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Brand Innovators Livecast: How BMW is Building a Seamless Experience for its Customers

by | Dec 11, 2020

We’ve joined forces with Brand Innovators in their latest livecast focused on marketing innovation. Check out the video or read the interview transcript below from our recent fireside chat with Brian Voynick, CRM Campaigns Manager at BMW North America and get an insider’s perspective on how BMW is tackling building a seamless, cross-channel digital experience for its discerning customers.

MB: Brian, I’m so happy to be here with you today. I would love to maybe just start with a little bit about who you are and the team you’re on.

BV: Cool, so I’m Brian Voynick. I work for BMW North America and I oversee all direct marketing, one-to-one communications for BMW Mini Brands in the US. I’m full lifecycle, so happy to talk about customer journeys, what that means, and what a car means in that customer journey which is always changing now. In short, if you ever fill out a form, if you receive an invite to fill out a form or test drive one of our vehicles, chances are it’s someone from my team

MB: Amazing, so maybe a great place to start just because I know it’s on everyone’s minds: How are you thinking about your customer today and how it’s changed since the onset of the pandemic and what that’s going to look like in the new normal.

BV: At a high level, we’re seeing that vehicles are time contextual. And since the times have changed pretty dramatically. It’s a little different to drive your car 20 miles at a time to go to an office, or leave it at a train station every day, versus today where you might use your car once a week, but you’re going to go see family that’s a few states away. So your car is not just a means of transportation, it’s a personal safety device, it’s your avatar you’re showing to the world – showing what you value. But you’re also seeing a change in what the need is for that vehicle – are you traveling alone, or are you bringing your family around with you and what does that look like? So it’s been very exciting this year despite the challenges that 2020 has thrown us, because you are seeing an acceleration in how people change their behavior. 

MB: Speaking of that behavior, would love to hear maybe more specifically about how you’ve changed the way that you market to build relationships with those customers? 

BV: Yeah so currently we have a great brand campaign, which I am supporting but not responsible for. It’s called “The Road Home Event.” and what you’ll see is how BMW can help your family connect. The vehicle right now is a connector with that family space, whereas in the past that might’ve been more of an airline message. 

MB: So, transitioning into what that means for the digital customer experience that you’re building: how do you define that customer experience within your remit, and what does great look like? 

BV: Great for me would be absolutely seamless. Great means the customer doesn’t know or doesn’t understand the handoffs that have to occur between BMW of North America and their local dealership, financial services – which are all three separate parts of a buying process, but to a customer, they’re all one brand, right?

The greatest thing that’s happened in the last six months for us has been that we’ve had to be more cohesive and collaborative to get that going. We’ve also had to provide a better experience across all platforms, whether that is the My BMW application, scheduling a test drive on BMW North America, purchasing a vehicle at your local dealership or signing a finance contract. That all has to be one piece but also has to be sort of hands-off. Speaking for financial contracts, you have to have some level of personal accountability to sign that, but the nice thing is that we’ve had to accelerate the collaboration between all of those sides and the customer is the one to benefit from it. 

MB: I imagine–especially for a lot of enterprises–collaborating within the same company just across divisions is hard enough. But you’re collaborating with folks outside of the company dealerships which own core parts of that experience – I would love to hear how you’ve bridged some of those gaps and also how you’ve defined ownership over that experience for each party.

BV: Yeah, so not to get too granular but we break our database into seven key audiences. It’s a fluid environment. For certain aspects, where a customer wants to speak with a dealership directly, we take them out of our communications. The reason being, there’s a lot of opportunity for confusion, and generally speaking when they’re in that time frame, they’re looking to transact the next 30 days–maybe 60–but really in a very short time frame. So at that point, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the brand to communicate with them directly, because they’re communicating directly with their local BMW dealership.

When they become an owner, the handoff kind of comes back to us. Because as a customer, you’re expecting the brand to say hey, thank you for your business. 

Also a vehicle is much more complex today than it was 30 years ago, or even 10 years ago. To people in technology and marketing, it’s super simple: I have car play, I sync my phone to it, okay my Waze navigation and my google maps and apple maps, they’re all going in there and I can just start the navigation in my living room, walk out to the car, it syncs up to and it’s fine. 

But many customers aren’t as native to that environment – it can be really really challenging. So a key part of onboarding that owner is to start staying hey, here are the easy things: here’s how to sync your phone, here’s how to get that seamless experience, here’s how to download the app and sign up so that if you want to use internal navigation, or pre-warm your car or things of that nature, there’s an easy way to do it and we guide them through that process.

We also have a great complimentary service at the dealer called a BMW genius where if you need one-to-one help, you can get that. So that’s where that handover starts, it pretty much is right at sign of contract. And we also have a great data sharing agreement with our dealership where we can get a flag that a customer is shopping at the dealer and we can kind of take a step back from that.

MB: Wow that’s incredible – so in terms of post handoff, how would you describe what your goals are for the customer experience – what’s the behavior you’re trying to affect? 

BV: So again, we’ve set out into seven different segments or audience types and we have core KPIs for those audience types and that’s the way we look at our communications because our communications are highly segmented and highly versioned based on those seven different audiences. 

From that, if you’re a new owner we’re going to focus on a lot of brand engagement, we’re going to focus on getting you educated on the vehicle. We want to see that you take some sort of learning and we are also going to see how that translates to a NPS score later on from like your typical JD Power survey + our own internal survey system, too. So we’re going to check on that feedback loop to make sure that’s actually working and then we’re going to optimize that first 90-day onboarding area. 

If you’re in the middle of your engagement, we have different criteria. We don’t want to be a bother, we want to keep you informed. So we’ll send you some brand information – what’s going on? What’s new? We want to make sure that the car is getting serviced regularly and in our case, it’s really really simple because we actually include service, so the barrier of price is no longer there. 

We want to continue to foster that relationship with your local dealer–I know some people might roll their eyes at that idea–but it’s great to have a local dealership that you have a community or personal relationship with that you can go to to have your questions answered in real-time as you’re comfortable with it.

MB: I’m curious, especially with more and more connected devices, from the app to the car itself – how much of that offline data are you able to get access to, to be able to power triggered or behavioral messages?

BV: Frankly, more than we can use. We have transactional triggers – your vehicle needs service, please bring it in. We can look at behavioral triggers, such as how many miles driven to predict that and to some degree the level of effort when you drive – are you a speedy driver, or are you a conservative driver. From that, we can play suggestions for tires and tire programs, and things like that for the vehicle. 

We do have two great performance driving schools, one on a dedicated track in South Carolina – you can have an amazing experience where you pick your car up at the factor and take it straight to a performance center, where you can learn how to slalom a vehicle (and if you don’t want to do it in your vehicle, we have vehicles waiting for you fully shot with fresh rubber) so you can really experience what a BMW can do. We also have another track in Thermal, right outside of Palm Springs if you’re in the LA area – it’s a beautiful place to go.  But these are some of the elements that we want to bring into that customer journey. 

MB: Also for those listening, I can imagine a track day makes a great Christmas gift as well. 

BV: it does, it does! 

MB: So one of the things that you and I have chatted about, and I love this especially coming out of the last talk where someone mentioned Bozoma Saint John and sort of like, being able to tell a very human story because of who she is as a person. One of the things that you shared with me was that you don’t like campaigns –which I think is beautiful –and thinking about this idea of marketing as products. Can you share more about that?

BV: Yeah – I hate campaigns so let’s get this out of the way. In my opinion, campaigns serve a brand need but they don’t serve the customer need. You can serve both masters. You can effectively deliver brand goals while delivering a customer experience that isn’t so directly selling.

Just because you have the interest to sell a certain product in the month of March because of an inventory issue, doesn’t mean that your customer wants to buy that product in the month of March. And the fact that we have so much great data, and we have great platforms that stitch that data together, you can really understand that customer marketing should be a holistic experience that is literally always on. You should be able to tell when that customer is in the market. 

You have the data somewhere and it doesn’t have to be enterprise-level like where I’m saying we have too much data – we don’t have too much, we just need to better utilize it. You can do this no matter the scale of your company by just looking through and understanding certain behavioral items. 

In BMW terms – a more aggressive driver wants a BMW M. Someone that has a flag for multiple children in the household between ages 7 and 13 might need an X5 or an X7 with the third row, or an X3 – so, why am I going to show the driver that only buys six-speed sports cars from us the X7? That’s not the relationship they’re looking for. 

You can definitely feed that into the experience – you can put it into content and see if they engage with it. You can test but there’s no reason to ever say that this is the month that we’re just going to sell X5’s, or this is the month that we’re just going to sell blue shirts

Again, our customer segments are fluid – people are going in and out of those. Anytime you look at a customer journey from brand exploration to segment exploration to point of purchase, they go in and out of that static funnel. They’ll send in their information, they’ll go dormant for three months, they’ll go back to a forum, they’ll go online, they’ll check three things here, they’ll send information somewhere else and then they’ll buy.  

The customer journey is no longer strictly awareness, research, consideration, submission and then purchase – so we have to be more fluid with the way we think about it.

MB: Yeah I love the way you talk about the actions you can take, but also starting with a really solid understanding of who someone is and what stage they’re in. Can you take us through the detailed view – you mentioned seven segments but I imagine you’re getting a ton of information from your dealerships, and bringing in third party data. I’d love to really understand how you’re bringing all that together to come up with the notion of who someone is.

BV: We’re getting better with our first-party website data so that’s an even better contributor and a better predictor. We look at stages – all the way on the third-party side – people we don’t know, and that aren’t communicating with us currently, then we have people that have raised their hand to be a part of the brand experience–which is fantastic–that’s your prospect. They could be fans of our Le Mans race team, they could’ve just always wanted a 3 series or dreaming of an M5, so we love bringing them into the brand and then showing them the experience.

There’s a bit of a learning experience that we have during that initial communications to better serve them the content that they’re really looking for. Sometimes it’s really easy because they come in through a certain channel or specific source, and then that’s pretty cut and dry but others just kind of get to the website and say “Hey, I like this brand and I’d like to learn more about it” and we just want to make sure that we can give them the information that makes sense to them.

From there, you get into more short-term sales cycle customers – which would be those that have expressed interest in getting contact with the dealership and those that we believe are in-market. That in market insight comes from a third party- we have timing models that show when people are looking or could be in-market, we’ve recently enhanced that to better understand the share of garage as well through a third party application. 

Another thing we look at – has there been a change in household? are they new empty nesters? Also, once you get your credit totally perfect, you buy that house and you get a mortgage – one of those things for a luxury car purchase is that it comes within months after purchasing a home. 

MB: That’s fascinating – why do you think those things are so tightly correlated?

BV: Well, you want to make sure your personal finances are at their shiniest because you’re gonna go borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars for an interest rate, and the difference between potentially having a hard credit inquiry that will lower your score ten points for buying a house vs buying a car are very different  – 15, 20, 30-year commitments at an extra tenth or twentieth percent is going to have massive downstream impacts. 

If you’re going to buy a $40,000-$50,000 vehicle, you’re going to pay it off in six years. Even if you don’t wind up getting tiered credit — you get tier B and you’re going from 1.9% to 2.9% — the amount of money that you’re giving to the bank effectively is of minimal consequence. So that’s a big part. Then it’s also a matter of how comfortable you are with taking that cash out. Experian just released data that said customers are paying more with cash now. 

I’m going to go down a different direction – but talking about what we were discussing before about how things have changed – I don’t want to make it sound like COVID has been good with us because by all metrics, COVID has been terrible. But what we’re seeing is a more cash-rich customer, so customers are willing to put down more money – we’re seeing lease rates decline a little bit and we’re seeing average transaction value climb a little bit. Generally, you would see as transaction values rise, lease rises because your effective amount of cash out is less impacted by the cost of MSRP. So it’s really interesting to see that these customers that bring the cash in, now they’re going to a more finance model, or they’re paying full cash for the vehicle. 

MB: Going back to the idea of marketing as a product, to really understand these evolving customer needs, taking that as an example, how have you evolved the customer journey or experience as a result of that changing behavior?

BV: My specific level of marketing is brand engagement and sales engagement. The way we look at it is  “what is the experience” and “How do we know the timing is right?” So we set up our campaign with certain touchpoints, but those touchpoints shouldn’t be on a set standard timing model. It should be based on when the customer needs it. 

We can see that in many ways – we can set triggers so, let’s say we know that customers at mile 600 get frustrated by trying to figure out how to use navigation with their iDrive units because we get a lot of complaints within 600 miles. 

Well, if we know what’s going to happen we should probably get them something at about 400 miles, right? And so far, customers finding this issue, which we can see to a certain degree, should be triggered based on that behavior.

The other thing too – have you ever been with someone who just bought a new car?

MB: Yeah, yeah I have. I’m just imagining – my dad actually bought a BMW.

BV: Okay so you’re familiar. They want to show you everything about the car but they have no idea how anything works. They’re so excited about the car but they didn’t really want to learn about it.

MB: Yup, exactly. 

BV: Yeah you can’t overload the customer with anything really. I think that’s why Apple stores are so fantastic because you can just play on a MacBook for an hour and someone will just stop by and be like “do you need help?” ..”no, no, i’m just playing” and they go away and they have 25-30 MacBooks that you can sit there and explore. Then, after an hour or two of exploring or using the vehicle. It is then that they start having questions because the newness wears off and they’re like “okay, now I have to make this thing work for me.”

So you don’t want to bombard them, but you do need to create solutions to the problems that you are aware of both on the brand and customer side and then you predict and wait to see if it worked. But if your prediction is wrong, you have to be able to reel that back to understand why it was wrong and then put it back into place and test again. 

So I say marketing as a product, I mean that you should have an experience ready for customers at every level of the journey and they should have specific KPIs that you want to hit with it. And when you don’t reach those KPIs, you must be able to go through and understand through those data points, what you need to better optimize. For example, 3 series, 5 series, 7 series customers are all different, and they’re all going to be triggered back into market with different things.

MB: I think being responsive to behaviors and helping people understand how to use the car is a way better experience than my dad handing me the owner’s manual and telling me to read it while driving around. First, they’re super boring and it’s a really great way to make your kid car sick. 

I would love to talk about some of the prerequisites for beginners – so you’ve talked a lot about data that you have access to, I’d love to hear what the journey has been to be able to get that all into one place, resolve it to that customer identity and to make it fully actionable by your team.

BV: So we have two ways of doing that – the easiest way is that we have something called a global ID for a customer and each engagement can always be linked through some table or some way to this ID. People that are much smarter than me have devised a way to house this information in an unstructured lake and then as we need it, we can pull down to activate upon it. Otherwise, it’s much too cumbersome to do it right.

It’s really nice that we can say, there’s a customer trigger within our database that shows an inkling of interest from one person, we can then pull down the other data points that we need to work on there, and then the data that we don’t need can go back into the lake. 

We can only work on a smaller set of information to be a little nimbler and be able to actually get the campaign out. We can now sift through the information, identify what we need, and then activate on it. If we need to model it out, we can and then assign a score and every now and again, I’ll just re-run that score.

MB: BMW is incredibly forward-thinking for putting together a data lake that’s fully resolved back to customer identity, so you guys are way ahead of the curve there. What advice would you give to folks who don’t have access to data that’s that clean – in where to start and or what to focus on?

BV: Well the data is not totally clean, that’s why it’s being unstructured up there. We have commonalities that we can get to that can be at a VIN level, or a global customer ID level, but I’m glad you brought this up because I do a lot of work with smaller companies as well who say, like have a list of email addresses and zip codes and ask “What do we do with this?

You can start very small, you can send an email out and you can use a company like Mailchimp or Constant Contact or any other email deployment vendor that’s not going to cost a ton of money. If you have a portfolio of 3,000 customers, you can do a simple email that says what are you interested in? 

if you don’t want to be that direct you can make some very compelling content– if I’m selling socks, one thing is about sports socks one, thing is about dress socks, and one thing is about kids socks. Just from that, those people that click on kids socks you’re can start to assume they have children in the household or they’re buying for children. You don’t need to get a six-figure data analyst to go in there and tell you that they’re gonna buy socks in six months. You just need to start somewhere and start and start being and start looking at and being creative with the data that you can have.

Even lesser non-enterprise marketing tech stacks, you can have some sort of stitching between customers that come from Facebook and right there you have another audience that you can that you can then retarget. And I think Facebook, Instagram, and Google have made this really easy to do. 

I’m fortunate to have a fantastic team of internal engineers and data scientists in Germany. We have teams locally, and we have great vendor relationships that help us stand all this stuff up as well but you don’t really need all of that. You can do it without it.  You just need to look at what you have and then start taking those signals.

MB: To stay on that topic for a second – basically what you’re talking about–which I love — is the idea of progressive profiling. Sending people campaigns and seeing how they interact with it to understand more about who they are. You can learn a ton from the implicit behavior and then pairing it with like, the basic sort of segmentation or audience management that everyone has access to with Facebook, or an off-the-shelf ESP, it can go a long way.

If you wanted to take the next step, and identify the areas of greatest opportunity to focus on once you’ve gotten to know folks through what they interact with and then trying to figure out where you want to design – where would you start? 

BV: I want to ask you one question on that – am I looking to grow a company or am I looking to retain my customers? It doesn’t have to be one or the other but that’s my big question.

MB: That’s a good question – I think, let’s talk about growth because that’s what’s on a lot of folks’ minds.

BV: So let me rephrase this so I can fully digest your question: what are the innovations that I’m looking to do – looking towards Calendar Year 2021 – to promote growth within an organization, or what tips could I use to promote growth? 

I think, number one – understand where your customers are coming from. Look at your pathways, take a performance marketing approach and find your control. For me, control is always organic web traffic. So if you’re not a brand with a huge organic web presence–maybe you have a huge Instagram following–use that as your controls. Now, look at how you can implement or raise other channels to get to that level of efficiency. 

Going back to smaller brands, I would say focus on your strengths and double down on that. If you see something working, optimize the hell out of it before going and diluting your abilities across multiple channels. Find the channel that’s the easiest one to transfer those skills and crush it. 

If you’re a huge brand looking for growth, I think you know rising tides lift all ships. If you find a complementary partner, I think that’s fantastic. 

I’ve also seen some great competitive relationships that will come in where they are competitors and they will complement each other. I’m thinking of power sports–a lot of power sports brands, like if one is, much more outdoorsy and the other is much more racing-oriented, they can come together and with their combined skills actually get better market share for each. They’re competing within the same vertical but they’re in different segments within it. 

So if they’re amplifying their audience with that, I think really listen to what people are interested in. The the larger platforms are really good at showing you what people’s hobbies are, what their interests are and lean into that.  Make it less about trying to sell and more about getting them to say like “yeah this fits with me.”

Rivian’s done an awesome job with that recently. They’re the adventure truck and they had their partnership with Harley-Davidson – right so there you have the adventure truck Harley-Davidson. And they put their electric vehicle out with Charlie Borman and Ewan Mcgregor’s new show. So there’s an example of two brands that can figure out a way to complement one another.

MB: So we only have a few minutes left speaking – would love to take a question from the audience. This is a great one – how do you see your audience demographic expanding to be more inclusive as the industry grows and evolves?

BV: Yeah – you see that in our product. You’ll see a lot of it coming out in calendar year 21. I don’t want to give too much away but we launched the BMW IX concept in November — I believe November 11 was the start of communications for that  — and you’re going to see how the brand is evolving with the times. A BMW still provides the ultimate driving experience, but it does it in a much more modern way. 

We also see it with products such as the 2 Series Grand Coupe we launched this year. It’s an awesome car to drive but it’s at a much lower price point. It’s certainly not an inexpensive experience – you have all the accoutrement and tech of the larger vehicles, in a smaller package. 

MB: Amazing. So – one last one from the audience. I’m really interested in the Certified Pre-Owned to New Car Funnel. So new owners like New Yorkers and others buying their first household car – how do you work new vehicles when they’re in the market again? 

BV: I do and I don’t. It depends on if they express an interest. Otherwise, people are kind of creatures of habit and the CPO buyer is doing it for a reason. So, a CPO buyer wants an extended warranty, they want some of the more liberal mileage restrictions. It’s not always a price issue, it’s’ a value issue – they value different things than a new car buyer. 

There is some transfer from one to the other and the CPO owner is actually the most impacted owner through traditional media – fun fact: they love getting direct mail, which is a little different. So I don’t try to push them one way or another – we have sales goals for both sides of the business so I can’t let one go for the other one but it’s a great question because it comes up very regularly.

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