BrandMAX: How Audi has shed analogue for digital

Big brands making the shift to digital should consider the move as a business-wide transformation, and not simply a marketing project.

Audi: launching the first digital showroom in London
Audi: launching the first digital showroom in London

That’s according to Audi UK's marketing director, Nick Ratcliffe, who says the car brand is trying to transform from an analogue business to a digital leader.

Speaking at Marketing’s BrandMax conference, Ratcliffe described the challenge of extending the brand’s reputation for innovation in engineering to other aspects of the business.

He said: "When you market under the banner of ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’, you’re setting yourself up to be at the bleeding edge and technically fairly astute, and certainly our cars deliver that."

When you market under the banner of ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’, you’re setting yourself up to be at the bleeding edge and technically fairly astute

One issue facing Audi and its rivals is that customers arrive at the showroom after doing extensive online research – and the motor industry has not kept up. As a result, the retail experience "does not match" customer expectations, said Ratcliffe.

Another challenge is that car manufacturers don’t have direct control over showrooms, which instead operate as franchises. When Audi started trying to apply digital technologies to the retail experience, the company met resistance from dealers.

Ratcliffe said: "We struggled to get dealers to buy in until we stripped it back and said this was what customers were looking for. We said [dealers] need to change, and this is how digital can help."

Ratcliffe also described practical issues around having to update legacy technology processes, and getting senior execs enthused about upgrade projects.

He said: "The real work we have to do is the plumbing behind the scenes to link the data and link the systems to enable these new digital tools.

It’s very difficult to get senior stakeholders to really engage around arhictectural diagrams of systems infrastructure, so we’ve got to turn up with Google Glass and say that this is the future, but to enable this cool stuff to happen, this is what we have got to do and this is why you need to write a large cheque."

Ratfcliffe cited Audi City, the company’s digital showroom in central London, and forays into augmented and virtual reality as examples of how Audi is putting digital at the heart of its brand.

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