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Covid: One year on 31 Mar 2021 - 8 min read

Audi’s Nikki Warburton: ‘We felt the pressure to reduce investment and ‘covidise’ our campaigns - we didn’t’

By Nikki Warburton Chief Customer & Marketing Officer
Nikki Warburton

Nikki Warburton: Audi launched 20 models through Covid, reversed a three-year market share decline and delivered the largest share gain of any premium auto brand.

Audi’s consumer brand consideration had doubled before Covid, the highest in four years. Audi’s sales were up in 2020 versus a premium auto segment down 8.3%. Nikki Warburton says brand work and ‘charming creativity’ was the secret sauce.

We felt the pressure to reduce our investment but we had made such positive gains with our brand health…our local approach was to stay true to our brand and plans; not ‘covidise’ our campaigns.

Nikki Warburton Chief Customer & Marketing Officer, Audi

Brand can sell short-term too; it’s overlooked

There is so much research out there from every downturn that tells us we need to keep investing and we will come out at the other end with faster growth and stronger results.

This is easier than it sounds but brands that understand the value marketing returns and continue to invest will no doubt be the stronger businesses.

We felt the pressure to reduce our investment but we had made such positive gains with our brand health and had over 20 new models to launch so our local approach was to stay true to our brand and plans; not ‘covidise’ our campaigns and continue to invest in brand-building.

This became a share of voice opportunity as well as people were confined to their homes and screens and others in the category were reducing investment.

Our strategy was to tell an emotive story of the Audi brand as ‘progress you can feel’. Using the R/RS and Q ranges as campaign chapters to dramatize how Audi’s performance and technology create authentic and irresistible feelings, whatever the model.

  1. ‘Raised by Race Cars’, running from July to October 2020, told the story of Audi’s authentic high-performance and progress that feels exhilarating.
  2. ‘Irresistibly Advanced’, running from August to the end of November 2020, told the story of how Audi Q’s technology is so advanced it feels irresistible, even in the dead of night.

Despite the premium category declining -8.3%, Audi sales grew. The fastest growth of all premium car brands. Brand Consideration almost doubled to 5.4% (up from 3%), the highest it had been in over four years.

For most, 2020 was a year of ‘unprecedented’ crisis. For Audi Australia it became the opposite. Audi reversed a 3-year market share decline.

Nikki Warburton Chief Customer & Marketing Officer, Audi

Creative is even more powerful in dire situations

The harder the situation, the greater the need for creativity.

Creativity is unsurpassed at confidently capturing people’s attention and hearts. What’s the point in spending millions of dollars in media if customers are not connecting with your message or your creative is the same as everyone else's. The harder the situation the greater the need for creativity.

Our approach was to adopt long-term brand thinking and charming creativity in 2020 to confidently tackle a short-term crisis in a global pandemic, and help Australian’s better understand and emotively feel what lies at the heart of ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ or as we say progress . 

For most 2020 was a year of ‘unprecedented’ crisis. For Audi Australia it became the opposite.

Audi reversed a three year market share decline, gaining an extra 3% in H2 2020 vs H1 2020. Moving from 14% to 17%, the largest increase of any premium brand.

Brands spend billions to develop functions to set them apart. Tone is a more cost effective way to drive distinctiveness.

Nikki Warburton Chief Customer & Marketing Officer, Audi

Sweat the tone, it’s invaluable for distinctiveness

Brands spend billions to develop functions to set them apart. Tone is a more cost effective way to drive distinctiveness

Be obsessive about your tone of voice – to ensure you stand out in a sea of sameness and drive distinctiveness.

The Germans with wry charm went a long way to set Audi apart from our ‘competitors’.

‘Irresistibly Advanced’ told the story of how Audi Q’s technology is so advanced it feels irresistible, even in the dead of night.

Set against a contemporary interpretation of Frank Sinatra’s iconic ‘Strangers in the Night’ and with a playful charm and sophisticated wit. Ensuring Audi’s technology leadership felt fun and pleasurable. We were so committed to not producing a generic campaign we shot this campaign in Australia with our preferred director, remotely directly from NZ (given lockdown constraints).

‘Raised by Race Cars’, told the story of Audi’s authentic high-performance and progress that feels exhilarating in a rousing yet wry range film.

Evolve with changing customer new needs – but stay true to brand

Acknowledge the environment, adapt your plans but most of all – stay true to your brand

The basis of strong, strategic marketing has not changed and it’s our job to resist the pressure to react.

We saw this as an opportunity to accelerate the inevitable whilst staying true to our brand. Progress, or Vorsprung, is at the core of everything we do so we saw the opportunity to:

1. Replace physical with digital connections

  • In four weeks we launched the Vehicle Stock Locator with Online Sales providing customers the ability to reserve their Audi from the comfort of their home. This could not have happened at this pace before.
  • We modified our Audi Experience program, delighting customers with a range of virtual experiences, from a Cooking Masterclass with Guillaume Brahimi, to a floral workshop with Lisa Wilkinson, selling out in 24 hours.

2. Utility to solve challenges the COVID lifestyle presents

  • We worked in partnership with our dealer network launching: Virtual Consultations, Vehicle drop-off for test-drives/delivery; Service pick-up/drop-off & Priority servicing for essential workers.
  • And supported mental wellbeing with our Audi Foundation partners (Reachout and RUOK).

3. Entertainment to stave off the boredom

  • We invested in creating meaningful content to engage fans and keep them entertained whilst stuck at home. We produced.
  • The Drive, a four-hour drive of the NSW countryside, picked up globally, Top 10 Covid-19 Activations by The Drum.
  • 'Plates Worth The Passage' series, shining a spotlight on Australian small businesses, offering viewers the chance to recharge their taste buds with a travel itinerary curated by local photographers and writers.

People first

Look after your people with clarity, trust and empathy first. Everything else will follow.

With Covid-19 affecting the business, our people inside it, and the customers and network we serve - we re-imagined how we worked, collaborated and communicated, building a foundation of trust, clarity and empathy.  With our employees, we:

  • Implemented initiatives to enhance communication, connection and wellbeing including:
    • Wellbeing digital sessions, from nutrition seminars, sleep workshops, to mental health advice from our Audi Foundation partners, RUOK and Reachout.
    • Launched development pathways digitally, hosted by different members of the team allowing us to continue training and development.
    • Formulated strategic ‘rocks’ empowering cross-functional teams to deliver on objectives remotely.

Working collaboratively with our dealer network, we:

  • Transformed our highly anticipated Dealer of the Year event into a premium digital livestream event – allowing us to still reward excellence.
  • Re-invented our dealer engagement model – with video live-stream updates, zoom workshops, cross-functional Audi Australia /dealer network groups, enabling collaboration and business continuity.

On top of having a highly engaged, confident & satisfied employee/dealer network, building cross-functional collaboration capability has enabled:

  • The launch of 25 models in a pandemic.
  • Launch of the Online Sales platform and Audi store.
  • Dealer transformation, with ‘Audi at home’ customer experience offering becoming how we do business.
  • Business readiness to launch our first electric vehicle, in Q4 2020,

Mentoring – gives you back as much as you give

Whilst I have always been involved in some sort of mentoring I think in times of uncertainty it becomes even more important. People are feeling uncertain, losing their confidence or have just never been through a pandemic. Just having someone to have a chat with not from your industry could provide clarity and comfort.

I also find I get as much from those I mentor as they do from me – it’s definitely a two way street.

What was already a beneficial relationship became even more important in 2020 as connection was something we were all missing. Learning from other people and other industries and how they were tackling the challenges and ceasing any opportunities was energising.

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