Tom Fels. Picture: SUPPLIED
Tom Fels. Picture: SUPPLIED

This will be a challenging year for all car manufacturers, predicts Tom Fels, Publicis Machine MD, with both marketing teams and their creative agencies having to rethink how they sell brands.

“Automotive companies typically have a product portfolio that allows them to cater for the entire customer lifecycle,” he says. “However, brands can no longer rely only on a transactional relationship. If they want any kind of longevity in their customer relationships they need to add value, improve the level of service they offer and grow their customer’s desire to engage with the brand.”

To achieve this, personalisation, he believes, will become key. “The real challenge will be how to use data wisely to understand where people are in their lives and then to target them with the most appropriate product in your range. This is something many companies are still grappling with.”

To lock customers in for longer, customer relationship management content has to be relevant and appropriate, says Fels. It also needs to add value to the customer. “This is ultimately what will differentiate a brand and make it a leader in its category.”

Publicis Machines was awarded the hotly contested Mercedes-Benz passenger cars Digital/CRM account towards the end of 2016. “Mercedes-Benz has long had a philosophy of being as innovative as possible and has always been keen to try new technologies. It has measured the effectiveness of digital, is heavily invested in this channel and creates world-class content,” reports Fels. “Ultimately, digital allows the brand to be far more analytical than any other medium.”

Since being awarded the account the agency has been determined to add value beyond merely creating campaigns. “We’ve been looking at a variety of ways to deliver more personalised communication and create work that resonates with customers and leads to stronger interaction with the brand,” Fels says. “Mercedes-Benz powers ‘Beautiful News’, the editorial platform launched on Media 24 that celebrates the goodness of South Africans by releasing video content on a daily basis. This association provides Mercedes-Benz with broad exposure to support the further generation of stories, including tailored branded content.”

Commenting on Ford’s handling of the burning Kugas, he admits such an event is every brand’s worst nightmare. “From a brand marketing point of view you have to prepare for every scenario, and in [a case like this] you are judged by how quickly and proactively you respond. Ford South Africa’s mistake was that for too long it held off taking any action and then, when it did respond, it was a schizophrenic response. This was a valuable lesson for all brands: when disaster strikes you have to act quickly and decisively.”

Mercedes-Benz’s focus on personalisation means it would have handled this problem very differently, says Fels.

The big take-out: Automotive brands have to rethink how they sell cars, as they can no longer rely on a transactional relationship, says Tom Fels, Publicis Machine MD.

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