Empathy and Agility in a Changing Landscape

Interview with Michael Müller, Audi

Michael Müller, Director Global Brand Strategy, Customer Insights, Audi

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

Over the last 12 months we continued the era of “Vorsprung” for Audi and made it visible in all fields across the world. “Vorsprung” is no longer solely a matter of exploring technological boundaries, but how technology is improving people’s lives and contributing to a better future for the individual and for society as a whole.

As a global player, we at Audi manage over 100 markets worldwide; a highly complex ecosystem. To keep up, we have implemented a strong, holistic brand management and brand governance to secure commitment to our brand strategy all over the world. As part of this holistic brand management we launched the global brand campaign “Future is an Attitude” to express our futuristic attitude, and showcase the Audi brand as truly unique. We have connected with like-minded people such as Nico Rosberg, Tom Hardy, Stella McCartney, Janelle Monáe and Olivia Wilde, who shared their personal story of progress. They, like us, want to shape the future. We think and act with the future in mind and want to create value and meaningful experiences.

We successfully expanded and strengthened our electric portfolio by launching the e-tron GT and RS e-tron GT as well as the Q4 e-tron as our entry model into electric mobility at Audi. This mean that we doubled the number of all-electric models in the Audi lineup in 2021. Additionally, we shared our vision for future travel and high-class experiences by introducing a new showcar generation. With the Audi skysphere concept and the Audi grandsphere concept, we have already revealed two of our three models.

With our holistic brand management and portfolio activities, we are going to shape the future of premium mobility. We offer inimitable experiences with our signature product portfolio, shaped by innovations, design language and individualization. Along with the history of our brand and what we stand for, this creates memorable and meaningful experiences.

As a brand you have to be empathic and agile and provide technical and emotional benefits for your customers.”

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?

Human-centricity is key to our success. We place people at the heart of everything we do, making them the focus of our day-to-day business, strategy and future goals. The results are products and services tailored to our customer’s requirements and desires and key innovations. Future customer requirements will shift according to progressive, high-class products. Immaterial values, experiences and purpose will play an increasingly important role.

We at Audi will address these new perspectives, because human-centricity means more than just focusing on our customer needs. We also have a responsibility towards our employees and society as a whole. We are engaged in constant dialogue with our stakeholders, anticipating their needs and responding accordingly. Together with leading brands from a range of industries, Audi initiated the Foresight Academy, a research platform to derive reliable insights into what the consumers of tomorrow desire.

One key learning is that the understanding of premium has changed. It’s no longer just about material status and showing what you have, it is more about values, such as ethical capital, experiences and purpose. One of the important changes towards ethical capital is the shift in importance of aesthetics and the change to a more moral form of expression.

As part of that change, sustainability has moved to the core of our activities. From purchasing, to production of the final product and even a second life after usage, we at Audi have developed a holistic understanding of sustainability. The VW group was the first car manufacturer to agree to the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate. We have initiated numerous measures along the entire value chain that contribute to the vision of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. By 2025, we are going to have more than 20 all-electric models and expand our PHEV portfolio. We want to achieve more than a third of our global sales with all-electric and hybridized automobiles by 2025. We have already started this journey with the e-tron GT and the Q4 e-tron models.

We have established new, long-term partnerships which reflect our clear commitment to sustainability, such as helping to found the Greentech Festival. The Greentech Festival brings people together and inspires by showcasing innovative, sustainable technologies.

Future vehicles will be like a second home, where our users can use their time to work, exchange ideas or relax.”

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?

We are in the middle of the largest transformation in the automotive industry with electric mobility, digitalization and autonomous driving changing the landscape. The digital transformation is creating new opportunities in the automotive sector and automotive companies are increasingly software companies. For example, CARIAD SE software is a significant success within the VW Group and pools the Group’s software expertise to developing a leading software platform for up to 40 million Group vehicles by 2025.

The approaching reality of automated driving is changing the nature of how we will use the car. Future vehicles will be like a second home, where our users can use their time to work, exchange ideas or relax. Therefore, future vehicles have the potential to be powerful and fascinating spaces – fully electric, autonomous, intelligent and highly immersive. With this medium, we will have the opportunity to upgrade all previously known experiences into a completely new, immersive, sensory experience that shifts our perception of sound, fragrance and movement, to name just a few examples.

With this in mind, personalization will play a very important role. Just as our smartphones’ apps have developed, so too will the services and applications in our vehicles be more advanced due to automated driving. These experiences are made possible by a seamless integration into a holistic digital ecosystem and the redesign of the interior. Offering our users these meaningful and fascinating experiences will be the crucial differentiator of tomorrow.

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

As mentioned, we are in the middle of the largest transformation of the automotive industry. The digital transformation and electrification are producing incredible opportunities for us and for the society. We see a future that is full of possibilities and one that we at Audi are actively shaping. We are fascinated by developing a solution to a problem or creating something completely new, making the future better and more sustainable. Thanks to this transformation, there are new competitors, shifting customers habits and new technological possibilities. In order to derive brand growth, it is necessary to have more than a clear plan and a clear set of values. As a brand you have to be empathic and agile and provide technical and emotional benefits for your customers.

Based on that facts, mobility will be so much more than just driving. Thanks to automated driving the vehicle becomes a lounge, a gallery, a restaurant, a place to meet friends. It offers passengers completely new freedom during the journey and completely new experiences. And these experiences will be the most relevant accelerator of brand growth in the future.