Automotive > Infotainment & Telematics Blog

Why Can't BMW Figure Out Who I Am?

by Roger Lanctot | 11月 16, 2013

The Obama administration (and its Affordable Care Act) is not the only organization with customer engagement challenges.

BMW, too, is struggling. BMW has sent me a new email offer, but it appears to be some kind of mass mailing. The offer is for the new $187 BMW iPhone 5 Snap In Adapter (“Being Connected is a Snap”) and the email came to my personal Gmail account, but there was no personal salutation, so maybe it’s spam.

I get these messages from BMW pretty routinely, at least 100/year, and many, though not all of them, are pretty impersonal. What amazes me about this one is that BMW clearly wants to sell me something, but can’t seem to be troubled to connect a few crucial dots – particularly the knowledge of which vehicle I own and, of course, addressing me personally.

I have given BMW thousands of reasons, in fact tens of thousands of reasons, to know who I am and what car I own. The tipoff that BMW does not know who I am is the description of the new snap in adapter as being suitable for “vehicles equipped with Option 6NF Smartphone Integration or option 6NR BMW Apps.”

As you may have guessed by now my response to this description is to ask myself whether I have the required equipment or options.  BMW ought to know this.  In fact, BMW shouldn’t be offering me something that might not be applicable to my car.

I had a similar experience with the recent offer of a map update.  The links in the email took me to a Website that interrogated me as to which model year and model car I had and my VIN #.  Why?  Doesn’t BMW know which car I own?

There are three click-through buttons in the original email for the iPhone 5 cradle offer, though one disappears once the images are downloaded.  The remaining options are “Shop BMW Accessories” and “Shop BMW Lifestyle.”  Again, by now you are putting together the fact that this offer is more of a put off than a come on.

What’s wrong with BMW?  Let’s break it down.

#1        BMW should know who I am.  Everything the company does to engage with me should reflect this knowledge.  This is especially true when it comes to asking me to purchase optional BMW items.  The $187 iPhone 5 cradle is only the latest example and follows, by a couple weeks, the offer of a $255 map update, which was similarly impersonal.

#2        To deliver the personalized experience I am describing requires building internal databases tying car configurations to customers.  This seems to be a pretty obvious step, but it is clearly not something that BMW has prioritized.  Companies such as Teradata work with car companies such as Ford, GM, Volvo, Daimler and others to build these databases.  In fact these databases are essential, especially when it comes to recalls or software updates – the car company must be able to identify those customers in possession of cars that need attention.

#3        It is pretty obvious that somewhere within BMW there is an organization that knows who I am and what car I own.  The organization that knows who I am may be the marketing department.  The organization that knows what car I own may be aftersales.  But it seems as if these departments are not putting their information together.  The result of this failure is uncoordinated communications that fail to connect with or engage me, the consumer.  Communications with car owners must be efficient, precise, targeted, personal and as infrequent as possible.  A poorly targeted message might be perceived as or might actually be spam or a phishing attack.

#4        Marketing communications must be orchestrated and minimized and, wherever possible, linked to a common secure and reassuring client touch point – a portal.  BMW is planning to launch a customer portal within the next 12-15 monthss, but until it does communications such as the one for the iPhone 5 cradle appear awkward and likely to miss the mark.

#5        Finally, the only reasons for ordering the iPhone 5 cradle are to enable access to the iTunes store and iTunes-acquired content (audio or video) via the center stack.  The offer allows Apple to open an iTunes kiosk in the BMW driver’s console.  That’s a great deal for Apple, but it doesn’t do BMW much good and, aside from working well with BMW Apps, it has the potential to steer the customer away from using BMW’s on-board assets.  Maybe it is for this reason that BMW provides little description in the offer as to why this device is attractive or should be purchased.

#6        To further complicate matters, the offer email provides a link to my dealer’s Website.  So it appears that there are three places to buy the cradle including two BMW Websites and my dealer’s Website – though the dealer link is to the dealer’s generic site.

Like the Obama administration, BMW should accelerate its customer portal development activities.  Customer and vehicle identification must be coordinated and managed company-wide and globally.  With this coordination will come more coordinated marketing messages all of which should link back to the customer’s portal.

The customer portal will be equipped with vehicle service history, warranty information, available accessories as well as payment history and payment options.  (There are many more customer engagement elements that can be added including driving performance, geo-fencing, route guidance, trip planning, vehicle diagnostics and other commercial offers.)  More importantly, the customer portal will be secured with a password and other security elements.

With customer identity increasingly a sensitive issue and spam and phishing activities via email so widespread, BMW is leaving the door open with its current impersonal marketing activities.  If BMW wants its customers to part with hundreds of dollars for accessories or map updates, the least the company can do is send a personalized message and one that reflects the fact that the company actually knows what car the customer owns and whether or not the offered accessory is suitable for that car.

BMW is not alone in this failure, and the industry is slowly waking up to the need to orchestrate customer communications and manage vehicle and customer identification.  The implications for aftersales marketing and vehicle security are manifest.  But the most important reason to get this right is to create a delightful ownership experience.




The iPhone 5 cradle is a back-to-the-future moment for BMW - bringing back memories of handset cradles from Peiker and Bury.  Surely a wireless (or wired) connection is sufficient.  The iPhone 4 cradle was a headache to connect and stow in the console both when getting into and when leaving the car.  (I won't get into the overheating problem associated with the iPhone 4 cradle - nightmare.)  Can't I just leave my phone in my pocket?  Is BMW going to create a cradle for my Blackberry Z10?  My Galaxy 4?  Slavish devotion to Apple is not a strategy.

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