Does form follow function in the digital world? Many brands are starting to say “yes,” as they turn increasingly often to emerging media to not only deliver their story, but also to enhance it. For luxury car brand Audi, this meant using emerging platforms to tell a story in a way that’s culturally relevant to their audience and on a platform where they’re encouraged to participate.
Loren Angelo, EVP and CMO of Audi of America, has been spearheading these digital efforts, and in our interview, we break down how to manage the inherent risk of these ideas for such a major brand. By the way, with Audi posting 45 consecutive monthly sales records, and Loren winning a Creativity Award at The CMO Club’s CMO Awards, it turns out you really can be highly creative and highly successful at the same time.
Drew: Creativity can emerge in a lot different ways, from how you approach problems to creative marketing campaigns. How are you being “creative” in your current role and how has that helped you?
Creativity is driven by staying authentic to your brand and your mission. I’m inspired by ideas where I can connect my brand with cultural moments that engage a conversation.
Drew: Some agency sages believe “it isn’t creative unless it sells.” Do you share that belief and if so, is there still a role for branding building activities in your marketing mix that may not have an immediate or directly measurable impact on sales?
Building the Audi brand in America has been crucial to our current success of 45 consecutive monthly sales records. Elevating Brand Opinion and Consideration by over 30% since 2006 has come from an investment in repositioning Audi as the modern, progressive, luxury choice. When we bring smart, entertaining creative to market, demand rises and that drives sales.
Drew: Looking at the question above slightly differently, is there a case to be made for a brand like Audi that the medium can be the message? For example, does doing cutting edge marketing on say a mobile platform also say that Audi is a cutting edge brand that “gets it?”
Absolutely. Creativity comes in the message as well as the medium in which it’s delivered. Building the brand with time-starved, affluent Americas requires us to bring unique ideas to a variety of channels. In addition to our unique 30-second TV communications that tell culturally relevant stories versus using traditional automotive speak, Audi has been leading in digital connections as well. For example, this year Audi introduced several new entry-level luxury products to first time luxury buyers of which a third were young Millennials. We used platforms such as Waze and Trip Advisor to link our Audi Q3 “Stray the Course” strategy to consumer behaviors on those channels and for the launch of the A3, we introduced a completely new voice and visual execution on Snap Chat for Audi in the Super Bowl which we carried through the entire Season of Pretty Little Liars that drew 125,000 new followers in just nine months on that channel.
Drew: Does risk taking factor into developing truly creative campaigns? If so, how do you mitigate that risk internally and or externally?
A challenger spirit is crucial in everything we do at Audi. Therefore, pushing our communication to be anything but traditional drives us internally and is why we seek out clever culturally-relevant storytelling.
Drew: Can you talk a little about if/how you try to engage the entire Audi company in brand activation?
Audi has become the modern, progressive, luxury choice in America and that philosophy is core to everything we do in our organization. Whether in partnership experiences such as that of the US Ski Team, in cultural connections such as the Iron Man franchise or in every customer interaction at our state-of-the-art showroom environments, every engagement conveys our unique brand characteristics of technology, performance and design. Every employee has a clear understanding of our brand position and our focus on bringing customer excitement both internally and externally.
Drew: How are you balancing digital initiatives with more traditional TV and outdoor? Do you ascribe different roles to different media and/or is it possible for a brand like yours to have an “omni-channel” strategy?
At Audi, we believe that keeping focus on a single message and finding the most effective way to deliver it within the channel proves most effective. Identifying strategies that connect our message with consumer stories might take a storytelling path in TV, a more eccentric approach in social media or might be encapsulated in a single statement on an outdoor board. Staying true to the strategic idea is what drives a successful campaign that is reinforced when consumers interact at various channels.
Drew: What role does social media play in your marketing efforts? Are there any platforms that are working better for your brand than others?
We identified an opportunity to engage a conversation with America through social media several years ago. It was the ideal platform to reinforce our provocative messages while establishing a clear voice for the brand. While our fan base has grown organically from our engaging content, we’ve established Audi in over 10 social media channels. Each has its own engaging characteristics for that community, but we’ve found Instagram to be an increasingly enthusiastic and responsive channel that has grown exponentially because of the personalized, visual nature of the content.
Drew: Have you leveraged any new technologies or platforms in the last 12 months and if so what were the results relative to your expectations?
Staying true to our brand focus technological innovations, in 2014 we leveraged a completely new social media voice in SnapChat and brought a new digital experience to our consumers in the purchase process. As mentioned, SnapChat has been very successful for connecting our brand to a new, burgeoning community in just the last nine months. At retail, we have introduced a new digital, Progressive Retail Experience in our showrooms to assist our dealer partners and consumers in the greatest customer need – saving time. Using tablet devices, our dealer partners now have a sales assist solution that can demonstrate vehicle features, show dealer inventory and assist in vehicle configurations through a few simple hand gestures. In addition, we have brought this digitized experience to the consumer delivery process and the service experience for a more streamlined experience that works on the customer’s schedule.
Drew: Storytelling is a big buzzword right now. Is your brand a good storyteller and if so, can you provide an example of how you are telling that story?
This is crucial to bringing a brand into the conversation with today’s consumer. When we introduced TDI clean diesel in several of our new vehicles last year, we recognized that many of the misperceptions of diesel still existed including that it was an old technology that was for slow, smoky, dirty old cars. Instead of just announcing that Audi had an all new line up of fuel efficient and environmentally friendly new TDI clean diesel solutions, we approached it with a story that exaggerated one of the misperceptions that high performance luxury sedans don’t use diesel. In this communication, an Audi A8 pulls into a fueling station where the driver begins to use the clean diesel pump when in slow motion the many bystanders attempt to stop her thinking she’d made a mistake. Towards the end, she simply responds “I know” illustrating she clearly knows what she is doing while signaling to another Audi A6 TDI clean diesel driver that gives her a confirming nod. It was a clever way of telling the story that Audi has many TDI clean diesel models and those in the know realize it’s the smart solution for the future. The full campaign reinforced the range capabilities, environmental benefits and dispelled many of the myths that brought the story to life in all consumer touch points.