In the third episode of season 3 of The Next Round, AAR’s marketing inspiration podcast, practice lead Robin Charney was joined by a guest she’s been stalking since Series 1: BMW’s Marketing Director, Michelle Roberts.
Over the course of twenty years at the brand, Michelle has experienced huge transformation in both the automotive sector - with a shift to electro mobility and an ever-increasing consumer focus on sustainability - and within marketing itself, with the move to digitalisation, personalisation and focus on ROI. For a brand over a century old with a rich heritage as sector pioneers, it’s essential that innovation continues as BMW moves to the future with customers, and marketing, well and truly at the heart of the business - you can listen to the full episode below, or read some of our highlights here:
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How has brand marketing changed over the last twenty years?
For Michelle, who Roberts has been solely in marketing for the last ten of her twenty years at BMW, it feels like the time has flown by. Even just in that decade - looking at communications around the Olympics, then Mini as a brand, and now BMW - things have changed massively. One of the first observations of change Michelle pointed out were around data, and the measurement in marketing.
While it used to be difficult to substantiate ROI, now we have more intel, insight, and data than ever before about what’s performing well, and where the brand is at. Also, if you look at the media landscape, the routes to reaching consumers and customers have changed exponentially; at the start of Michelle’s journey, influencer marketing was still quite ‘trendy and cool’, perhaps a secondary thought to a core campaign - and now it’s a key channel and means of reaching customers.
Do you find marketing inspiration in brand history?
Michelle pointed out that she was very proud to have a role as the guardian of a brand which is over 100 years old - steeped in history, credibility, and experience - with global recognition. So marketing does look back to take inspiration for the future, but it’s Michelle and her team’s job to move the brand forward, and that history and heritage provides them with the credibility to do that.
What Michelle takes from BMW’s history is their role as a pioneer, and they take that into how they approach things moving forwards. The BMW ‘I’ brand, for example, is now over ten years old, and is a foundation for their current electrification strategy, but it was the first brand to come to market with a fully built from the ground-up electric vehicle. That spirit and pioneering approach is something they’re taking forwards, and so history, credibility, and reputation really matter.
What drives change to move to a new marketing agency model?
The main driver for change is around the customer, and the customer being at the heart of brand strategy, along with the future requirement for personalisation - the goal is to be able to get the point of offering a truly personalised, one-to-one experience for every consumer. This naturally doesn’t just apply to BMW, or the automotive industry!
If you look across the landscape that we have in marketing today, establishing the ability to be able to achieve this - whether through systems and technology, or our approach across different markets - is really difficult. Changing the agency model felt like a wise way to be able to advance very quickly in getting to that core goal of personalisation.
It’s early days, and BMW are still going through a degree of their transition, but early indicators are that they’re heading in the right direction. The first phase may be the transition, but what runs alongside this is the end goal of transformation, and they’re seeing the evidence of how that can work long-term, which Michelle finds very promising.
How do you ensure a good agency partnership?
It’s all about partnership, and investing in partners just as much as they invest in the brand. Michelle sees every one of BMW’s agency partners as an extension of her team, and they build a foundation of trust and communication on this basis - and that’s the game changer in terms of their agency network: that they treat them as a part of their marketing department.
In terms of the approach to in-sourcing and outsourcing, this is something BMW are currently looking into; but the internal team’s structure is always evolving, as they look at what the next 3-5 years hold for the brand and the business, and define which skill sets they may now require in house.