Modern Marketing

BMW hired Zone after realising its future won’t be selling cars online

By Jennifer Faull | Deputy Editor

December 5, 2017 | 5 min read

BMW was one of the first car brands to launch an e-commerce offering. However, the hire of digital agency Zone last week has sent a message about where its future lies – and it’s not in selling cars online.


Inside BMW's 'mission critical' brief for Zone

The brand launched its e-commerce platform in 2015. Its head of marketing told The Drum a year later that sales were strong and it was seeing “an increase month on month,” especially from the higher end of the product range.

But the bulk of conversions from browser to buyer will still be made in a physical retail store and BMW has realised that ensuring a salesperson is armed with the right data on where exactly a person is in their car buying journey will be key to its future.

This is in part why Zone, the digital agency recently acquired by Cognizant, has been hired.

In the announcement of the partnership last week, Paul Ferraiolo, the brand’s UK marketing director, described the relationship with its 400-store strong retailer network as “critically important” and said Zone had been tasked with “positioning them as experts”.

Rather than retain the incumbent retail marketing agency, BMW’s hire of Zone – an agency now with the full weight of an IT consultancy behind it – has indicated that getting these individual dealers up to speed is equally, if not more, important than nailing a generic digital strategy for the overarching brand.

With the showroom increasingly a place to validate a decision that has already been made online, BMW wants to get its in-store staff to a point where they can identify where a customer is in the journey; from the browsing stage where they need more basic information to knowing that they’ve already progressed to arranging a test drive or if they’ve customised a car via Snapchat.

“BMW centrally support with all kinds of things to help retailers drive sales leads. But the model was built for an offline retail world and the journey now is increasingly digital, less geographically linked and more personalised,” said Jonathan Simmons, Zone’s chief strategy officer and the lead on the BMW account.

“It’s a real online-offline piece. BMW understands someone has spent 19 hours online before coming to that retailer. In-store, they were literally giving people the same forms they’d already filled in online. So, how do we make that journey really brilliant for the customer and that the sales person knows this information.”

The second piece of the puzzle for Zone is bringing greater parity between the marketing that’s coming out of the wider BMW brand and what’s happening at a local, individual dealer, level.

As it stands, a successful retailer might have its own marketing manager with its own budget and agency. Zone sees its role as sitting between these two very sophisticated businesses – one a retailer the other, BMW, the wholesaler. On one side it will have to act as a BMW brand guardian but on the other work directly with local dealers on their own strategies.

“A successful retailer may have their own PPC agency and be buying their own media. We want to help them with the data, knowing what campaigns have worked, share retailer knowledge, make scale a good thing so they don’t go off and do their own thing,” continued Simmons.

Among the solutions already being discussed is a system whereby each of the 400 local business owners can edit a national BMW brand advert.

“Can we help retailer’s self-serve?,” Simmons added. “We’re trying to figure out how technology can drive better results and consistency.”

This is one of three trials currently underway, though the details of the other two are being kept firmly under wraps.

Simmons said the benefit of now being owned by Cognizant is that in the event one of these trials proves particularly successful the agency will be able to scale it quickly.

“Before, Zone would have to scramble to find a development team to work on it,” he said. “Cognizant is doing research and development on everything we could imagine – it brings speed and scale.”

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