DaimlerChrysler steps up efforts to boost image

Mercedes' Schmidt: 'We intend to remain the most exclusive brand'

Stuttgart. DaimlerChrysler wants to increase brand awareness among its customers.

Joachim Schmidt, head of sales and marketing at the Mercedes Car Group, said automobile brands are "dramatically gaining importance" as technologies are becoming more and more similar.

That is why the manufacturer will invest more in image cultivation. New Mercedes brand centers in Paris, London, Stuttgart, Cologne and Milan are planned. In Singapore and Peking the projects will be developed in cooperation with local partners. The Paris center will be the first one to open in the spring of 2005. All centers should be finished by the end of 2006.

"We intend to remain the most exclusive brand and want to consolidate our lead," Schmidt said. Values such as passion, fascination and innovation will be given special emphasis.

Schmidt says 70 percent of all decisions to buy are made at the "point of sale," which is why he wants to approach customers more specifically at the sales location.

The Mercedes executive says Mercedes-Benz centers in Berlin and Munich are a case in point. Visitors spend an hour on average there, whereas in showrooms the average is usually 30 minutes.

Now the Stuttgarters are taking their approach one step further by connecting product and brand presentation with eachother.

Contrary to the already existing locations, the new buildings will get a defining architectural feature. Mercedes is talking of a "brand gallery."No new cars will be exhibited in the three-to-four-story high circular buildings that narrow towards the top.

Customers will be able to experience the brand here. A permanent exhibition will portray Mercedes' history. In addition, special exhibits are planned on subjects such as motor sports, safety, innovation or design.

The new centers will also be used for fashion shows and film screenings.

Schmidt did not want to comment on the investment involved, but said the brand galleries will be paid for from the marketing budget, which is 2 percent of the annual sales.

Advertising for the new A-class, which will be launched in September, will also be paid from the marketing budget and, there too, the motto will be: closer to the customer.

The Stuttgarters will organize a "star tour" for example. Eight-hundred participants driving an A-class model can follow "their own star" straight through Europe. The destination is Milan.