In 2009 it was time to leave Colle+McVoy and Minneapolis, all together. After looking over several options, I had things down to 2 choices:
1. MARC USA: The agency I ultimately ended up joining
2. Factory Design Labs: A great shop, based on Colorado, that had recently been awarded digital agency of record status for Audi USA.
Both, were great fits. I had made it all the way to the “final round” of the Factory Design Labs process. The final round was a visit to Audi North America’s headquarters in Virginia to meet the team, including CMO Scott Keogh. I would have been working on site at Audi’s headquarters, alongside Scott.
When you talk with Scott, you can’t help but be impressed. He’s the type of leader that attracts great talent, if only because people hope they can work hand-in-hand with Scott. In our interview we talked about a great number things. But, one specific topic of interest dominated a good 30 minutes of a 45 minute interview: BMW vs. Audi.
Scott and the Factory Design Labs team knew I was a BMW guy through and through. My love affair with BMW started when I was 9. It grew stronger every year and hit an all-time high when I started working for BMW USA’s agency of record Fallon McElligott, in Minneapolis, MN. Talk about a dream come true, I was given the opportunity to work on 2 of the brands that I had the biggest emotional connections to: Nikon and BMW.
The work done with BMW, pre-Publicis’ acquisition (still the biggest mistake IMHO, that Pat Fallon ever made), is some of the most beloved, honored, admired and revered work in the industry, ever. People in the industry often reference BMW FIlms as the type of work they want to do. Why? Because, it was bold, daring and changed the industry forever. It also helped me open many doors in the future, including the opportunity at Factory Design Labs.
It was clear to Scott, that I was a BMW guy. In the interview, we eventually got to a moment, where Scott, justifiably said, he wanted raving fans of the brand working on the brand. As a client, I want the same thing. He wanted people, for whom, Audi wasn’t a choice, but a lifestyle. He very pointedly said to me, it’s clear you have a tremendous amount of love and respect for the BMW brand; are you really willing to trade that in Audi. And by trade it in, he meant figuratively and literally; Audi/Factor Design Labs had a program that made owning an Audi very attainable and the idea you would drive a competitor’s car on to campus, was unheard of. So when Scott said “trade” he was also asking me, would I trade my BMW in for an Audi.
The answer was no. BMW was a brand for whom my emotional connection was so great, you couldn’t simply swap it out for another brand. Think about that? I essentially talked a CMO out of giving me a job. I could have lied. I could have talked about Audi’s racing heritage and philosophy of All Wheel Drive as the best way to have a great “ride.” But, that’s not me. Scott said to me, the type of love you have for BMW is the type of love we want from the people working on our brands and the type of love we want our owners to have. We parted ways and I ended up joining MARC USA.
Every creative brief, every business assessment, every analysis of a “category” eventually leads to a discussion about how to create an emotional connection. Why? Because emotional connections are generally very difficult to break. It’s very tough to break someone’s emotional connection with a brand and switch them to a competitor. It’s the emotional connection that drives consumers to make irrational decisions. Those irrational decisions generate consumer loyalty.
In the car buying business, the average consumer purchases 10 cars over their life time. That data point is based on the fact, we as car buyers purchase new cars every 5 years. I’m 33. I plan on driving til I’m 80. That means I’ll be in the market for 9 cars. That’s some serious cash, in the way of not only the car, but in services, maintenance, accessories, etc. In the luxury segment, driving this brand loyalty is even more important and much more fiercely competitive. Why? In the luxury category, there are less options and owners generally purchase a manufacturer for several years. Switching, simply, isn’t as prevalent. It’s also why there’s such a heavy emphasis on services. The services are designed to bolster retention.
That last paragraph could easily be summed up as, net-net, gaining new customers/owners is tough and people who own cars are worth a lot of money to companies. Think about it, besides a house, a car is the 2nd most expensive thing you’ll ever buy. Well, in 2007 I purchased my first BMW, a 530i. In 2009, I purchased my second, a 328i. Loved both cars. To go from admiring a brand, to working on a brand to finally owning something from that brand is a hell of an emotional experience.
Recently BMW and I had an exchange…an experience, that honestly left such a bad taste in my mouth, I ended up buying a new Audi. Yes, you read that right. To sum up the situation, last month, I sent BMW a tweet, that offered to trade a pallet of soup (that I would have purchased out of pocket) for a new 135. Now, to be clear, I didn’t expect a response. I was being cheeky. But, when BMW responded with a foursquare check-in at my office, with a picture of a 135 and the words “Yep. Now where’s the soup?” I was blown away. I was amazed. I know how difficult it is to be amazing in social. Knowing the automotive industry, like I do, I was amazed how quickly BMW was able to pull it off. I tweeted them back; no response. I direct messaged them; no response. I contacted their agency; no response.
Eventually a few weeks later a 135 model (yes a model) showed up at my office with a note thanking me for being a fan. Talk about a let down. To go from being teased with a real car to receiving a model replica was a pretty big emotional roller coaster. I was bummed. Not bummed that they didn’t fulfill on a trade. I was bummed because my expectations for the brand are high. I was bummed because there were so many other positive ways to handle the situation. I was bummed, because their team acted like they were playing in the bush leagues, not the majors.
Anyhow, a few weeks late I stumbled on to a program Audi was running called #wantanr8. It was a program birthed via a tweet from a passionate Audi fan. The link included in the last sentence gives the full overview, but to summarize, Audi grants people the ability to get behind an R8 for a day. Pretty cool. I tweeted how impressed I was with the program; especially given my first hand experience with how hard it is to scale to social. Andy White, the lead in social at Audi, reached out to me personally, to offer a thanks. From there a dialogue between the two of us started. He had read about my BMW experience and was bummed for me; it was also clear that Audi would never have played it out the way BMW did.
Candidly, I was going to be in the market for a new car next Summer. My 2007 328i was going to be out of extended warranty. The situation with BMW and the white glove treatment Andy was providing, had me considering a new car, even sooner. Once Andy knew I was in the market for a new car, he sent me a direct message asking me to sit tight and that he was working on something. I had no idea what “something” meant, but Andy had proven his credibility with me, so I knew it had to be something great. Roughly 2 weeks from receiving that tweet, I received a follow-up saying he’d been in touch with a specific dealership and a specific sales person and they were ready to provide me a VIP treatment. I had no idea what “VIP treatment” meant, but I was intrigued. Two days later I visited the Audi dealership in Cherry Hill, NJ, met with Kathleen and was blown away by the experience.
Let me cut to the chase, there was no free R8 there was no free car. But, there was a sales person and a dealership that understood my love for BMW, skepticism for any other manufacturer and realized I felt a bit burned. Inside of 30 minutes I knew the car I wanted (an A4) and the features I wanted. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the right combination of model and features at the dealership. But, they believed they could procure one from another dealer. 72 hours later, Kathleen followed up with me on her day off to tell me they found the car, secured it and if I wanted to go through with the sale, we could be ready in 48 hours. Wow. Well, I was sold. The trade-in value on my 328i was better than expected. The price they offered me for the A4 was more than fair. The incentives and bonus discounts were exceptional. It was a no-brainer.
So, last Friday, I drove my 328i for the last time. We took a drive up to the Cherry Hill Audi dealership, where I filled out a bunch of paperwork and left the proud owner of a 2013 Audi A4. Would I have thought about purchasing an Audi next Spring/Summer when I was going to be in the market for a new car, had the situation with BMW’s social/digital team not happened? No! Would I have thought Audi, had it not been for Andy White and his tireless communication? No!
As a brand, what you say and do matters. Every touch point matters. When you connect with a consumer, you have the ability to delight and amaze or underwhelm. Audi’s understanding of this concept and BMW’s lack of understanding, have me sitting behind an A4, instead of a new 135i. If the lifetime value models are true and I’m set to buy another 9 cars between now and when I’m done driving. How much $$$ did BMW give up by simply ignoring one of their most passionate fans? Perhaps a better question, how much future $$$ did Audi earn, buy Andy simply taking a few hours to connect with me? Today, more than ever, as a brand, what you say and do matters.