Henrik Wenders, Senior Vice President Brand, Audi
How has your brand reacted to the challenges of the past year?
The global coronavirus pandemic hit very hard and has fundamentally changed our world. More than 10 months in, it’s still having an impact. At Audi, we reacted quickly and conscientiously with the transition to #stayhome as the health and wellbeing of our employees is always at the forefront of our priorities. We started the #AudiTogether program with the goal of engendering a sense of togetherness despite the physical distance. This program served as the hub for all communications activities during the corona lockdown earlier this year. The most vital message we wanted to give the global Audi community, our customers and fans was that “we are in this together.” We initiated measures ranging from providing emergency aid to medical and social organizations to broadcasting a virtual “solidarity concert”, that was viewed by over 49 million people. Furthermore, we launched a “restart package” for our dealerships and sales teams to reinvigorate our sales activities.
So, despite the current challenges facing Audi, the automotive industry and human society as a whole, as this pandemic grinds on we are continuing to work towards our long-term goal for Audi. Which is to become the most progressive and prestigious premium brand – and to shape the future of premium mobility to make it more sustainable and more harmonized with the way people are living today – and in the future.
One high-profile action was to shift most aspects of Audi’s day-to-day business to digital to make the whole process “corona compatible.” How was this conceptualized and implemented at Audi, and how has it enabled you to progress – or survive?
The pandemic has served to accelerate the digital transformation within the Audi Group. Especially during the lockdown phase, we needed to come up with innovative solutions to ensure that business, operations and sales didn’t come to a full standstill. In China, for example, the premiere of the new Audi A4 L – which is one of the most popular Audi models sold in China – was our very first all-digital launch in that market. The online premiere drew the interest of more than 700 million viewers. Our partners in China have embraced livestreams and virtual showrooms and offered a 24/7 online service and consultation to stay in close contact with our customers. These efforts have already produced results – in just the first three months of 2020 alone, we had almost three times more online transactions than for the whole of 2019.
In Europe, too, we have further digitalized our sales and marketing activities to adapt to the current situation. For example, with “Audi Live Consultation” – using data glasses – we’ve started offering our customers a contactless alternative to visiting the dealership in person. Another example of how we’re utilizing digital: this year’s launch of the new Audi A3 was the first-ever all-digital market launch for us. Furthermore, about 15,000 sales and service employees and around 20,000 service technicians at retail partner companies have been trained up in new digital formats.
What has been the biggest lesson from all of this for your brand and its significance?
For me, the coronavirus pandemic somehow served as a “test by fire” for our revised brand strategy. We developed the strategy as our response to the challenges of the electrification of mobility, the shift towards sustainability and the digital transformation – and how we wanted to tackle these issues in a more human-centric way. Therefore, we translated the characteristics that have made Audi successful since it was founded 110 years ago – strengths including innovation, perfection, fascination and passion – into a future-oriented brand strategy that is authentic for Audi. We did this by developing a new understanding for our claim, “Vorsprung durch Technik”. We’re moving past a sole focus on technological innovation and placing a bigger emphasis on togetherness, people and a more collaborative culture to shape a better future.
Have the last 12 months reaffirmed or changed your view on how brands need to exist and operate, now and in the future?
Crises have always been a catalyst for change. The COVID-19 pandemic is driving the economy into the digital future at turbo speed. Also the automotive industry. We need to adapt and evolve quickly to all-new conditions, tackle unexpected challenges and transform them into opportunities using innovative and novel new approaches.
The pandemic has shown us very clearly that a true dialogue with our customers isn’t about some one-off sales or brand interaction.
An honest conversation emerges when you establish a serious, equitable and sustainable exchange with customers and society. The only way for us as a global brand and company to succeed now and in the future will be for us to better understand what our customers want and expect from mobility products and services. If we truly engage in this exchange with our customers, I believe this will allow us to become more relevant and trustworthy as a brand – not only for our customers or within the mobility industry, but for society as a whole. We want to be a very clear voice for future mobility – by implementing clear brand positioning on the key issues and challenges of our times. Our approach: to be future-oriented and authentic.
What’s next for your brand – where you will be focusing in the near future to ensure growth and success?
Our most important areas of focus – sustainability and the digital transformation – have not been left by the wayside due to the pandemic. To the contrary: We are moving full speed ahead in driving these vital developments within Audi, because although the pandemic hit the “pause button” on many aspects of global activity over the past few months, climate change hasn’t stopped.
We see Audi as a compelling force to shape the future of premium mobility. That is why we have refined and redefined our brand strategy. Moving forward, Audi is strengthening its commitment to putting people, their values, needs and dreams at the heart of everything we do. The shift towards sustainability, the digital transformation and design will continue to form the core for us. Our new global brand campaign “Future is an Attitude” reflects our spirit, which is deeply rooted in our brand DNA: where passion, courage and curiosity come together – and automotive progress emerges.
The foundation for this new strategy is bringing the new brand character into the digital customer experience, the retail experience and into our products themselves. With this approach, we are aiming to create a holistic and fascinating premium customer journey – one that offers a consistent brand experience throughout. We’re harnessing the ideas and feedback of our customers through interviews, cultural surveys, expert talks and ideation sessions. The key: co-creating this brand experience together with our customers.
This is the attitude at the heart of everything we are doing at Audi as we shift into this new era for our brand and for mobility – approaching innovation and the future from a whole new perspective – this is the key to true progress!