The Marketing Profile: Christian Stein of Peugeot UK

It perhaps comes as no surprise that Peugeot's UK marketing director, Christian Stein, born and bred in France, has vowed to put the 'sex factor' back into the brand. This may be just what the doctor ordered, as the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders estimates suggest that the British public has well and truly fallen out of love with Peugeot - so much so that to date in 2008, sales are down by 18% year on year.

Christian Stein, Peugeot
Christian Stein, Peugeot

While times are also hard at sister brand Citroën, where sales have fallen 16% this year, the malaise at Peugeot seems more deeply rooted. Despite high-profile sports sponsorships of the 2007 Rugby World Cup and Five's coverage of UEFA Cup football, dwindling awareness of the brand is a growing concern.

So what has been the problem? Peugeot has drifted for much of the past decade, with inconsistent marketing and communications failing to establish a strong brand positioning - not our sentiments, but the words of Stein himself. And so in February he was parachuted in from Peugeot Belgium to replace Andy Hutton, who is now heading PR at the brand.

Through his only occasionally broken English, 38-year-old Stein comes across as a dedicated Anglophile. Although he has previously worked for Peugeot in France, Belgium and Spain, he claims the UK was the logical choice for his latest challenge. 'When it was proposed that I should come to work in England I was very excited, as on the Continent the UK is seen as the country of marketing,' he explains.

Beyond his Gallic breeziness and seemingly permanent nervous smile, one occasionally notices flashes of the ruthlessness that clearly informed his appointment. Make no mistake - Peugeot is in need of a clean sweep, and Stein appears happy to wield the broom. He is unequivocal about the most important factor the brand is lacking: sex appeal.

Stein's first job has been a complete overhaul of the brand's internal marketing team. While the manufacturer used to organise marketing by skill - advertising, CRM and events - Stein has reorganised the team by channel, with three divisions covering brand and retail, fleet and business, and dealer marketing. 'Each department will have access to each media, and they must select the right media for the message they have. We will be reviewing the system in December, but I'm absolutely sure of the principle,' he says.

The biggest problem for Peugeot in the UK, claims Stein, is the lack of consistency in brand marketing over the past few years. Even now there are several messages the brand wants to convey, including its burgeoning range of low-emission small cars; the Blue Lion technology programme, which promises to reduce drivers' 'carbon tyreprints'; and its sportier convertibles.

'Awareness is a challenge,' admits Stein. 'There is a discrepancy between what our brand stands for and what consumers know about us. It doesn't matter if it is TV, radio, direct mail or online, we have to communicate consistently to all customers and deliver the same message.'

To that end Stein is taking a close look at Peugeot's agency arrangements. With Clark McKay & Walpole currently working on its brochures and customer correspondence work, Stein has kicked off a review of its fleet and business marketing, commenting that the brand needs to improve its targeting of commercial customers.

Furthermore, although Peugeot works with a roster of digital agencies - including CMW Interactive, Underwired, Euro RSCG 4D and E3 (Bristol) - Stein is unsure about the merits of such a fragmented approach. 'I don't know whether I'm going to keep this roster, to be honest,' he says. 'A lot of companies work with these rosters, but if you use one agency for one project and then a different agency for another, it is not good for consistency.'

While Peugeot's advertising arrangements with Euro RSCG London are part of a global set-up, Stein is looking for the agency to up its game. 'We want to develop a 360° approach to marketing,' he says. 'The interesting thing for Euro RSCG is that it has lots of competencies spread out across the agencies, but it needs to co-ordinate the right competencies at the right time.'

The big question is where to position the brand, with mass-market players such as Vauxhall and Ford moving upward, and premium brands such as BMW and Audi achieving mainstream sales. Peugeot's UK managing director, Jean-Philippe Collin, is looking to take the brand upmarket; Stein agrees that this will be part of the strategy.

'It's impossible for Peugeot to be a fully premium brand - we are not Audi or BMW. Instead, we want to become a sub-premium brand, at the top of the main-stream players and knocking on the door of the premium manufacturers,' he says.

This brand transformation may be hindered by Peugeot's decision to pull out of the premium saloon sector and terminate sales of its flagship 607 model. Introduced in 2000, in its first few years the 607 sold more than 1000 new cars a year, but that fell to a disappointing 189 units in 2007. Peugeot has now decided to leave the sector to the likes of Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, at least for the time being.

Nonetheless, Stein is confident the brand has enough quality models in the pipeline to shape a new strategy. 'We can look to create other flagships. With the downsizing of the market, it has to be the smaller 308, or even the RCZ coupe.' The 308 CC saloon will be rolled out in the spring with a major ad push, while the sporty RCZ concept car will go into full production in 2010.

Although he concedes that there is a short-term pressure to alleviate tumbling sales - in August Peugeot unveiled an incentive offering £300-worth of free petrol with the purchase of every new 308 - Stein's long-term aim is to retrieve a desirability that he believes has faded in recent years. 'We are in a period where manufacturers want to use price-led communications, but customers like brands, and want the status attached to them. As a marketing director you must always support sales, but ensure that those activities don't compromise the long-term brand strategy,' he says.

'We had to rethink our brand in the UK and the key is more sex appeal. In the past we had more and the brand has lost that. We also have a strong product quality, our green track record is very good and our cars are affordable. My problem is that consumers don't know that.'

Time may be tight for Stein to solve this conundrum. Projecting a likely three- to four-year stay here, he acknowledges that he is unlikely to be able to complete a one-man revolution at Peugeot UK. Rather, he hopes to set in place a long-term strategy to be followed by his successors once he has bid the UK operation au revoir.