Driving Innovation

Interview with Rita Felder, Mercedes-Benz

Rita Felder, Director, Mercedes-Benz Brand and Marketing Strategy

What are the big success stories for your brand over the last 12 months that have driven your brand strength and growth?

Evolving our progressive brand Mercedes-EQ, a holistic brand that offers a comprehensive range of all-electric products and smart services, equipped with cutting-edge technologies, advanced design and sustainable innovations. Another is our strategic transformation, with the ambition to ‘Lead in Electric and Car Software’ and assert our position as a true luxury brand that creates desire. We want to build the world’s most desirable cars. The enormous potential of our Mercedes-EQ is evident in our EQC and EQA and setting the industry’s tech standards. We are also redefining automotive luxury with the all new EQS and EQE.

Across all brands, we think and act like a luxury brand. We are moving from the traditional understanding of luxury to a modern interpretation which emphasizes aspects like approachability, innovativeness and individuality. That means we focus on our customers and their needs. Our goal is to strengthen the long-term emotional connection to our brands by creating a holistic luxury experience across all touchpoints of the customer journey – from social media to physical experiences such as our Open Space at Munich’s Odeonsplatz during IAA MOBILITY 2021. This understanding must also evolve from the inside out, authentically by each and every employee.

Finally, we have a stringent target operating model for all our marketing initiatives. We increase brand value by creating the X-factor and brand-shaping moments, generate halo effects by providing hero cars and extraordinary collaborations, and assure consistency through a uniform global brand presence.

Thinking about the customer: we have a hypothesis that consumers once made purchases to signify their economic capital, then later to signify their intellectual capital, and most recently to signal their “ethical capital”. Does this hypothesis resonate with you and how do you address it from a brand standpoint? What about your brand do you fix & what do you flex?

We identified new brand audiences with different consumer motivations: On the one hand, we have the “me”-oriented consumers, who are led by self-orientation and are eager to show their status. On the other hand, there is the “we” group that act out of intrinsic motivation and for the greater good. When developing brand marketing measures, we rigorously align ourselves with these motivations. Moreover, luxury brands must show attitude and provide orientation. They need to act ecologically and with social responsibility, taking a clear stance on trending topics like LGBTQ+, gender inequality, social distancing, and human rights. To further exploit image potential, we define focus topics such as sustainability, future technologies etc.

Our goal is to strengthen the long-term emotional connection to our brands by creating a holistic luxury experience across all touchpoints of the customer journey.”

Increasingly we see that traditional industry or category conventions are less helpful to understand a brands’ commercial landscape. And that understanding and planning around consumer motivations or desires gives a better sense of the true competition. Does this hypothesis resonate with you and how do you address it from a brand standpoint? 

Yes and no. Product excellence is still a key to trusting a brand in general, but there is more to being a “luxury” brand. We can learn much from other luxury brands outside the automotive world that are also in the perception set of our customers, such as the oldest luxury market: “fashion”. It all comes down to combining the traditional understanding of luxury with new luxury values, such as sustainability, tech, aesthetics and customer experience. In this context, collaborations play an important role, as we have just recently experienced when Mercedes-Benz partnered with fashion designer Heron Preston, who made innovative clothing out of upcycled airbags.

Competition inside our category is crucial, but in order to grow beyond that by offering the extraordinary as the pioneer in product and brand, you have to look at the whole luxury market. If we want to offer the extraordinary and make dreams come true, we need to keep pace with changing customer expectations and switch from traditional to new values. This is reflected not only by our product definition but also by our brand positioning. That’s why we allocate a significant share of our marketing budget to brand stimulating issues. Since we want to create desire by defining brand-shaping moments at luxury touchpoints, we also like to break with conventions. Think of our collaboration with designer Virgil Abloh for the “Project Geländewagen” in 2020, our new approach with the EQS campaign, or our all-electric Open Space experience at Odeonsplatz during the IAA MOBILITY 2021.

Post-COVID, post Social Justice – the world is settling back to a new normal. How have these events affected your brand strategy? 

We feel the obligation to preserve our generic brand values. At the same time, we are reinterpreting our brand values in these changing times. While doing this, it is important that the agility and adaptability of our brand strategy is exemplified simultaneously by our employees. Our initiatives like “Donate Our Reach”, where we donated our global social media reach to raise awareness about the COVID-19 pandemic, or the all-black base coat of our Silver Arrows in Formula One as a sign against racism are perfect examples for that. Finally, rather than matrix structures we believe in less-fixed ones, as the merger of our previously separate areas of marketing and press communication shows.

What are the major disrupters and accelerators of competition and brand growth on your horizon?

It is absolutely crucial to show innovative strength in the context of ongoing digitalization across all areas. Then there is sustainability, not only as a result of, for example, decarbonizing the entire supply chain, but also engaging in partnerships with start-ups as a process to create and foster innovative spirit. With our change of strategy from “Electric first” to “Electric only” we have accelerated our transformation to an emission-free future. We are preparing ourselves to become all-electric by the end of this decade, wherever market conditions allow. Moreover, our Ambition 2039 program aims to make our fleet of new cars and vans climate neutral along the entire value chain over the entire lifecycle from 2039 — 11 years earlier than stipulated by EU legislation.

We want to make sustainability something desirable for our customers. And a further important accelerator for brand growth is, of course, the extraordinary aesthetics of our products and our points of experience, which give fascinating and surprising moments that go beyond customers’ expectations. What can be achieved when all of this comes together is perfectly exemplified by our product and brand project, Vision EQXX.