BSM puts dual theory to the test

Helped by a tie-up with Fiat, BSM is using its centenary to take its marketing in a new direction by targeting the two key elements of its customer base – young learner drivers and their parents.

What do the Queen, Kate Moss and Lisa Snowdon have in common? They’ve all been students of the British School of Motoring. This lesser known fact about these famous faces has come to light over the driving school’s centenary year, which the brand has used as a big PR opportunity.

Snowdon and other celebrities such as Pixie Lott, Twiggy and Sienna Miller have shared their experiences of learning to drive across the national media, with BSM being the driving force behind the coverage.

Associating BSM with famous faces is a new direction for the driving school, which is attempting to position itself as a cool, funky brand, appealing to its core youth audience.

The driving school’s centenary has been used to reinvigorate the brand under the stewardship of chief marketing officer Kristian Welch.

Welch saw a need to revitalise a brand that had become “stagnant” following numerous changes of ownership. Originally owned by RAC parent company Aviva, BSM was sold to Arques Industries in February 2009 for £36m, but was then offloaded to current managing directors Abu-Haris Shafi and Nikolai Kesting for £10m.

“The brand has been stagnant over the past five years,” admits Welch. “It fitted nicely in Aviva’s portfolio but we needed to make it more fun to engage with learner drivers.”

BSM’s challenge is not only to win market share against big competitors such as the AA and Britannia, but against independent operators in each local market, which thrive on word-of-mouth marketing, says Welch.

Although independents have more experience of delivering business in a particular area, they lack the brand strength of BSM, Welch claims. “We have 100 years of history – we were involved in establishing the original driving test. When people think of learning to drive they think of BSM. But these days people use Google to search for driving lessons. That takes out the local element, which is why online is a big focus for us.”

A digital strategy is being implemented that appeals to a youth audience as well as their parents, explains Welch. “We have a dual audience – pupils, who have certain needs for learning to drive, and the influencers, which are parents and grandparents, who have a slightly different requirement. Our challenge is to find a happy medium to service both markets, which is a really tricky gap to try and bridge.”

For the most part, the brand has focused on reaching a student market, recognising the dominance of online and social media.

Indeed, marketing specialist The Agency, which has been appointed to give BSM an image makeover, has established that appealing to teenagers is the key to building the brand. A spokesperson for The Agency says: “Youth are in control – they make the purchasing decisions. Parents are only influencers. Heritage and reputation are still the most important factors for parents, but youths do not value heritage. Peer recommendation, flexibility of service and price are paramount.”

BSM has used its insight to revamp its website and digital strategy, enabling learners to book lessons online, use social media and viral video distribution tools and download iPhone and iPad driving instruction apps and driving ebooks.

Transforming the website into a youth-friendly window into the business has been BSM’s digital building block, with related campaigns and activities launching during this year to further boost the brand’s credentials among a young audience. The company’s online spend is now around 60% of its marketing budget.

We have a dual audience – pupils and the influencers. Our challenge is to service both markets

Kristian Welch, CMO, BSM

Surfing professional Sophie Hellyer is the face of the brand’s Learn to Enjoy the Summer campaign, promoting the ability to drive as the ticket to freedom and independence.

BSM’s engagement with social media extends this youth strategy, using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to encourage learner and new drivers to share their on-the-road experiences.

Most importantly, congratulating users on passing their driving test is a simple but effective commercial tool to generate word of mouth among the target audience.

“We want our audience to talk freely about their experiences with the brand,” Welch explains. “There is a lot of apprehension and nervousness around learning to drive so if people can talk about their experiences and get support and understanding that’s very powerful.”

One of the moves towards enhancing BSM’s appeal to a young audience is its partnership with Fiat, and offering the Fiat 500 as the car of choice to learn in.

“We wanted the car that our pupils wanted to learn in,” Welch explains. “Everybody at BSM drives a Fiat 500 so we all know what it is like to drive. We can’t just tell people we have reinvigorated the brand, we have to show them, and this is one of the ways how.”

The four-year partnership with Fiat also involves special offers for first-time car buyers and a branded insurance product, which is underwritten by Endsleigh.

Communicating the move to Fiat away from the previous tie-up with Vauxhall has played a strong role in BSM’s marketing, especially as BSM claims it is the biggest deal Fiat has brokered, making it a powerful marketing tool for Fiat too.

BSM’s Learning Made Beautifully Simple campaign aims to convince potential customers that learning to drive will be easier in the Fiat. The company claims that pass rates have increased by 7% since the switch to Fiat.

But it isn’t just consumers that this message needs to be delivered to. BSM’s set-up, where instructors are employed as contractors, means fostering brand advocacy is crucial among all parties involved in the business. A DVD introducing the Fiat 500, alongside a high-value direct mail piece has been sent to all BSM instructors to communicate the new direction the business is taking.

BSM appears to have put its foot on the accelerating pedal this year, unveiling and delivering its new strategy to reach a web-savvy youth audience. But whether the brand can communicate with them in a genuinely youthful way will remain a challenge for the 100-year-old brand, which will have to convince learners that the heritage brand is down with the kids.

Viewpoint: Magnus Willis, founder, brand consultancy Sparkler

BSM’s approach makes total sense. The business has shown a level of sophistication in understanding who is making the decisions about learning to drive and connecting with that audience.

Historically, BSM took a paternalistic view of who was paying and choosing, but there is now a definite development in identifying that the key decision-makers

will be young people who are taking the courses. It is an inversion of where that brand once was.

I don’t think the new image is under-mining the overall brand proposition, but

the question is whether BSM has nailed it in terms of connecting with young people.

It is incredibly difficult to be convincing in this space. Strategically, the prospect

of seeing driving as something that is about youth, independence and freedom, and the campaign being seen in the context of passing your driving test to enjoy the summer season, makes a lot of sense.

Brands such as BSM often struggle when they are communicating with young people. The brand is 100 years old – it is difficult to convincingly communicate with people who are 17 years old. Can the brand genuinely converse with that audience without looking like a “dad at the disco” type? Chances are you would have to put on some sort of act and you sense that a bit in its communications.

The most important questions are: How long term is this marketing approach? Is

the BSM going to become a brand that is about youth and freedom? Or is it going to balance this with more straightforward messages about pass rates and having the best instructors?

When you look at its website, it seems that the messages are multifocused. There are calls to “become an instructor”, there is information for parents and the appeal to young learner drivers through promotions and the Fiat association.

Generally, I think you are better off identifying one key audience and really going for them.

Key stats

  • BSM is Britain’s largest driving school and is twice the size of its nearest competitor.
  • The company’s online spend is now around 60% of its overall marketing budget.
  • Key contracts for BSM include delivering military driver training for the Ministry of Defence, and for the Motability and Family Fund schemes for people with disabilities.
  • BSM’s summer 2010 advertising campaign has seen general sales increase 20% and online sales rise 300%.
  • BSM claims that pass rates have risen by 7% since the switch to Fiat.

Sources: The Agency, New Media Age magazine

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