As part of this week's Agencies4Growth Festival, we've asked some of the brightest minds in marketing why agencies matter today. Here, Natanael Sijanta, director of marketing communications at Mercedes-Benz AG, explains how Daimler's new agency model is helping it transform and become a more human-centric brand.
The pandemic has not only turned our lives upside-down, but also sparked many societal developments. Fuelled by necessity, digitisation has taken off to a previously unimaginable degree – in education, working from home or in shopping, including for cars.
Mercedes-Benz identified the need to transform its processes back in 2015. We are already launching new products into new markets and building expertise beyond our previous core business. But we still face new challenges: products, services, customer expectations and working environments are changing rapidly. Accelerated by Covid-19, we inform, communicate, interact and purchase differently, meaning our brand and our marketing must evolve.
Since 2018, we have been shifting to data-driven marketing and embracing the benefits of digital technologies to make us more customer-centric - throughout the purchasing journey and a lifetime with the brand.
This means a radical departure from traditional automotive communications agendas driven by new product. We still celebrate new products, like the iconic S-Class, but we centre our marketing on the life-changing moments that trigger a customer need or desire.
Consistent transformation – internally and externally
We have completely restructured our internal and external marketing processes. To reduce complexity, we sought partnerships with agencies to help us align with changing customer needs, but also to connect our business and create a truly global marketing community. The priority was common understanding, empathy, shared goals and a collaborative mindset. This ability to adapt rapidly has proven itself as the key to success since the pandemic struck.
So, what specifically has changed? We identified early on that Mercedes-Benz needs agency partners able to connect people globally through common systems and processes. Together, we have created ways of working that enable us to draw insights at speed from many data sources, to create relevant brand communications and experiences for global implementation.
We set up the Global Marketing Board and Global Creative Board to bring markets closer to headquarters and connect directly to our agencies. We have globally developed a common set of systems and processes to activate and leverage our Martech, enabling us to understand and serve our customers better, and have streamlined activities and processes with our customised agency Publicis Emil as our transformation partner.
How does this differ from our previous approach? The new in-house structures are more closely intermeshed with our partners. Instead of tried-and-tested working models, especially directive processes, we now focus on close collaboration. This means teamwork is not a nice-to-have, but fundamental for every single one of us. One important prerequisite is trust underpinned by an open and constructive approach to dealing with one another.
Addressing customers through data analysis
The basis is meticulous data analysis amid a phenomenal rise in data volumes. Data, its analysis and insights are what enable us to move quickly in this more agile, connected way, and to maximise return on investment. Also, the data we connect through our platforms makes a valuable contribution to our business overall. By sharing findings with our engineers, we help improve understanding of the customer, identify trends and shape solutions for future demands.
Together, we are working continuously to refine the customer experience down to the tiniest detail. This is critical to ensure we make the complex simple, that every interaction is seamless and delightful, that we connect product to services, and that we genuinely understand and anticipate our customers’ needs and aspirations.
The transformation continues
Transformation is a continual process. And the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for us to move even faster. We must continue to embrace new ideas, question processes and manage the careful balance of cost, quality, speed and efficiency.
We must continue connecting our model end-to-end and take it to the next level, throughout the entire customer journey from first car purchase and servicing, to in-car and adjacent mobility services.
We must continue to identify best practice and scale it across our network to give us speed and build closer connections. This approach continues to reduce the distance between headquarters and the individual markets, and to funnel needs and activities in a way that consistently steers what the brand says and does every day around the world.
Our success indicates that we are on the right path, and that close collaboration between customer and agency was the right decision. We continue to develop and see change as a positive challenge. Openness, adaptability and flexibility are the key factors not only for reacting to transformation, but also for shaping it.
The advantages are obvious: internally, we have considerably more latitude to develop customer-specific brand strategies and to concentrate on long-term planning.
We have created a win-win situation for ourselves and our agencies, because all now have the necessary freedom to leverage their full creative potential. This is also the only way to truly drive the transformation of Mercedes-Benz from pure car manufacturer to contemporary luxury brand.
There is a clear principle at play here – to focus on customer needs and desires throughout the entire customer journey through inspiring, relevant, useful, delightful and connected brand experiences.
To conclude. Transformation is not easy. It takes courage, the right people with the right mindset and an unwavering commitment to a shared vision. But it is also a voyage of discovery, and we will continue to evolve our approach responsively and to find new paths that lead to our goal. It has been an exciting journey thus far, and I relish the challenges ahead.
For more insights, inspiration and celebration of the advertising industry, tune into this week’s Agencies4Growth festival.