When people make a new big-ticket purchase like a car, rituals play an important role during the handover process. In India, the muhurat matters. And the occasion is marked with pujas and garlands, incense sticks to burn, coconuts to crack and special prayers to recite. But these handover rituals are not unique to our culture; everyone wants the moment to feel somewhat special. It’s a consumer insight that automakers are doubling down on to create memorable and exclusive brand experiences that can give brands an edge during tough times. For instance, at Mercedes-Benz’s first ‘brand store’ in Moscow, Russia, the customer is whisked away to a designated area where a dramatic stage is set for the vehicle’s unveiling. There’s a satin shroud to keep the car out of view, a lit hydraulic lift to raise the car, a special display case for the key, and mood music and lighting that’s fit for a Scorsese film. Service personnel armed with tablets guide the customer through the final processes before liftoff.
A few months ago the German auto-major, Mercedes-Benz began rolling out its global sales and marketing initiative ‘Best Customer Experience 4.0’, a large-scale digitisation drive to provide seamless customer service and enhance brand experiences in the virtual and real world. Like handovers, for instance, which is a key part of the auto sales journey. But the focal point of the global initiative is a hyper-personalised customer profile, the ‘Mercedes Me’ ID, which was also introduced in India in November 2019. These new initiatives are also designed keeping in mind a growing number of female customers. As of now, just 10 -12% sales of Mercedes-Benz cars globally are from women customers.
Kaleido Awards 2020 – Recognising India’s Ace CommunicatorsOn the digitization program, Britta Seeger, member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, who is also responsible for Mercedes-Benz Cars sales and marketing, says that buying one of their cars should be as easy as ordering a book. By 2025, the company expects that 25% of vehicle purchases worldwide will be made online.
Given the hyper-personalized nature of the Mercedes Me ID, we asked Seeger about one of the biggest challenges facing companies across industries today, which is to effectively, securely and responsibly collect and deploy customer data to help brands and businesses grow. Seeger clarifies, “We ensure that the data that we have is secured, this is of utmost importance to us. We have deployed in-house teams for the same as we understand the sensitivities involved. Customer data and privacy is not something we would like to compromise and have high priority for customer data security.”
In our always-on and tethered to the Internet world, the importance of brand and product experiences in the physical world is not lost on Seeger. And in an attempt to change ‘point of sale’ to ‘point of experience’, a worldwide physical-retail modernisation drive is already underway to introduce new interactive sales formats. “While digital solutions simplify and personalize the customer experience, they cannot replace the physical experience of a product,” says Seeger.
A recent Economic Times report stated that sales of luxury cars in India declined by about 15% in 2019— the steepest drop in more than a decade. Luxury vehicles account for less than 1.2% of the overall automobile market in India, compared with 13% in China and 10% in the US. Though India has more than 350,000 millionaires, the market size is yet to cross 50,000 units a year, according to the report.
Given the economic deceleration and sluggish consumption patterns in India particularly, strategic customer-centric marketing practices become a growth engine for brand. Says Seeger, “We believe that it is in these tough times that the brands are really tested. In such times, it is also important that we keep the brand strong and mitigate any risk that would dilute the brand. While it’s important to be tactical and use digital and data-based solutions, it’s equally important to reinforce positive brand sentiment.”