Thursday, August 18, 2005

Interview with Marc Baxter: Part II

First of all, my apologies in not writing this up sooner. I can make a plethora of excuses all more lame than the last, but I will refrain from doing so. Onward with the interview.

As I stated in part I one of this interview, Mr. Baxter works for BMW/MINI UK and is head of "Competitive Intelligence". How did he arrive at this position? Literally from the ground floor on up. He has worked for the company for 21 years, and started out as warehouse man. He does not have a university degree. In a way he is literally the embodiment of the company man. Such is a rarity in modern business now, but it's also a tribute to the steady growth and success of BMW in this market. Rough times have really never occurred for them in the last few decades with the possible exception of the MG-Rover debacle.

I asked Mr. Baxter how he felt consumers saw BMW. It is and has been in his words a "premium brand" from the getgo. While it may not have been as strong a luxury brand as it is now, even in the days of the first 3-series, there was a premium aura. How was this attained? "Quality is paramount," according to Mr. Baxter, and the company continues to make that clear to anyone it can. It is a program that has worked quite successfully.

In terms of the relationship with the German headquarters, it is a good relationship that entails frequent visits to that country. As Japan and Germany solidify their control over the international auto industry, directives come from abroad and are tweaked ever so slightly by the respective country sales department. And that is what BMW UK really is. It is a sales and marketing department. Unlike some Japanese companies that allow their larger markets to have a say on design and engineering, BMW is much more centralized. Production numbers and delivery numbers can be controlled, but there is little say-so by BMW UK in terms of engineering and design. And that makes sense. BMW has an important classy image, and to tweak that would be silly. Unlike say a Honda Accord which changes its design and focus depending on the market, a luxury brand such as BMW has the "luxury" of being constant. The world expects it.

What kind of investment has BMW made in the UK? A considerable one according to Mr. Baxter. Over 100 million pounds have been invested in the MINI plant at Oxford. Rumors that MINI might be manufactured in Germany are unfounded, regardless of the Pound's strength. It's evidence of a strong commitment BMW has towards the UK, and perhaps more specifically, towards the people it employs.

Competitive intelligence entails having a familiarity with rivals' cars, but more importantly with rivals' advertisements and sales. The strengthening and increasing of the presence of the brand in the UK in relation to rivals is important. The new 3-series has been well received by consumers and the press alike. The new 1-series is an attempt by BMW to enter into a more inexpensive area of consumers, but all the while keeping with the high quality reputation of the brand. Has the 1-series diluted BMW in any way I ask. Not at all according to Mr. Baxter. The 1-series is RWD, front engined and still keeps the driving dynamics of the rest of the line. Sales statistics seem to bear this out. And the reputation of the brand has not suffered in the slightest.

What about the relationship with the press, specifically the motoring press? According to Mr. Baxter BMW's relationship is an excellent one, but more importantly it is a relationship that is not subtly influencing. When car magazines give rave reviews to BMW, these reviews are genuine. BMW goes a long way to accomplish this. The fact that BMW is a smaller company that doesn't have the ad revenue to influence through bribes backs this up as well.

Part III in the next few days.

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