|January 24, 2008
AudiWorld Editorial: Evangelizing the Audi Brand in the US
You know one or you very well may be one yourself - an Audi brand loyalist who supports the four-rings with your wallet and with your heart. If you currently own a late model Audi then at very least you have made a major economic decision in support of the brand; if you have owned successive Audis, tune into SPEED TV on the weekends, have modified or otherwise upgraded your vehicles or like to talk about your Audi online then you have ventured somewhere into bona fide enthusiast territory.
A pertinent question emerges. If you are a part of the Audi family today then what expectations (if any) do you have of the brand over the coming years? Importantly, do we have a responsibility to be evangelists for the Audi brand?
As one would expect, Audi of America has put a good deal of thought into the first question. Their expectations are openly measured in vehicles sold, and the goal is aggressive. In calendar 2007 Audi sold 93,506 vehicles in the US - an all time record - and by 2015 they aim for 200,000. That would require double-digit compound growth over the next seven years, something Audi has not been able to achieve in recent years. How is Audi supporting this goal?
Everything starts with the product. Selling more vehicles means offering great product and meaningful variety. Over the past two years Audi has updated its offerings considerably by entering the SUV market (Q7), the ultra high end sports car market (R8), the coupe market (A5 / S5), the compact market (A3) and soon the diesel market (with the 3.0-liter TDI) and SUV crossover market (Q5). It has also significantly improved the iconic TT, offered the RS4 Sedan and Cabriolet, provided new versions of the S6 and S8 and will soon roll out the stunning new A4 which is completely redesigned from top to bottom. From our perspective Audi's product mix has never been stronger.
The next step is to address brand image itself. In about ten days Audi will take a gigantic step in this area with its first Super Bowl ad in nearly 20 years. While the hoopla surrounding Super Bowl ads is at an all time high, we would urge enthusiasts to look past the sheer entertainment value to contemplate the underlying messaging.
Audi's ad will utilize "The Godfather" as its thematic foundation to illustrate the battle between old and new power. The company intends to bring to bear all the new products mentioned above to create a shift in the luxury brand landscape, a "death" of the current luxury brands in the auto sector if you will. Ultimately this campaign is focused on completely re-defining how the brand is considered by new potential customers.
Shifting back to the enthusiast front, we think it is fair to say that today's Audi enthusiasts are already fully up-to-speed on the brand's claims to being the new luxury player. From a technology perspective no other auto manufacturer has more to offer inside its vehicles (from quattro all-wheel drive to MMI), and clearly nobody integrates the technology in a more elegant and clear-cut fashion. Safety-wise, Audis continue to garner top ratings and other awards. Styling is always subjective, but Audi's newest offerings have been critically lauded worldwide for both exterior and interior design. The goal, then, is to ensure that Audi's vehicles are no longer a best kept secret among a relatively small group of happy owners. The current advertising campaign hits that nail square on the head.
In conjunction with the ad itself Audi has built buzz by offering people a chance to sign up at www.audiusa.com for a sneak peak early viewing of "The Godfather" commercial on Super Bowl morning. AudiWorld has learned that both the television version and online version will lead to a non-audiusa.com vanity URL specifically created for the campaign. At this URL viewers will find a comprehensive new web environment that provides more details around the "death of old luxury".
Although it has been consistently outspent on advertising by luxury brand rivals in the near past, Audi is clearly using superior products and a new, assertive advertising philosophy to challenge the status quo. Do current Audi enthusiasts have any responsibility in Audi of America's quest to aggressively acquire new owners?
We think the answer is yes, but with a caveat. Audi, through its superior products, passion and the overall ownership experience must be continually earning the enthusiasts' business in parallel with its conquest for new owners. We do not want or expect that Audi would depend on our efforts to give lift to the brand. Rather we advocate the reality that Audi has worked hard for us in the past, we as first adopters understand and appreciate the new luxury from the brand and that our evangelism for Audi can have an exponential effect which drives a better ownership experience for seasoned and new owners alike.
As dealers sell more cars there is a clear ripple effect for current owners. Audi of America boss Johan de Nysschen has made it abundantly clear that he expects dealers to employ continual investment - investment in their facilities, in sales training, in service and in the community itself. There is an economy of scale for dealers who can generate more sales with the same cost structure, thereby generating higher overall margins. Those margins are invariably reinvested back into the business to raise the dealership's level across the board, resulting in an optimized ownership experience for all. Enthusiasts clearly benefit.
Enthusiasts also tend to clamor for desired niche product offerings. Calls for US-availability of vehicles like the RS4 Avant and RS6 are largely dependent on overall sales volumes. The feasibility of offering desired quattro GmbH products and customization in the US is exactly the same. Broad sales growth will continue to translate into more diverse offerings, ratcheting up what enthusiasts might see in the future (and when).
Contacted for comment Audi of America Chief Marketing Officer Scott Keogh said, "if Audi does its job right, and I think that we are well on our way, evangelizing the brand will not be a forced or hoped for issue, it will be a given. The thrill of our products will continue to put a smile on our customers face, our technological advances will amaze, our designs will captivate, our safety innovations will protect and our dealers will delight. By doing this, Audi will no longer be the best kept secret in the automotive business, it will be merely the best. That is our goal. Only enthusiastic customers can get us there."
Ultimately we believe that enthusiasts can play a role in Audi's growth. Frankly some of us believe in the brand so strongly that we do take pride in converting friends and family from their American or Japanese vehicles into Audi's latest offering. What may not have been obvious, however, is that by doing so we are actually helping ourselves too. When we provide a little extra wind to push Audi's efforts along we bring the brand one step closer to a dominant position in the US luxury automobile market. 200,000 here we come.