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.


Every Internal branding project needs to be driven by the CEO

Just thinking about an internal branding programme that Fusionbrand did at the end of 2017.

One of the hardest parts of the project was getting the C level execs to buy into the fact that without their support and especially the buy in of the CEO, it would never gain traction. (Side note, it was a GLC and smoking is banned anywhere in government offices but the CEO smoked).

The C level executives just wanted a series of messages to be created and then those messages were to be broadcast across the organisation. We explained that this would never work. Mainly because the concept of creating and broadcasting a series of words, no matter how well crafted they are, simply doesn’t work any more.

But also because we needed to be setting examples, not telling people how to behave. Back to the simple example of the smoking CEO. If an employee is told not to smoke on the premises but the CEO smokes in his office and the smell wafts its way down the corridor, teasing all those that smoke and potentially killing all those who don’t, why should the employee pay attention to the no smoking signs? And how can the no smoking policy be enforced if the CEO smokes?

Besides, we as consumers have been let down so often by corporate promises that are compromised by reality that we tune out of messaging anyway.

One of the goals of any internal branding project is to bring the employer and the employee closer together. The CEO needs to lead by example in every aspect of his daily routine. And that begins with obeying the rules.

Malaysia Airlines to consider not serving alcohol?

The National Union of Flight Attendants (Nufam) represents all cabin crew at Malaysia Airlines. As we all know they’ve had a tough few years as the carrier let go of more than 6,000 staff. So they need to get their teeth into a worthy cause.

Recently the Muslim MP Ghapur Salleh who is the MP for Kalabakan constituency in Sabah, suggested Malaysia Airlines start charging for alcoholic beverages on all flights. I’m not sure where he got the inspiration for this suggestion but surprisingly Nufam took umbrage and said its not right for him as a Muslim to encourage Malaysia Airlines to charge for selling alcohol.

Try to stay with me.

Nufam’s justification for this statement was that it is a highly sensitive matter for Muslim workers who make up the majority of cabin crew at the airline. According to Nufam, many of the Muslim crew previously objected to the serving of alcohol on flights and that the matter was even raised with the government.

The guilty party

Nufam went on to say that MAB is a fully fledged airline and can’t charge for drinks. Nufam said the real discussion should be about discouraging or even excluding the drinks list from in flight menus because the alcoholic drinks were listed alongside halal food.

Seriously? Is Nufam suggesting that having a list of alcoholic beverages next to halal food will make the food non halal?

Large financial sacrifices have been made by the tax payer to bale out Malaysia Airlines. Thousands of people have lost their jobs and families have been torn apart as a result of job losses.

Despite a lack of funds and resources, employees are working desperately hard, often with old equipment to turn Malaysia Airlines around and the people who represent the cabin crew are focussing on taking a list of alcoholic drinks off a menu because the food listed on that menu is halal?

But that’s not the end of it. This article reports that Nufam suggested Malaysia Airlines start charging for water, even though it has already said that being a full fledged airline, it can’t charge for products the way LCCs do.

One can only assume the lunatics have taken over the asylum! I genuinely feel sorry for Peter Bellew!

Malaysia Airlines will soon make a profit, but at what cost to the brand?

Peter Bellew the Chief Executive of Malaysia Airlines appeared chuffed to bits earlier this month when announcing the carrier had made its first monthly profit for a number of years in December 2016. I don’t want to appear pedantic but the former Chief Executive, Christoph Mueller announced last April that the carrier made its first monthly profit in February 2016 in this interview with Business Insider.

In the same interview, Mueller also said, “the airline’s products are “tired” and don’t appeal to young travelers.” Fast forward a year and the Nikkei Asian Review (NAR) is telling the industry, “Bellew’s efforts in improving the management and work culture, including at the baggage and maintenance departments, and a marketing strategy to attract Malaysians to fly on its planes again, has worked.”

Making a profit, but at what cost to the brand?
Making a profit, but at what cost to the brand?

In the article, Bellew is quoted as saying, “About a year ago, the company was flying Boeing 737 jets with only 5-10 passengers on board some flights. On Airbus A380 super jumbo flights to London in November 2015, some flights only carried 50 passengers.”

The article continues, “As of last May, the carrier was filling 45% of seats on its London flights. Last month, however, the figure reached 63%. Overall, the company filled 90% of seats in December and 82% in the last quarter, he said. That was up from the 79.3% reported for July-September. Business bookings are running at double year-ago levels.

What does this mean exactly? May is traditionally a slow month for the European routes whereas December is a peak month. I would suggest then that 45% in May is nothing to write home about but it is not terrible. But he says ‘last month’ which I presume is referring to December 2016 (the interview was in January 2017) the figure reached 63%. If that is referring to December then it is worrying.

Business class on Malaysia Airlines is not what it used to be
Business class on Malaysia Airlines is not what it used to be

But confusingly, the article then says the company filled 90% of seats in December which seems to contradict the initial statement. What we do know is that Bellew and Mueller have slashed operating costs to such an extent that Malaysia Airlines is now essentially a LCC, especially for domestic flights.

What I’ve noticed, and many others are also of the same opinion, is that its people do not have the communication skills required to engage effectively with passengers when there is a situation. Reasonable requests for explanations are met with a shrug or a mumbled reply.

When I flew business class recently and a fellow passenger’s phone repeatedly beeped during the approach, suggesting incoming messages which meant his phone was on when it shouldn’t be, the flight attendants did nothing. As I exited the plane I asked them why and they simply shrugged and moved to the galley.

There’s a reason why phones have an airplane setting. Sure, there are no proven examples of a phone causing a problem on an aircraft but I don’t want to be there when a phone does adversely affect the outcome of a flight and, bearing in mind the last couple of years, I don’t think Bellew would want it to be on his carrier.

Most recently, one popular blogger known as fourfeetnine had a terrible experience when travelling home for the holidays on Malaysia Airlines.

What bothered me so much about her experience was not that the flight was overbooked – this is Chinese New Year after all and these things happen – but how she was dealt with by Malaysia Airlines representatives at the airport. There appeared to be a complete lack of empathy for a young mother with a toddler and a baby, indifference to her predicament and no attempt to solve the problem in a way that may protect the brand.

And the irony is that this goes against what Malaysia Airlines is trying to sell through its new videos for Chinese New Year. The video closes with a flight attendant saying, “I would like to wish everyone a pleasant journey this Chinese New Year, see you on board!” Unless of course, in the case of Fourfeetnine and her family, you happen to be travelling home to Penang.

The blogger has taken her experience online and inevitably her story has gone viral. It’s had over 5,500 Likes on Facebook, thousands of shares and generated hundreds of comments, many of them also negative experiences about the carrier. This narrative will over shadow all corporate driven messages and make the job of getting bums on seats even harder.

In the past Malaysia Airlines was a product comparable to CX and SQ but today it is no better than a LCC. Crucially, consumers are beginning to treat it like a LCC. Once perceived as a LCC, Malaysia Airlines will get business based on price. But as soon as it tries to increase prices, it will be judged even more on the experiences of passengers like fourfeetnine and all the others with negative experiences shared across the ecosystem.

Malaysia Airlines really needs to start investing in the experience. From the clunky, outdated booking engine to the physical touchpoints it needs to be delivering on the promises it makes. Otherwise it’ll always be known as a Low Cost Carrier. And not a very good one.

Malaysia Airlines offloads key routes to Emirates

The tie up between Malaysia Airlines (MAB) and Emirates is an interesting one. On the one hand, there must be money to be made from these routes otherwise Emirates wouldn’t touch them and the cost to Emirates will be minimal because they are flying all these sectors anyway.

MAB will still be able to show it offers flights on the CDG – KL route but in reality it will be an Emirates flight that goes via DXB. As a result, MAB will lose a substantial source of foreign currency and the carriers brand as well as the Malaysia brand will be diluted.

At least Malaysia Airlines passengers can use this on flights to Europe
At least Malaysia Airlines passengers can use this on flights to Europe

It’ll also make it harder to sell Malaysia as a location for FDI to European companies because there are limited direct flights (to busy CEOs a 2 hour stopover in DXB each way is an expensive irritant) to the country.

On the other, it makes sense because Malaysia Airlines is now associated with the current poster boy of the aviation business (Sorry SIA) which should benefit the carrier. Although I wonder how this will work once Emirates gets a look at the weak offering MAB is, especially up the front of the bird.

It looks increasingly like Mueller wants to make Malaysia Airlines a small, regional quasi low cost carrier. That’s a tough ask in a market where loyalty is hard to come by. Whichever way you look at it, the brand is being diluted and that’s a costly shame for the carrier and the country.

I suspect there are KPIs involved that focus only on the bottom line and not on building a global brand that flies the flag for Malaysia and helps sell the country as a business and tourist destination. That’s a pity.

100 brilliant ads but are they relevant?

The print industry is changing rapidly. Publications are increasingly niche or evolving around new industries such as airbnb. The hospitality company with the largest inventory of beds but doesn’t own a single hotel launched Pineapple last year. It doesn’t aim to market the brand but instead inspire people to travel and of course hopefully use the company.

not selling airbnb but travel
not selling airbnb but travel

Another new ‘investment and Lifestyle journal’ from Singapore called Cache was created not by a publishing house as a way to generate revenue but by a conglomerate with multiple interests in the luxury and related sectors.

Cache Singapore aims to grow the parent company's database of contacts.
Cache Singapore aims to grow the parent company’s database of contacts.

Although advertising revenue will help to fund the project, the main aim is to generate contacts for much more lucrative deals. These and other new publications have a different take on the publishing industry.

They are not so much worried about readership, rate cards and revenue, but more interested in reinforcing their brand values, enhancing their reputation, generating organic leads, building strategic relationships and adapting the online media platform model of being content sharers not creators.

So when I came across this interesting post called “100 brilliant print adverts” on the influential creativebloq site, I was intrigued because I thought it would be fascinating to see if the ads had a place in the new world order of publishing. Sadly, for me anyway they didn’t. Well certainly not the first 13 or so ads because after the VW ad I got bored.

Sure there was some creative genius in there as well as some comedy gold but there was also a lot of nonsense that just made me think I’d seen it all before. Traditionally, a good print ad must do six things

1) Be memorable and easy to recall

2) Connect with its audience

3) deliver useful information quickly

4) Make absorbtion of information simple

5) Don’t confuse the viewer or force them to have to do any hard work

6) Have an simple call to action

Is this a good ad?
Is this a good ad?

And historically a good print ad should include these elements

1) A strong headline

2) A unique or provocative image

3) No more than 3 paragraphs of well written copy

4) A logo and/or contact information

Is this a brilliant ad?
Is this a brilliant ad?

Advertising companies are ignoring these rules in an attempt to get our attention. But it is very hard to be creative after 150 years of advertising. And even if the creativity, the sexuality, the humour or the horror of an ad gets our attention, it doesn’t mean we’re going to interact with the brand.

Furthermore, consumers don’t engage with new brands the way they used to and besides, we are now carpet bombed by so many messages every minute of every day that most of us simply block out the noise.

Add the proliferation and fragmentation of media, the sheer number of ads, the ridiculous claims made in ads and the changing nature of how we absorb information and news means we don’t really need ads anymore.

Moreover, the concept of the ad that has to be conceptualised, created, approved, produced and distributed means it can take 6 – 12 months before a campaign sees the light of day and in that time, an idea can become obsolete.

However, according to the graph from statista below, worldwide spend on print advertising has dropped from a high in 2000 of US$152.2 billion to US$119.6 billion in 2014. The same report suggests spend on print advertising will grow to US$123 billion in 2016. ad spend Admittedly that growth is maginally positive but I can’t help but think that turning up the noise isn’t going to change the fact that we’re not really paying attention to advertising anymore. I can’t help but think that in the new publishing world, we’re not interested in ads, we’re interested in what others like us have to say.

And in this environment, firms would be better off saving the money they spend on advertising and use the money saved to generate content about their business, build relationships with their customers and encourage those customers to share that content. The debate rages about whether print advertising is dying or already dead.

Personally I don’t think it’s dead but it is wounded and unless it reinvents itself, it may soon be irrelevant.