Making its marque

Aston Martin global marketing director Markus Kramer talks about the marketing challenges facing luxury brands and how his brand is celebrating its centenary.

Aston Martin Vanquish

Marketing Week (MW): You have said that the luxury goods sector is lagging behind other industries when it comes to digital marketing. Why do you think this?

Markus Kramer (MK): Marketing is a relatively nascent discipline in luxury companies. While the value of the brand is incredibly strong, the level of marketing sophistication behind the scenes has not been very high on the agenda of executives until quite recently. It is now increasingly so, which is good to see. That was a reason why I joined Aston Martin [as its first global marketing director in 2010]. You could clearly see a brand that recognised it needed that level of professionalism to take it to the next stage.

MW: Why do you think some luxury companies have shied away from digital marketing, as you stated at last month’s Forrester Forum for Marketing Leaders?

MK: I believe many companies are afraid of adopting new media too quickly because it means [giving people] access to information that you previously reserved for a select few. It was very valuable for brands to have those inside stories but now it is available for everyone who wants to look at it. Social media means the democratisation of information. Do you really want to do that if you’re at the top of the luxury scale? That’s a question that a lot of companies may not have answered.

MW: Are your high-net-worth customers active on social media?

MK: No. The honest answer is that our single most effective way to market to the people who have the propensity to buy our products is experiential. It’s about getting people into cars so they can smell the leather and feel the quality. It’s about roaring up a V12 engine. You cannot substitute that with a two-dimensional experience on any digital media as it currently stands.

When we talk about aspiration and reach – and considering that we’re not a conglomerate, we’re a small entrepreneurial organisation – digital and social media becomes a very effective channel to build aspiration and desirability for the brand and extend our reach.

MW: How does digital marketing help Aston Martin to reach this wider audience?

MK: It works for Aston Martin because, unlike many other luxury brands, it is not only well respected, it is also very positively respected. We have high awareness, but positive respect leads to a lot of love and genuine sympathy for the brand. I don’t think some of our competitors necessarily have the same combination. For them it may be more tricky to adopt it.

When you go into other areas of luxury such as high-end watches, it becomes an even more pertinent question where I wouldn’t immediately say ‘go digital, go social’. I’d be very careful to think through why you’re doing it, for which products you’re doing it and what purpose it serves.

MW: How have you built up Aston Martin’s marketing capability in the past three years?

MK: You can do a lot in today’s world with very little resource if you get the strategy right. That’s exactly what’s happening at Aston. Our global digital marketing team, which includes our entire presence on the web, content creation and all social media channels, is just two people with no agency support, and it works.

Digital is such a massive beast at a lot of companies and luxury brands in particular are afraid – how do you go about it? The answer isn’t to go to the latest and greatest agency in London. It’s about being very clear about the role it plays and where it fits not just in your comms mix but in your organisation. Previously at Aston the IT department drove our website; it wasn’t ‘owned’ by marketing so to speak. Now with the right structures, people and strategy in place we own the website and that’s the way it should be.

MW: Which global markets present the biggest growth opportunities for Aston Martin?

MK: Establishing a global footprint is important, and Asia and in particular China are critical to that. But it’s also important for us to invest and maintain our capabilities in the UK and equally to build up our North American market. We have dealerships in the US but we haven’t really been there on a supported level of brand awareness so there’s a way for us to go there. We don’t have a single focus where we say that growth is all about the east.

MW: Private equity firm Investindustrial recently agreed to invest £150m in Aston Martin after buying a 37.5 per cent stake in the company. Will your marketing department see any of that money?

MK: I don’t know – that is of course my hope but right now the investment is about delivering the next level of great product for Aston. That has to be the primary focus. [The investment] is going to make sure that in the years to come Aston has really exciting, fresh, competitive and aspirational cars. I don’t know how much of that will go to marketing but I’ll do my best to get my share of it.

MW: Aston Martin is famous for being James Bond’s favoured car. Do you feel pressure to run advertising to promote this association when a new film comes out?

MK: Above-the-line marketing is always associated with media spend and it’s something we just don’t do because it’s not the most effective use of our resource. With James Bond it’s a love affair and we treat it as such, with a lot of respect. We would certainly not risk that relationship by over-exploiting it commercially.

It wouldn’t fit the brand and we don’t need to either. It’s much cooler to be seen in the context of ‘the car of his choice’. That’s very powerful and whatever we can do to nourish the relationship, we will.

100 year anniversary

Aston Martin Dubai stunt
Aston Martin arranged for its Vanquish model to be flown to the top of the Burj Al-Arab, one of the tallest buildings in Dubai

This year marks 100 years since London-based engineers Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford founded the company that became Aston Martin. To celebrate the milestone, the luxury car marque has focused on creating a sense of intimacy and exclusivity for its loyal enthusiasts.

Kramer explains: “This isn’t about using [the anniversary] as a huge worldwide promotional opportunity; it’s a genuine birthday celebration. We’re a small brand, we’ve only ever built fewer than 60,000 cars so the approach we took first and foremost was to celebrate with our owners, our dealers, our staff and the fans of the brand.”

These activities have included developing centenary editions of certain cars, with Aston Martin producing just 100 of each. The brand is also holding a series of exclusive events for 2013, such as a Le Mans event this month in which Aston Martin owners can complete a parade lap of the iconic sports car race in France.

Other activities have a broader appeal and aim to reach people who have affection for Aston Martin without necessarily owning one of its cars. Next month, the marque is holding a ‘centenary week’ at its Warwickshire headquarters that will involve factory tours and exhibitions, and end with a special centenary display in central London.

Earlier this year, Aston Martin also arranged for its latest Vanquish model to be flown to the top of the Burj Al-Arab, one of the tallest buildings in Dubai, as part of the centenary celebrations (pictured above). The stunt was filmed and quickly became Aston Martin’s most watched clip on YouTube.

“We don’t just celebrate the past, we also celebrate the present,” says Kramer. “By taking a Vanquish – the latest in our line-up – and doing something spectacular like that, we were celebrating where the brand is going and taking it further afield to new audiences.”

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