the late seventies, a revolution in car marketing began. A revolution that would change the character of the automobile industry forever. For most people, the notion of owning a luxurious, exclusive motorcar was a pipe dream. Sales of luxury vehicles during this period represented a tiny percentage of the total market. Also, the potential of the whole car retail experience, as we know it today had yet to be realised.

At the time, BMW was little known but unique, a passion for those in the know who had a taste for sporty cars, a preoccupation, best exemplified by models like the 2002 Turbo and the aluminium bodied CSL. A small manufacturer of exclusive cars whose unit margins were relatively high but with volume sales in the UK so low that only a few dealers could afford to think about investment in the growth of the marque. For those, the rewards were proving to be good but many cars were sold through dealers whose first loyalty might be British Leyland or some other higher volume manufacturer, or from a used car forecourt, the BMW opportunity being almost a windfall hobby.

But BMW had a vision to transform this. A determination to grow and to consolidate its’ position, investing and growing the market. In the UK, the first step involved establishing a wholly owned German subsidiary, managed by a UK team based in a new purpose built headquarters. For the dealers, particularly the few who were enjoying a good livelihood, the thought of the Germans coming was viewed as a considerable threat. It was at this sensitive time that the founding partners of Band (Jim Andrews and Cliff Basten) started to provide communication support to BMW.

The work that eventually emanated from that early contract took us far beyond the original remit. Into a place which, in collaboration with the team at BMW, truly revolutionised car retailing and marketing..

A Break with Convention. The first step was to manage a dealer convention which would set the stage for a positive future. Consolidate the dealer relationships; reassure the network about the intentions of the new company. This was our initial brief, the fulfillment of which took place in the Bahamas, set the company on a journey which would help secure BMW’s emergence as a pioneering premier brand. Next began a process of putting in place what would be needed to build a robust and sustainable presence.The early work concerned creating and implementing strategies that would shape the BMW brand, as we now know it, simultaneously changing the face of automotive retailing forever.

The centre of gravity theory is put to the test. Simple. Promote the most exclusive, expensive and unattainable cars through exotic super-real communication, introduce a reasonably priced lower end entry model, an easier entry point into the hugely exclusive world of BMW. Develop technological palaces to the motorcar. Showroom environments the like of which had not yet been seen before, where the display cars are separated from customer contact areas, where the vehicles appear to be passing each other, on black, shiny, clean road like surfaces. And customers sit in relaxed, peaceful, softly furnished areas. This was the birth of true dealer corporate identity. Conceived in Germany, but, with the speed required to capture the growing market opportunity, not fast enough or thought through enough to be able to answer the multitude of questions that needed to be answered on the way to creating a cohesive and consistent brand. To create greater traction, the UK BMW team decided to absorb themselves in the ethos and collaboratively move the project forward themselves.

A fresh look at how a dealership could generate higher income and command greater loyalty. Back then, it’s fair to say that dealers didn’t have to sell BMW’s, people came with bags of money hoping that a dealer might just let them purchase one. And, the idea of taking your old car in part exchange in return for a more expensive BMW, or financing such a rare beast was frowned upon. Clearly this attitude was a barrier to future growth. Also, dealers were missing the potential reward inherent in properly trading the part exchange vehicle. Therefore the most significant initial work that our marketing group focussed upon concerned re-evaluating the dealership business model. Moving to an approach to deliver revenues across several strands of potential which were not being fully exploited. These were new car revenues, used car revenues, parts and service business and financing of new and used vehicles and warranty programmes. With the potential of selling into both individuals and businesses. A virtuous cycle, which could deliver greater rewards for all concerned. And, because much of the rational for the approach was wrapped up in brand, an argument that would help persuade the more cynical dealers to transform their premises into the new identity.

The BMW Approved Cars Programme. First in line was the creation of a comprehensive used car programme, which we named BMW Approved Cars. This was launched to the dealer network in 1981 and was the most comprehensive programme ever, designed to help dealers maximise used car opportunities properly appraise and value a vehicle, put it through a 24 point check, and, once purchased, renovate where necessary, valet and then provide the most advanced and comprehensive breakdown service which, also included medical assistance, together with the countries best parts and warranty. In fact the best roadside service available. BMW Emergency Service. This was the BMW Approved Cars Programme. Another milestone that was quickly copied by others. Through this strategy, the BMW dealer network had significant control of the used BMW market, helping preserve higher residual values and encouraging greater brand loyalty. A strategy that has helped to achieve a constant 75% customer loyalty.

BMW Finance Programmes. Simultaneously, the team were exploring potential business partners to look at revolutionising the way that cars could be financed and how dealers might participate in the potential profits. The primary aim was to make it easier for potential new prospects to become members of the BMW family. And in 1981, BMW Finance Programmes were launched, providing the most sophisticated range of car purchase and leasing programmes ever to be offered in the car market.

After Sales and Service. A necessary evil becomes a major revenue earner. For most of the dealer network, providing service and parts and accessories was operated upon a totally reactive basis. Service managers did not conceive of themselves as sharing in the success of the profitability of the dealership. This attitude needed to change. From reactive to proactive, supported by all the necessary tools to help support growth, including training programmes for dealer principles and staff and a comprehensive programme of ready made marketing support including dealer education on customer relationship, advertising, direct mail and PR. Dealer marketing tailored to suit 157 different local dealer needs centrally produced, consistent with the new brand positioning. During this period, dealers were producing their own communications materials. The result being numerous, inconsistent interpretations of the brand. To overcome this, we created a fail-safe system that allowed dealers to provide us with photographs of their dealerships, to the quality we required, information about themselves, which we then used to create copy and to centrally produce a brochure, unique to each dealer but consistent to the brand. Creating the communication positioning for new models. Launching to dealers, and customers. Collaborating with WCRS, we were instrumental in the model positioning and communication of many new BMW introductions including 3 Series, 5 Series, 6 Series, 7 Series, and the X5. Launch events and materials including video training, direct mail, competitive market analysis, point of sale support, new brochures, and press launch information together with dealer launch planning and event support for individual dealer launch events.

Living the brand. The role of the dealer in fulfilling the promise, delivering the magic. Part of the drive to consolidate the brand required dealers to thoroughly understand the power of brands, what is a brand? How does it impact on the business? How is it created? What role does the dealer play in supporting this? Over a two year period we ran workshops where Jim Andrews, Robin Wight of WCRS and the CEO of BMW facilitated groups of dealer principals, off site, absorbing them in the reality of what a brand is: Product + Personality = Brand. Within the context of the brand, the dealer is the only point that touches the customer, destroying or exceeding the promise of the BMW brand. A fundamental responsibility to delight customers and thereby secure their loyalty.

20 years consolidating and expanding the brand. Once these initial projects had been bedded in, our work then became much more proactive, providing all marketing support across a broad range of areas. Including CI updates and interpretation, direct mail, point of sale support, posters, model brochures, training programmes, after sales and service support.

Support for BMW in Australia, Japan, and in Germany. Other markets, because of its success in the UK, often sought our work for BMW on brand. Indeed BMW AG (Germany) used many of our ideas. And often invited our team to propose solutions to their own communication problems. In the first twelve years of this work, In the UK alone, BMW increased its new car sales from approximately 11,000 units to 69,000. The success of increased sales would see a lot of the early dealer franchise holders sell out to larger groups. Today, the BMW case history speaks for itself.

Work undertaken

  • Model launch merchandisers
  • Showroom material
  • Display stands
  • Used Car Brand and communication material
  • Parts Promotion and dealer events
  • Communication material for BMW Service
  • Literature design
  • Brand Guardians (BMW GB)
  • Dealer convention strategy
  • Direct Mail
  • Retail and showroom design
  • Dealer Marketing Planners
  • Product spares and accessories packaging design
  • Dealer packs and brochures

Jim and Cliff

Jim & Cliff on location at a BMW Dealer convention (c1980).

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