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Santosh Iyer, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Mercedes-Benz IndiaMercedes Benz
How brands are navigating the new normal
brands

We expect demand to be back by Q4 buoyed by a resurging customer sentiment: Santosh Iyer, Mercedes-Benz India

How brands are navigating the new normal
  • While the last few months have been difficult for the brand, it has been witnessing continuing consumer enquiries for its offerings on its online sales platform.
  • Owing to this interest, the brand also recently launched its latest offering, Meredes-Benz GLS.
  • Santosh Iyer, Vice President Sales and Marketing, Mercedes-Benz India shares his optimism about consumer sentiments turning during the festive season.
Luxury car company Mercedes-Benz, like most other auto brands had a difficult few months. Even before the lockdown, the auto industry had been facing headwinds due to a slowing economy and negative consumer sentiments.

However, one thing that the brand noticed even during the lockdown was the consumer’s interest in its cars with continuing enquiries about its offerings on its online sales channel.

Perhaps that’s why Santosh Iyer, Vice President Sales and Marketing, Mercedes-Benz India is hopeful that demand will be back during the festive season. To understand how the brand is gearing up for the post-Covid world where the retail experience will be very different, we spoke to Iyer, who told us that Mercedes-Benz dealerships will be luxurious in the next few months but with additional safety protocols.

Excerpts:

Q) While retail is slowly limping back to normalcy, you just launched a new offering. How different is the entire process of launching a new offering during these adverse times?

We have seen new products always excite the customer and brings some momentum in the market. A new product from Mercedes introduces new features and technologies that customers usually wait for and these make them excited. That is the reason we have decided to continue our product introductions for 2020 and not cancel any of them.

For existing products, we have introduced value-added financial programmes through WishBox 2.0 campaign which are very innovative and customized and cater to individual requirements of customers. This way we ensure financial commitments are offset and customers do not postpone their purchase.

We launched the new GLS in a unique digital format which was live telecast across Mercedes-Benz’s social media handle and the audience reach we achieved was quite overwhelming.

Q) How have the past few months been in terms of business?

We restarted our operations from May 6 and the production is ramping up in a graded manner. The dealership and the service centres have also started resuming operations following all local authorities directives. Business has been picking up slowly and this is just the beginning - we expect sales to peak during the Q4, when we will also have the full availability of all our volume products.

Q) How important was it to stay connected with your audience despite the closure of showrooms?

Mercedes-Benz is a customer centric organization and it is imperative that we stay in continuous touch with our customers, even during the lockdown period when dealerships were shut. We expanded our digital footprint during the lockdown, which we launched in October 2019. We call this campaign ‘Merc from Home’ and this enabled a 360 degree online journey for a customer, starting from selecting a car, customizing it, applying for a loan, approval process and even a home delivery of the car. We already have a good response to this online sales platform with more than 100 bookings secured. Mercedes-Benz will always be available to a customer anytime, anywhere and our digital initiatives have only further strengthened this

Q) Were people still enquiring about cars during the lockdown?

Amidst the lockdown, one of the bright spots for us has been the continuing enquiries from customers and prospects through our online sales channels. This only shows there is a lot of pent-up demand already in the market and customers are taking their time to decide for a high ticket purchase like a luxury car. Clearly our market introductions and new initiatives are creating interest and curiosity in the market and we are confident this will convert to sales in due course of time. We expect demand to be back by Q4 - buoyed by a resurging customer sentiment and backed by complete portfolio availability

Q) Was there any interesting consumer behaviour insight from the lockdown days that you would want to share?

An emergence of gradual shift in the customer mindset towards digital consumption is an interesting trend we are witnessing. We firmly believe that online sales platform have huge potential and with the entire ecosystem starting from our products, production, retail, service all becoming digital- online sales is the obvious outcome . Saying that, the role of the dealerships and sales executives will become more productive as they now have customers both online and at dealerships. I would like to call this ‘Physidigital’ as the biggest trend that emerged out of this crisis

Q) With the slow unlocking of the country, how are you gearing up to function in this new post-Covid world? How will a Mercedes-Benz showroom be different from the one we saw before the pandemic?

We are adopting and getting adapted to the New Normal post-COVID 19 world. Though our plant, our offices and dealerships have gradually opened up, we are all operating with half of our capacity following social distancing and government guidelines.

The health of our people are of utmost importance and we are taking all measures to ensure that. The look and feel of a Mercedes-Benz showroom is not going to change- it will continue to remain the luxury destinations for all customers and brand enthusiasts.However, whenever a customer walksin to a Mercedes dealership, it will be a safe and secure one where all social distancing norms and all safety and sanitization measures are strictly implemented.

Mercedes-Benz dealerships hence will be luxurious but now with additional safety protocols implemented.

Q) As a brand, what is your priority going ahead?

Our priority as a brand remains to ensure our people are safe and we provide them with a safe and secure workplace - this also applies to our dealerships and also for our suppliers and visitors. It is also our priority to ensure that our customers have their vehicles road ready after the prolonged lock down and hence we have rolled-out various customer service programmes that would aid them.

We are also expediting the deliveries of cars to customers who have ordered them before or during the lockdown. Overall, we are slowly but surely getting back to business and we understand that we need to also create some market excitement and boost the customer confidence.

It also remains our priority to affirm our consumers and the entire ecosystem that as a fundamentally strong brand, we stay invested in our customers and assure them that our strategy and market outlook remains firm and planted.



Q) Has there been any change in your marketing strategy, considering OOH and Print are important mediums for you. How did you communicate with your consumers in the past few months?

During these unprecedented times, our marketing strategy has been to support our customers and spread the message of staying at home and focus on health. During a crisis like this, it is very important to foster the society’s trust in our activities.

Post lockdown, as we shift to unlock 1.0, we are now focusing on communicating from survival to the revival strategy, as we gradually launch new products, online services etc based on graded ramp-up that we have undertaken . Regarding the spends, we monitor all spends carefully and adjust to current circumstances. We are focusing on our digital sales channels and shifting spends accordingly.

Going forward we will certainly give more emphasize on digital as we see a gradual shift towards digital happening. Even before COVID-19, we have been adopting a more data and audience based marketing to reach the most relevant target audience, and we continue to do this

Q) Are you recalibrating your targets for the year? What are your expectations from the rest of the year?

2020 has already turned out to be a challenging year and we have to re-calibrate our targets. This is obvious, as we have a complete wipe out of a quarter of sales from the calendar. Our sales has been affected from three perspective a) Ongoing macro-economic headwinds b) COVID related challenges and C) unavailability of volume models in Q1 and Q2. It will be very difficult to compensate the loss of a quarter of sales from here onwards.



Q) Do you anticipate a change in consumer sentiments this year?

Right now the customer sentiment is subdued and we expect it to gradually warm-up in coming month leading to the festivities . The customer sentiment revival is also highly dependent upon how the current unlocking unwinds, and how firmly and swiftly business is back to normal.

Q) What kind of changes do you anticipate in your consumers now and how are you as a brand preparing to meet those dynamic expectations?

We see a shift in consumer mindset towards online consumption. This trend has emerged and it is going to increase even as the lockdown gets over and normalcy resumes. In an overall digital ecosystem, we have taken quite a few decisive steps so that we, as the foremost luxury automotive brand, offer our customers best of products, services and experience that deepens our brand connect with the consumer.

Our online sales platform under the ‘Merc from Home’ umbrella has set the trend of online sales in the automotive industry and we are already seeing the early results. There has been quite high number of enquiries and also the conversions in sales are happening gradually. Our new initiative of ‘Mercedes Consultation Studio’ has already taken off with good customer response and feedback. Similarly our ‘Online Concierge’ has been rolled-out and has been adding tremendous value with more than 1000 online consultations already completed.

Apart from sales, our online channels are equipped with seamless service booking, service billing, accessories sales etc. In all these initiatives we have integrated all our dealers who are now connected and integrated into our online ecosystem that adds value to a customer.




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