Marketers in any business must pay attention to the desires of its customers. But when those customers happen to be some of the richest and most powerful people in the world, the idea of keeping one's customers happy becomes doubly important.
The unenviable task of impressing billionaires and heads of state goes to Marc Mielau, general manager of marketing at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. With his angular spectacles and pronounced Teutonic tones, Mielau is certainly not the kind of barrel-chested, Winston Churchill lookalike one might expect to be leading the brand. The son of an adman, he has previously occupied design and marketing roles at Mercedes-Benz and BMW. However, a quick browse of Rolls-Royce's recent history sheds light on how a German automotive stalwart could rise to the top of such an English institution.
The Rolls-Royce motoring business was spun off from its aeronautical engineering division by the UK government in the 70s. A quarter of a century later, when then-owner Vickers, the engineering company, decided to sell Rolls-Royce Motors - including the Bentley brand - it sparked a bidding war between German automotive rivals Volkswagen and BMW.
Although VW triumphed, with a £430m bid, the trademarks required to manufacture authentic Rolls-Royce vehicles were split between the two companies. A political game of cat and mouse ensued, before BMW finally claimed victory and gained exclusive rights to produce Rolls-Royce cars from 2003. In return, VW retained Bentley.
Having released a series of vehicles under the Phantom name - the kind of ultra-luxury wagons in which Lady Penelope could be seen being chauffeured in classic TV show Thunderbirds - BMW has since looked to expand its range, first with the Ghost and now the Wraith, for people who 'prefer to sit in the front'. With its ethos of 'power, style and drama', Mielau believes the new model will help broaden the appeal of the Rolls-Royce brand beyond the usual crop of billionaires and heads of state.
'Wraith is a very dynamic sports car but delivers all the elements of luxury you would expect from a Rolls-Royce,' says Mielau. 'From a marketing point of view, it's an opportunity to reach a whole new group of customers. From a Rolls-Royce point of view, it is the most important measure we can take to contemporarise the brand.
'Maintaining the heritage is important to us. When you look at how the brand restarted 10 years ago, we've since completed the Phantom family, aimed at our traditional Rolls-Royce customer. With Wraith, we have a product that other people who admire the brand have been awaiting for a long time.'
Mielau exudes excitement when discussing the car, from the starry-night effect of the fibreglass-lit leather roof inside the car to the 'waftability' of its smooth-performing engine. The intention of this launch, he explains, is to continue to impress the brand's formidable ultra-fans ('custodians', as he calls them) and also to extend a hand of welcome to aspirational consumers who cannot yet afford its significant price tag.
'We all had a dream car when we were young, whether it was a Porsche or a Ferrari. With Wraith, we might have a dramatic change whereby people start dreaming about owning a Rolls-Royce,' he says. 'I can only talk about my small boy, who is 12 years old, but he's over the moon when he talks about Wraith - it belongs to his world, it's not other-worldly.'
To herald this new dawn for Roll-Royce, Mielau and head of global brand communi-cations and CRM, Stuart Walker, devised a launch campaign to capture the 'emotion' of Wraith (see box, below). At its heart was a noir-style two-minute film, by Partners Andrews Aldridge, which took the notion of time standing still to the extreme and featured a 20-second 'time slice' that showed from all angles the moment the Wraith passes a woman on a misty woodland road. The film was screened in dramatic style at 'closed-door' events in London, Miami and Los Angeles, where more than 1000 Rolls-Royce owners were given the first view of the Wraith ahead of the public or media.
Mielau says the campaign, and its tagline 'Wraith. And the world stood still', was inspired by a moment he experienced soon after joining the team at BMW-owned marque Mini a decade ago. 'The first experience I had with Rolls-Royce was near our dealership in London's Park Lane', he recalls. 'I just saw a Rolls-Royce driving by and I had the feeling when I saw it that time stood still. The moment was amplified and prolonged - you saw every single movement. It was a very special moment and one I recalled when I was asked to join the company.'
The context in which Mielau first happened upon Rolls-Royce - on the upmarket streets of Mayfair - is a familiar location for the marque, but it must now seek out growth in unfamiliar territories. Some 20 or 30 years ago, the top marketer at Rolls-Royce would have been required to focus on the tastes of customers in Europe and North America. However, that potential customer is now equally as likely to hail from China, Russia or the Middle East. And it is this rising interest from new markets that helps to explain how Rolls-Royce has delivered record annual sales for three years running, up 1% year on year in 2012.
An interesting side-effect of the brand's global growth is the need to ensure that customers in emerging markets understand the peculiarities of the English language. With Rolls-Royce boasting a product line-up that includes Phantoms, Ghosts and Wraiths, the brand's marketing team has stepped in to help customers understand the subtleties of English words describing spectral phenomena.
'With our naming strategy, we always have ethereal names,' says Mielau. 'Phantom is very dominant; Ghost is a little more elegant; Wraith is more sinister and menacing. In some languages they don't have as many words for "ghost" as we have in Britain, so we need a qualifier to explain what kind of ethereal phenomenon we're talking about.'
Based in Shanghai
The cosmopolitan nature of the brand's customer base has also driven the growing importance of digital marketing channels to Rolls-Royce. After all, explains Mielau, if a customer is based in Shanghai, with children being schooled in Switzerland and a beach house in California, digital communications are virtually the only messages guaranteed to reach their intended recipients. Nevertheless, in a world where even the lowliest of brands can offer a bells-and-whistles digital experience, it was important to ensure that any Rolls-Royce site or app reflected the company's premium positioning.
'The challenge for us was to not do just another app,' says Mielau. 'We wanted something totally effortless and sensual. It must be seamless, from mobile device to website, and if there's a break in the experience, then you've lost. For example, lots of agencies are approaching us and want to do augmented reality, but as soon as you ask them to make it fit with Rolls-Royce's "effortless" positioning, they struggle.'
For its Phantom range, the brand's agencies devised an iPad app that allows the user to take a photograph, select a colour from the image and see what a Rolls-Royce would look like painted in that colour. Such an app also helps to deliver a much-needed return on marketing investment, he says. 'If you're a mass-marketer, your budgets are generally bigger. OK, you have to reach a big audience, but you can use mass media. With advertising, we can't guarantee we will reach our target, so we'd rather run, say, an event than spend money in that way.'
With Rolls-Royce facing competition not only from rival luxury car marques, but also the wider luxury sector - from yachts and art to property - Mielau is conscious that its marketing must, above all, deliver the emotional push to persuade the super-rich to buy a car. Any failure to do so will be punished, first and foremost by Rolls-Royce's fierce custodians, if not BMW.
'We still want to have the most-desired luxury brand, but we want to create more excitement and more passion from the public when it comes to Rolls-Royce', he says. 'We want to share our fantastic products and stories. But if you do something that won't be accepted by loyal Rolls-Royce customers, it might be the last thing you do with the brand,' he says.
It is a sobering thought. Best keep those customers happy, then.
The Campaign - 'Wraith. And the world stood still'
Stuart Walker, head of global brand communications and CRM, Rolls-Royce (right)
'The car is in the Rolls-Royce tradition, but much more contemporary. We gave ourselves a challenge to do something different and deliver "goosebump-ability" and something you weren't expecting from Rolls-Royce.
We used the film as a basis, creating trailers and working with PR and press. Then we released the film online and talked about it on email and social media.
It's not very often that Rolls-Royce launches a new car, so we knew there would be an amount of conjecture. We talked about the name, how it was going to look and tried to supply little bits of information to people in the build-up to the Geneva Motor Show.
We've got more elements of the campaign and more information we will drip-feed into the market. We'll look to surprise and delight.'
3 - Consecutive years of record annual car sales for Rolls-Royce
3575 - Total number of cars sold worldwide in 2012
26% - Annual sales growth in the Middle East
Source: Rolls-Royce Motor Cars
Hobbies 'I'm passionate about spending time with my family. I have three children, aged 12, nine and two. They are my source of restoration and inspiration - we love to go sailing, hiking and skiing. As I spend lots of time in the office, it's a pleasure to be outdoors.'
Favourite car 'I'm currently fascinated by the Rolls-Royce Camargue, triggered in a way by Wraith. In its day, it offered a revolutionary design.'
Favourite brand 'Google inspired me a lot. It had the answer before it was even asked, and the simplicity was always something I admired - to be so brave, just with the logo, a search field and no marketing.'
- Design manager, strategic product planning, Smart (1997-98)
- Project manager, marketing communications, DaimlerChrysler Bank (1998-2000)
- Director, brand consulting, strategic marketing, MetaDesign (2000-02)
- Brand manager, corporate and brand identity, rising to head of digital media BMW Group (2002-11)
- General manager, marketing, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars (2011-present)
THREE CHALLENGES FOR MIELAU
- Modernise the brand without abandoning its heritage and, crucially, upsetting its loyal customers and collectors
- Maximise the reach of its Wraith marketing campaign with a limited budget
- Make Rolls-Royce marketing communications feel relevant to a new generation of consumers in emerging marketsFollow @alex_brownsell