How BMW Malaysia got it all wrong with its latest LinkedIn campaign

I opened my LinkedIn this morning and had this message in my inbox. Now my trials and tribulations with BMW are well known to anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis.

BMW, I’m the last person you want to be contacting!

But in case you are new and interested, you can read an example of why I detest this brand with a passion here.

Let’s go back to that message in my inbox. This is a relatively new channel for brands, especially here in Malaysia where most business owners think a billboard is the height of marketing sophistication.

So why would you use this channel? Well in theory it allows you to get in front of the right kind of people. Ideally, that is people who are interested in your industry and potentially although not in my case obviously, your actual brand and even a particular product.

The idea is to work with LinkedIn to target users who have shown some interest previously in a similar product or even better are perhaps engaged in related communities.

Best of all would be members who are engaged and want to know about the product. I’m none of these but that didn’t stop BMW messaging me.

Look at that message. What does “Athletically muscular and aesthetically uncompromising” juxtaposed with ‘its full-on racing DNA is visible from the get-go” even mean?

In the era of Mad Men this meant something. Today it shows a complete lack of understanding or appreciation of the customer journey.

Hopefully they are being charged per click because in the course of writing this post, I’ve clicked on the call to action many times.

Power. Gentleman. Design. Oh my days…

And once I get to the site, I’m bombarded with even more powerful verbs, adverbs, adjectives and prepositions. Uncompromising power. The Perfect Gentleman. Design. WTF? I guess by now I’m supposed to be frothing at the mouth, desperate for the opportunity to own this beast, which incidentally costs more than RM1,000,000.

But perhaps most galling of all is that when I click on the link, I go to the main BMW site. So I’m being targeted as someone with the potential to spend RM1,000,000 on a car, yet now I’m supposed to mix with the hordes of BMW 1 and 3 series wannabe owners.

There should an exclusive, seamless way for me to engage with the dynamic 8 team waiting for someone like me keen to learn more about the 8 series!

But anyway by now, instead of frothing at the mouth, I’m doing what every potential customer does these days. I’m seeking out the opinions of people that matter to me.

And when it comes to buying a car, my first stop is Top Gear. BMW describes the interior of the 8 as “More irresistible with every detail. The elegant ‘CraftedClarity’ (note the nifty use of capitals and joining together of two words) glass application gives the sporty interior an exquisite appearance…It embellishes the insert of the gear selector…The result is an interplay of sporty flair and exclusive design that combines athleticism and grace like never before.”

Obviously as a jaded consumer who has been let down so many times by brands over promising and under delivering, I need to visit the Top Gear site to get a third party unbiased opinion.

‘CraftedClarity’ or ‘Unreadable’. You decide

Top Gear describes the interior as, “the new TFT- screen instrument cluster is a mess. There’s a big area in the centre that shows navigation diagrams, which can’t be used for anything else if you know where you’re going.” Hardly ‘CraftedClarity’!

Top Gear goes on, “Alongside is a near-unreadable rev-counter. In compensation you get a tach in the HUD when in sports mode. The new climate controls are a bit fiddlier than BMW’s previous efforts too, and the silver buttons are impossible to read when backlit. And while Apple CarPlay-over-Bluetooth is a convenient idea, it was glitchy in the test cars. That’s a nitpicking paragraph, but more nits than you expect.”

It’s a million Ringgit car! You nit pick away lads!

However, Top Gear isn’t done. They end the interior review with, “…The front seats are a good place to be, poly-adjustable and supportive. The back ones aren’t. They’re horribly cramped, for knees and heads. At least the boot is biggish, and folding the useless back seats extends it some more.”

That’s a long way from, “interplay of sporty flair and exclusive design that combines athleticism and grace like never before.”

The Top Gear verdict is seven out of ten and the very underwhelming, “It’s very competent across the board, but not greatly different from the rest of the BMW range.” Hardly a compelling reason to spend RM1,000,000. And that’s before the astronomical insurance, road tax and running costs.

So how can you make sure your brand doesn’t make the same mistakes? Well here’s a few ideas

1) LinkedIn messaging isn’t a tool for creating awareness. Don’t be lazy and treat it as one.
2) Branding is no longer about transactions. It’s about building relationships. Don’t try and sell anything to anyone at the first attempt.
3) Know your target market. How many people in Malaysia are likely to be able to afford or want a BMW 8 series? No more than a handful. There are better ways to reach out to them.
4) Have an integrated brand strategy based on robust brand, market and customer data to make informed tactical decisions. No more of this ‘spray and pray’ approach.
5) Understand the customer journey before making any tactical decisions.
6) If you are selling an exclusive product, make every step of the experience exclusive.
7) Brands can no longer expect consumers to believe what they say and not seek 3rd party confirmation of the claims. The days of flamboyant corporate driven advertising with ‘power words’ are over. Accept it. Be real and human in your content.
8) For an automotive company, the right way to use LinkedIn messages is to create personalized invites for a test drive or invitation to an exclusive and I mean exclusive, event.
9) Don’t use new tools in old ways.
10) Collect and use customer data.

It is inevitable that you will lose customers although preferably not the way I was lost to BMW.

Have a recovery plan for lost customers, especially those lost in an acrimonious way. But once lost, don’t include those customers in your marketing as it may negate your marketing efforts significantly.

But most important of all, branding today is about building relationships, not selling stuff. Use new tools properly to build relationships. The stuff will then sell itself.


These videos suggest there is a disconnect between what Malaysia Airlines says and what it does

In the mid 1980s, I was working in the Middle East and when it came to taking leave, we had 2 travel options. Head West for Europe or East for Asia. Whichever direction, the airline recommendations were always the same – try to fly on Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific or Malaysia Airlines.

Why, because those airlines offered top quality service. Something the European carriers, with the exception perhaps of Swissair, were unwilling or unable to do.

Emirates arrived in 1985, Oman and Qatar Air in 1993, Etihad in 2003. Prior to that, the only Gulf carriers were Saudi Airlines and Gulf Air. Thanks to their owner’s deep pockets, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar accelerated the establishment of their brands with massive investments in brand experiences.

Since then, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific have done their best to compete but Malaysia Airlines (MAB) was left far behind and today, is a mere shadow of the great brand it once was.

To many, if it wasn’t for the Business and First class offerings, it’s essentially already a low cost carrier. Nevertheless, in its communications at least, Malaysia Airlines continues to give the outside world the impression it sees itself as a world-class carrier.

In March 2018, Malaysia Airlines launched a campaign titled “Malaysian Hospitality Begins With Us”. The campaign aim was to ‘reinstate and demonstrate MAB as the national icon and represent Malaysian hospitality on behalf of the nation to all its guests and customers.’

MAB’s group CEO Izham Ismail said during the launch “that the airline’s diversity, heritage and culture are the foundation and reference of the brand promise, and that MAB aims to provide a Malaysian experience in travel through Malaysian hospitality.”

These bold and practically impossible to live up to statements were supported by the usual professionally produced advertisements and videos shot in high definition with smiling cabin crew in brand new aircraft telling us about ‘Malaysian Hospitality’ and how it is a culture that ‘runs through the organization’.

The website, the first destination for many potential passengers has a special section for ‘Malaysian Hospitality’ and in this section announces “Welcome’, or as the locals would say, ‘Selamat Datang’. That’s how it begins, the experience that is our hospitality. Warmth and generosity are the hallmarks of how we treat anyone we meet. That’s what we’re known for as Malaysians, and more importantly as an airline.”

It goes on to say, “Our hospitality begins with our experience. As we strive to deliver the best experience possible, everything we do is guided by our principles of hospitality.”

Now in some ways I think this is quite clever. Because if Malaysians are known for their warmth and generosity, then they only need to leverage on the natural capabilities of employees to deliver a potentially world class experience.

But it also means that every crew on every flight, will have to be on top of their game non stop if they are to deliver a high level of service at every touch point, every time. And that delivery must meet the very diverse needs of very diverse passengers.

And of course, the concept of ‘warmth and generosity’ may be difficult to deliver. Warmth yes, but generosity? What does that mean? Do you hug every passenger and give them a US$100 bill? Or do you upgrade everyone who asks?

Don’t forget, the aim is to ‘represent Malaysian hospitality on behalf of the nation to all its guests and customers’. With such a promise, there can be no half measures. And of course you can be sure plenty of people will be waiting for the first fail.

Is Malaysia Airlines delivering on the promises above? Despite the glossy high-end corporate videos, two videos have emerged recently to suggest it isn’t.

On their own, these videos could be dismissed as ‘one off’ rants by disgruntled customers but watched together and added to the explosion of negativity on the MAS Facebook page and a pattern seems to be emerging.

This suggests to me that whatever training cabin crew are receiving is not linked to the big promise and whoever is responsible for measuring the effectiveness of that training, isn’t doing their job properly.

Let’s take a look at the videos. The first one was uploaded to YouTube on November 20th 2018 by travel and aviation vlogger Josh Cahil who is based in Germany and has 23,000 followers on Instagram and close to 10,000 followers on Twitter.

His YouTube video where he claimed he was bullied by “extremely unfriendly” MAS cabin crew on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to London has been viewed more than 280,000 times and generated more than 2,600 comments.

International media in the UK and Australia picked up the story as well and in Malaysia it was covered by not to mention other news portals.

The second video was circulated around Malaysia via Whatsapp towards the end of November 2018. This video was created by controversial travel hack, entrepreneur and author of “Don’t You Know Who I Think I Am?: Confessions of a First-Class A**hole” Justin Ross Lee.

I have a suspicion this video was created some time ago because it features the Malaysia Airlines A380 and as far as I know, they aren’t using that aircraft on the London sector any more.

But what both these videos do is show how Malaysia Airlines is unable to deliver on the bold promises it makes in its marketing. They also show the futility of spending large sums of money on big ideas and not linking that promise to the departments responsible for delivering on that promise when all it takes is one passenger to have a bad experience and share that experience across social media and the whole expensive, one size fits all campaign is ruined.

This mass economy approach more suited to 1988 than to 2018 is built around the belief that with a large enough investment, an airline can make potential and existing passengers believe each bold statement it makes and that if it doesn’t deliver on that statement during their particular interaction with the brand, the passenger should just be grateful anyway.

Following the Josh Cahil video, Malaysia Airlines initiated an investigation and according to Cahil, the group CEO sent him a template apology and offered him a refund, which he asked them to donate to a charity supported by them.

The problem was that by this stage, the story was dominating social media conversations. Even corporate driven tactics on social media were being ambushed with negative comments.

In fact the majority of MAB’s attempts to use social media in a positive way are being hijacked by negative comments. And when this happens, the firm doesn’t seem to grasp the link between what the commentators are saying online and what is happening offline.

Malaysia Airlines attempts to build brand equity on social media
However, brand experiences are not meeting expectations & negativity is hijacking campaigns

This is the dangerous spiral many brands are finding themselves on today. They don’t invest in the right training to deliver the experiences consumers demand offline.

There are a variety of reasons for this and some of them sinister. Most common is that the scope of work for a campaign is created in isolation and by people who don’t understand the importance of delivering a ‘best in class’ customer experience.

Which means that if the scope of work for the project is wrong, it is doomed to failure before it even starts.

In despair or because they now have a channel in which to express their frustrations, consumers go online where they passionately vent those frustrations. And often they do it in the very space the company thinks it owns such as on a Facebook page, further diluting the ability of the brand to deliver on the brand promises made in the very expensive corporate driven messages it believes are defining its brand in the way it wants to be defined!

And if that wasn’t bad enough, when passengers vent those frustrations online, the people tasked with representing the brand simply don’t have the skills or for that matter the responsibility to respond in a suitable manner.

This exasperates the negativity around the brand, causing brand equity to plummet to such an extent that it can be almost impossible to escape the spiral into brand obscurity.

So what can Malaysia Airlines do? If they are serious about building a national brand that can compete with Asian and Middle Eastern competitors then it needs to understand the following

1) Forget about the big idea
Smart Brands understand the concept of the big idea belongs to the 1970s and much as the world has changed significantly since then, so should the way brands engage. Malaysia Airlines must focus budgets not on telling people they deliver Malaysian Hospitality but on showing people they deliver Malaysian Hospitality.

This requires a comprehensive overhaul of the marketing, advertising, customer relationship and social media strategies. Fusionbrand recommends this be carried out through a brand audit as soon as possible.

2) The right experience training
Judging by these videos and the comments across Social Media, Malaysia Airlines see training as a box to be ticked. A review is required to identify if there is an understanding of what constitutes world class service.

If the training providers have been hired for the wrong reasons and don’t have the skills to deliver the type of training required to compete with sector leaders, how can Malaysia Airlines cabin crew and for that matter ground crew, deliver a world class service?

3) Social Media
There’s no escaping social media but too many brands don’t give it suitable attention. Malaysia Airlines must start investing funds in social media instead of big idea promises it cannot keep.

I don’t know what’s happening at MAB, but too many companies think social media is the perfect place for interns because they are young and have an Instagram account themselves. After all, what could be hard about posting on Facebook and Twitter, right? Wrong.

Social Media is about many things. For brands, it’s about cultural, social and other nuances. Being responsible for a brand online is not something you do, it’s something you are.

Malaysia Airlines needs to link what it says and does offline with what it says and does online. Quickly, before it’s too late.

Why Mercedes Benz is a global brand

This interview with Mark Raine, Vice President Sales and Marketing Passenger Cars offers some excellent insights into what makes a global brand and should be compulsory reading for anyone in the automotive industry in Malaysia. Actually it should be compulsory for anyone in any industry.

Everything MB says they are doing – the borderline obsessive attention to detail, using research to determine delivery gaps, barriers or dealer issues, avoiding discounts, the focus on the experience and the innovative financing which incidentally opens up new revenue areas are what constitutes branding in the automotive sector, based of course on a solid product.

And that last part is important because if your product isn’t fit for purpose, don’t waste money on branding, waste it on advertising large discounts. That way you’ll make some sales before you go out of business. And talking of advertising, notice how there isn’t one mention of advertising?

MB Malaysia and its dealers aren’t perfect (and MB would probably be the first to admit that) and the way their dealers interact with prospects and existing customers can be significantly improved but they do a lot of things right and that’s what makes them a growing brand in a depressed industry and market.

This robust, immersive organisational appproach to branding that has at its core a meticulous attention to detail at every stage of the product journey is time consuming and laborious and far from glamorous. But this is what makes branding different to advertising and any creative driven approach to branding.

An advertising or creative driven approach to branding is much more exciting but it doesn’t build brands. And if your advertising is panned like the 2017 Chinese New Year ad above, it doesn’t matter because your brand has so much equity that the advertising become irrelevant.

And this focus on organisational branding over creative branding is how you become a global automotive brand.

In fact it’s how you become a global brand in any segment.

How Montblanc Malaysia turned an unhappy customer into a brand advocate

Montblanc is a famous pen brand that prides itself on its heritage, workmanship and quality.

The Montblanc web site says, “Montblanc has been a consistently present beacon in the luxury brand market for nearly a century. Having been celebrated for generations as the paramount creator of writing instruments, we have since branched out in order to offer you exquisite watches, leather pieces, jewelry, fragrance and eyewear.”

It’s a compelling proposition and one that my daughter thought I would buy into.

So she saved up enough money to buy me a Montblanc pen for my birthday. Like any father will tell you, this was a very important gesture for her and me. Although every present from her meant the world to me, it was a step up from the Mickey Mouse socks or The Who coffee mug I was used to getting.

And I cherish my Montblanc pen more than just about anything else. For a while I didn’t take it out of my home office. And then I took it on a business trip to London but was so worried I would lose it, I put it in my briefcase and didn’t use it until I got back to Malaysia.

It stayed on my desk and was reserved for signing cheques, letters and the occasional greeting card. I cherished that pen more than anything. And then one day it broke. I was unscrewing it like it was meant to be unscrewed and the cap snapped.

And it snapped at the point where the cap screws onto the pen shaft. I went on the Montblanc website to find out the warranty information and found this confusing statement, “Montblanc writing instruments are under a 24 month warranty from date of purchase or receipt as a gift, against manufacturer’s defects.

Obviously a manufacturing flaw
Obviously a manufacturing flaw

Manufacturer’s defects do not include lost parts, damage resulting from everyday use, or if the product has been dropped or banged against a hard surface.”

After reading the warranty information I was none the wiser but this being a luxury product, I was confident I could get the pen fixed under warranty but when I contacted Montblanc they told me, very nicely that there was a 2 year warranty on the pen but it didn’t cover my problem.

So basically here I was with a product that was sold as a ‘beacon in the luxury brand market for nearly a century’ and ‘the paramount creator of writing instruments’, but in reality wasn’t fit for purpose due to what seemed to me to be a design flaw.

I’m no pen expert but it was obvious to me that it was a design or materials flaw because there is too much pressure on the cap. The cap material simply wasn’t strong enough to sustain the strength of the screw on the shaft.

Perhaps the screw was made in Europe but the pen top was made in China?

So the branding issue is what should Montblanc do? Do they deliver on their promise that they are a leader in the luxury brand market, admit the issue is their fault, do the right thing and replace the pen or at least the top? Or do they ignore the customer and hope he will go away and accept that luxury lasts 2 years?

Historically a brand would simply quote the terms and conditions of the purchase, which is what Montblanc did. A case of ‘thanks for buying our expensive product that only lasts 2 years. We’re sorry, but it’s too bad’.

This initial experience with Montblanc was a huge disappointment. It bought me crashing down to earth. This luxury brand with impeccable heritage was refusing to deliver on the promises made on its website.

The brand refused to take responsibility for what was obviously a design flaw and told me I had to pay for the repairs.

Like a good citizen I got a quote from a Montblanc shop and they told me the repairs would cost US$125. I was basically between a rock and a hard place. Either pay the US$125 or have half a luxury pen.

Now in the mass economy when branding was transactional, I would have had limited opportunity to voice my frustrations or influence future purchases. I might have written a letter to the editor of my daily newspaper or to the company.

And I could probably influence my family and a few friends to never buy a Montblanc but the brand could live with that.

But in today’s much more competitive, social and relational environment, the consumer now defines the brand and brands need to understand that not only must they deliver on any promises they make, they must also look to every single sale not as a transaction, but as the beginning of a relationship.

That’s the responsibility they have. They might not like it but if they want the customer’s money, that’s what it costs. It’s not easy to maintain those relationships but with relationships comes trust and trust allows companies to charge higher prices.

Smart brands understand that today, if they make a promise they have to live up to it. They understand that there are certain ethics they need to aspire to in order to deliver on their brand promise.

Montblanc promised me luxury and distinguished heritage of close to 100 years but hedged their bets with a 24 month warranty. That’s essentially hypocritical.

I wasn’t happy so took my frustrations to the Montblanc Facebook page where I complained. Initially Montblanc refused to accept responsibility for the matter and referred me to the opaque warranty. This was not a good idea.

So I got ready to launch a rant on Twitter, create videos for YouTube and post pictures on Instagram, write negative blog posts, share the videos, comment on forums and search for discussions on pens so that I could share my experiences.

I mapped out what I was going to say on anti Montblanc websites and Facebook pages that I would create and even use the experience as a case study in my next book.

When faced with complaints, great brands listen carefully and do their research before doing the right thing by their customers. I think that Montblanc initially anyway, acted fast but then reflected.

Because a couple of days later I got a call from Terence Tan, the retail manager of Montblanc in Kuala Lumpur. He asked me to bring the pen to the shop and they would fix it for me at no cost.

Thanks Montblanc, you did the right thing & trust in your brand is restored
Thanks Montblanc, you did the right thing & trust in your brand is restored

I took the pen in and Terence was apologetic and professional. He outlined the process and that I would be called once the pen was fixed. And sure enough he called me personally and told me who to speak to if he wasn’t around because he was travelling in the next week.

In other words, Montblanc supported what it says on the website.

And as a result, instead of all the negativity I mentioned above, I’m writing about my positive experience with the brand. I’m enhancing their reputation, substantiating their brand promise and creating more emotional connections with the brand.

Montblanc can now use my positive experience in its brand building strategy. And this is important because up to 70% of customers rely on customer reviews before making a purchasing decision.

These reviews provide the social proof increasingly cynical and jaded consumers need before making purchasing decisions.

Integrated into the Montblanc brand strategy and shared across the ecosystem, Montblanc has the chance to turn a disgruntled customer into a brand advocate by leveraging on the positive feeling created at minimal cost to the brand.

Because now I’m no longer a component of a transaction, I’m now in a relationship with a brand I care for and who obviously cares for me.

So the next time someone complains about your brand, have a think about the complaint. Look at it from their perspective, not from yours. And think about it from a relational, not transactional perspective.

If you do, you may not only make a sale, you may make and keep a customer.

Lexus fails with its website

There is a lot going on in the world of website design and development and it can be hard to keep up. As a result, some CEOs believe the only way to stand out is to give creative people free rein over the design of their website.

Now I’ve written about Lexus before and I mention them in my book (which incidentally you can buy from the Fusionbrand website) because they are spending a lot on marketing but don’t seem to appreciate the importance of the experience in the consideration process. Plus, every time I see a new billboard or print ad it seems to be telling me something different. There isn’t any consistency in their communications.

And then I saw a digital ad this morning and clicked on the link and came to this Lexus Asia website. In my opinion (and don’t forget all comments on this site are my opinion) this website is a serious contender for the worst website of 2016.

At least TRY to make your content real and believable
At least TRY to make your content real and believable

People today are time poor and impatient. They don’t want to sit around and wait for your complicated video to load (unless they are given an option to look at the video). And once they’ve watched the video they don’t want to have to burn up a lot of grey matter listening to a lot of nonsense and figuring out how to navigate around the site.

The Lexus Asia site looks good but is terribly complicated. It also looks different to the Malaysia site and uses a completely different approach to the Lexus Malaysia site which also has it’s own tagline.

Now following my terrible experiences with BMW, I’m actually in the market for a new SUV and I went to the site to arrange a test drive for the weekend but left angry and frustrated and without a test drive.

So if you designed the Lexus Asia website, here are 5 free tips that you might want to cut out and put on your wall.

1. Your website must be consistent and responsive. This means it must look the same on any screen and adapt to a users screen size to ensure a seamless experience. Your site isn’t the same on a smart phone, losing the consistency that is key to successful brand building.
2. Your website must be easy to navigate and have a clear, easy to follow layout. Get anywhere in three clicks or less is the general rule of thumb.
3. Flash is very last year and search engines don’t like them and some older browsers even block flash.
4. Your site should be free of clutter.
5. Make sure your video scripts make sense – “Luxury is stiff. It’s very lobster.” Seriously?

The Lexus site was overwhelming. Beautiful and creative perhaps, but it’s only there to get visitors in for a test drive, not to win an award. Oh wait, maybe that’s it!

Luxury brands look to digital to attract generation AAA

Luxury brands, especially those with significant exposure to China have had a tough 2015. Swatch group annouced a 20% drop in 1H2015 profit whilst Prada saw a 25% drop in its 1st half profits, citing a slump in demand from China and Hong Kong. Jaguar Land Rover sales in China have fallen 20% in 2015 and Maserati closed its Beijing financial street showroom.

Growth in Asia was essentially driven by opening more stores, filling them with a lot of stock and mass advertising. On the whole, luxury brands ignored or at best paid lip service to digital.

This was a huge mistake as Asia’s e-commerce market is now worth US$525bn in online sales and is growing at 25% per annum. This article in CMO magazine that I contributed to, explores what went wrong and what luxury brands need to do to engage Asian consumers online.

Is this where my love affair with the BMW brand ends?

Dear BMW

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for letting me be your customer for more than 25 years. During that time I’ve had some amazing experiences with a brand for which I’ve always had a soft spot.

I remember as soon as I could afford a ‘proper’ car, I went out and bought a BMW. I was living in Bahrain, it was 1989 and I purchased a stunning 1982 635csi with a little rubber spoiler on the boot. Black with red leather interior it was a beauty. Of course it was seven years old so always broke down but I was young and didn’t care. Even in the summer, with the temperature hovering around 45 degrees C when I found myself sitting yet again in a pool of sweat by the side of the Shaikh Khalifa highway whilst waiting yet again for Ali (we were on first name terms) to arrive in his tow truck, I felt privileged.

BMW 635csi
BMW 635csi

I saved up and soon purchased a brand new British racing green 525i that was ideal for those long journeys across the desert to Riyadh. At around this time and due to competition from Japanese and American brands, you began to position BMW as a luxury brand (we won’t mention the disastrous acquisition of Rover and the ridiculous belief that you could position Rover as a luxury brand).

I think it was 1992 when I bought the 5 series but I have to say it was tough selling it a few years later, around the time you lost about £700 million in one year (close to £2 billion in today’s money) and your brand was struggling to live up to expectations.

525i ate up the miles between Bahrain and Riyadh
525i ate up the miles between Bahrain and Riyadh

When I arrived in Malaysia after my stint in Bahrain, I couldn’t afford a new BMW and anyway your reputation here was so bad then that I wouldn’t have bought one if I could. But using service and customers to drive the rejuvenation of the brand culture you turned around your poor reputation and kudos to you.

The good news was that by 2012 I was in the market for another new BMW. By now I’m a husband and father and doing well. So my wife and I bought an X1. To be honest that was a mistake but as offloading it would incur a massive loss (it didn’t take off in Malaysia) we decided to sell it to one of our small companies and buy an X3. By the way, what exactly is the X1? Is it a hatchback? Is it a family estate? To be honest I could never figure it out but I’m glad we got rid of it because the plastic on the dashboard buttons was beginning to come off and the door was creaking and the rear window was starting to rattle.

Now the X3 was a hit with everyone in the family and we’ve had some great times in this car. It purred on long journeys to Singapore, Terrengganu or up to Penang. The X3 lapped up the school runs and trips around town and by the end of 2014 we had done close to 100,000 kms. Not huge mileage, especially for your cars but that’s when things started to go wrong. Sure there were similar little niggles to the X1 – rattling window and creaking door but we tolerated them.

In mid 2014 the X3 started to spew grey smoke out of the exhaust. Now remember we live in the tropics so cars are fairly warm when they start so it wasn’t due to a cold engine but I wasn’t bothered as this is a BMW and I’d read on the BMW website that, “Original BMW parts are subject to the same standards of quality as BMW vehicles – from construction planning to quality assurance.”

At BMW it would seem longevity is up to 2.5 years
At BMW it would seem longevity is up to 2.5 years

Of course when I read that before buying a car I felt reassured and it was one reason why I had ignored the fact that BMW only gave a 2 year warranty when competitors were giving anything from 2 – 5 years. But reading it again it suddenly looked like a bunch of words stuck together to make me think the components were solid and reliable. Obviously not.

So I went back to the website and read it again and realized that the copy was hard to understand. I mean read this, “The precision and high-quality construction of each original BMW part guarantees that all components in your BMW work together perfectly – for optimum performance and maximum safety and longevity.” Is it common then for some manufacturers to construct parts that don’t worth together perfectly? And what’s the definition of longevity in Munich? When it comes to certain components is it less than 30 months or does it depend on the component?

As I was considering what to do about the smoke, the airconditioner stopped working and in the tropics you need aircon. So we sent the car to the dealer we bought it from and asked them what was wrong.

They told me that both the compressor and the turbo needed to be replaced. Now I have to say I was taken aback by this. We’re talking about a BMW here and although I’m no petrol head, I was confident these components should last more than 30 months, especially as BMW prides itself on the longevity of its parts (assuming longevity is more than a couple of years). So I scoured the Internet looking for complaints about the X3 turbo unit and compressor and couldn’t find any!

One website features an astonishing 786 complaints about BMW but as far as I can see not one of them is related to these 2 components. Another site, also has a surprisingly large number of complaints about BMWs but nothing about these components which again suggests to me once more that I was just unlucky and got a car with 2 faulty components. After a great deal of searching, all I could find was one poor BMW user who had to wait 22 years before he could replace his compressor.

As for the turbo issue, most online discussions around the current generation of turbos suggest a lifespan of up to 250,000 miles. I thought that was a little ambitious so I halved it which meant I should get 125,000 miles or about 200,000 kms. My X3 has done less than 100,000 km and the turbo is kaput.

Unless the longevity of your components means no more than 2.5 years, I think you’ll agree that these two bits of hardware should last considerably longer than they have done on my car. I also own a Mercedes C250 and a 5 year old Suzuki and neither of these cars have any problems with these or other major components.

I contacted my dealer and asked them to replace the parts free of charge because it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise I was just unlucky and had got a faulty car or at best a car with faulty equipment. And in today’s transparent, human environment and with your focus on the customer as well as our long association, I thought this would be a relatively simple process. After all, all I’m doing is asking BMW to take responsibility for the issue.

At the same time, on December 18th 2014 I wrote to BMW customer service in Munich and received an unsigned email the same day telling me my complaint had been forwarded to the relevant department for assessment. I can only assume that assessment is continuing because as of today, 19th January 2015 I haven’t heard from anyone.

Meanwhile the dealer immediately offered a discount of 20%. I took this as a sign that he agreed with me because logically if it was common for these components to fail so quickly, they wouldn’t have offered me a discount. I wasn’t happy with this discount and realizing the dealer isn’t the manufacturer, I decided to contact the head of BMW Malaysia.

The only way to get hold of Mr Harris is through his secretary. I don’t know if she passed my email to him because he didn’t reply (but she did tell me when I called her that he is very busy) but she did pass the email to staff in customer service (the irony) and for some reason to the after sales area manager who was the only one to contact me, unless you include a variety of automatic ‘out of office’ emails as contact.

The After Sales Area Manager wrote to me (spelling my name wrongly – that really bugs me because it suggests sloppy standards and that’s not good in the automotive industry, ask British Leyland and a host of other dead automotive brands).

In his letter he informed me that BMW cars have a 3 year warranty on paint defects and 12 years unlimited mileage against paint corrosion and a bunch of other irrelevant stuff that just rubbed salt into my wound.

So I wrote back to him suggesting it is only right and fair that BMW takes full responsibility for these defective components and replaces them free of charge. I asked him as the representative of BMW to accept this responsibility and ensure this negative experience doesn’t escalate further.

Later he called me and we spoke for about 10 minutes. I once again explained the problem and when I finished he said it didn’t matter because BMW was not going to replace the parts free of charge and that “You have a contract with the dealer not BMW.” Stunned at this response I asked him to pass me to someone in customer service or management who might be a little bit more empathetic but he refused saying, “I’m not going to escalate this higher.” Shocked I told him that in that case I would take my complaint public and he laughed and said, “I’m going to end this call because you are wasting my time.”

And that’s as far as I got. All I wanted was you to accept responsibility for a couple of substandard parts. To see the bigger picture and give a little bit back after 25 loyal years and numerous positive recommendations. But I didn’t get it. There was no empathy, no demonstration of your customer focused values, despite what you say in your recruitment video and a complete lack of concern over my situation.

So as it stands I really can’t see myself buying another BMW because I’ve lost faith in the brand. I really like the clever way you use a German speaking Chinese lady to communicate your caring and customer focused culture and “reaching out to the individual and speaking to him in a very personal way” but as a customer, I’m not feeling it.

Certainly that culture hasn’t filtered through to the people in your office in Malaysia. Certainly not the one who told me “he was going to end the call because I was wasting his time”. And contrary to what the confident girl said in the video, the culture of your company appears to be very different to what it actually is.

My friends will probably be happy because I’m a very vocal brand advocate so at least they won’t have to listen to me yapping away at how great BMW is. But they do have to listen to me whine about the cost of the repairs.

We’re going to miss those beautifully packaged boxes you send out with the “exclusively for BMW white card owners” on them that include a desk calendar for me to promote you and a brochure with ‘special offers’ that are not as good as I can get myself if I go directly to the company but I know you mean well.

So it looks like it is goodbye from me, your friend and advocate of 25 years.

Marcus Osborne – Kuala Lumpur. January 2015

Can a cynical Christmas TV commercial save a luxury brand?

Luxury brands are beginning to feel the effects of slowing economic growth in Asia, political protests in Thailand and Hong Kong, political confrontation in Russia and Ukraine, political instability in the Middle East and the threat of Ebola.

Demand from Asia for luxury goods, especially expensive bags and other leather products appears to be on the wane. Struggling more than many others is Mulberry, one of the finest British luxury brands and manufacturers of exquisite leather goods that are actually made in England. In fact, as many brands look to increase profits by outsourcing their manufacturing to China, Mulberry is increasing production in the UK.

60% of Revenues from the UK
Mulberry generates more than 60% of its revenue from the UK but has been trying hard to grow sales outside of the UK, particularly in the US and Asia. In its quest to become a global luxury brand it has made some disastrous strategic decisions including raising its already high prices to differentiate itself from more affordable luxury brands.

For the British Mulberry was always an aspirational brand that offered affordable luxury but by going after the rich in Asia and America, it may have priced itself out of the segment it once dominated in the market it makes the most money.

At the beginning of 2014, the Chief Executive Bruno Guillon announced that he intends to bring ‘more excitement’ to the brand. From the outside this seemed to be nothing more than trying to create ever more expensive handbags that competed head on with Chanel, Hermes and Louis Vuitton. Bags that had once cost £500 got a makeover and were back on the shelves at £900.

The core customers were upset and drifted to other brands. By March 2014 Guillon was on his bike and Chairman Godfrey Davis returned to take the reins. In the summer of 2012, Mulberry’s share price topped £25 (RM140). By the time Guillon left it was around £6.40. Today it has regained some value at £7.30 (RM40) but is still off its peak.

Deserting middle England
Guillon was accused of deserting ‘middle England’ the middle classes that made the brand. Judging by the Mulberry 2014 Christmas ad it looks like the brand is trying to regain its relationship with that loyal segment.

Christmas in England is commonly associated with Santa Claus and reindeer, over eating, cottages covered with snow, a tree with lots of presents in front of an open fire, carols and goodwill to all men.

But in some families there is a darker side to Christmas that is rarely spoken about. The competition to give the best possible present, often to the most annoying and spoilt family member, can be intense. With this in mind, Mulberry has created a cynical but lovely parody in what I think is their first ever Christmas commercial.

33% of annual sales generated in November and December
In the west, retailers generate over 30% of annual sales during November and December and Mulberry will be hoping this ad will kick start the recovery of the business. Longer term they need to work on rebuilding their core values and create a Mulberry narrative that resonates with their target markets and once again become a successful aspirational brand.

But in the meantime, it’s Christmas morning, somewhere in middle England…

Travel related brands, especially luxury brands need to be doing social

Any brand in the destination branding space should look at this infographic to see how much effort the big travel related US brands are pouring into social media.

It is reported that there are 199 airlines active on Twitter which is an impressive total. This infographic looks at the top six which is dominated by US carriers.

Travel brands are investing in social because that's where their prospects and customers are spending their time
Travel brands are investing in social because that’s where their prospects and customers are spending their time

US hotels have jumped on the social bandwagon as well. Followers on Twitter for the top 6 hotels range from 4,000 (Radisson) to 231,000 for the Marriott. According to hotel marketing Internet users in the US generate 66.3% of global searches for luxury hotel brands which means that anyone in the luxury destination business needs to be online and doing social.

But it’s not just luxury brands that need to be doing social. 65% of leisure travelers begin researching online before they have decided where or how to travel. And a typical traveller visits 22 sites before making a destination decision. Arabs are big users of the online space for travel. Online bookings will nearly double in Arabia between 2011 and 2014, and the online leisure and business travel market is expected to cross the US$16 billion mark.

So if you are looking to attract visitors, especially from Western countries, you need to be doing social.

Thanks to media mosaic for the infographic.

New Audi short film sends Carrie Mathison to jail

Okay, here we have yet another beautifully executed short film, this time from Audi featuring not one but two Claire Danes or is it Dans? Desperate to get to New York, she has to make a choice between making the almost 700 mile journey in a chauffeur driven non descript American tank or drive herself in a Audi A6 Diesel.

The film imagines, in an amusing, if predictable way what the journey would be like in each vehicle. So the chauffeur turns out to be a massive bore who used to be in a band (unnecessary surgery) and happens to have a tape with him. And the clunky dashboard still accepts tape. Of course the car needs to stop for petrol and gets a puncture and they meet some strange people and finally Claire Danes gets arrested (not sure why) and ends up in jail.

The alternative journey in the Audi features the star driving herself to New York. Of course this journey is the complete opposite, all autumn colours, perfect sunset, calming music, open spaces and time for a picnic with puppies, yes puppies. She makes it to New York in plenty of time and everything is fine and as she’s about to go on stage she manages to squeeze in a line about the Audi fuel efficiency.

Meanwhile, in the alternative journey she ends up in a dive where she may meet an old flame.

All good clean fun I suppose.