Or, why the brand should never take a back-seat (pun unintended, but why miss the glorious chance anyway?).
In June 2009, Mercedes Benz launched a related diversification. The Mercedes Benz Driving Academy was inaugurated by the F1 driver, Lewis Hamilton. On offer is an early start to safe driving. Young persons over 12 (minimum height 5′) can take early lessons; persons over 17 can take lessons leading to a driving licence and take post-licence classes. Experienced drivers can do much more including improve skills or do AMG days.
The launch of this academy was propitiously timed with the British schools on summer holiday. Mercedes Benz World in Weybridge, Surrey is positively teeming with kids and their parents and grandparents these days. But on the whole, this is a great example of creative thinking about the strategic management of the brand in a time of recession.
The driving academy is a related diversification for Mercedes Benz into a service category where incumbents BSM or AA cannot compete meaningfully. Sure they can offer driving lessons but can they deliver the aspirational value of Mercedes Benz?
While driving lessons with the Mercedes Benz Academy cost about the same as those with a good BSM/ AA/ independent instructor, the brand association has effectively premium-ised the pedestrian (sorry!) category. Lessons take place, for instance, in a Mercedes Benz A-Class, a far cry from the Nissan Micra, Ford Fiesta or similar cars used by driving schools.
By offering children as young as 12 the possibility of driving lessons and experiences – and the promise of a finale with Lewis Hamilton for this summer’s driving experiences – Mercedes Benz has upped the ante, catching them young, in a product category that has traditionally not had much to do with children except use them as points of concern for selling the safety features in a car.
But more important from a strategic and a branding point of view is the positioning – making younger drivers safer. Catching them young could look cynical but statistics suggest that those who learn at young ages are less at a risk of accidents than those who learn at later ages. What does this do for Mercedes Benz? It scores the firm valuable corporate social responsibility points in driving stakes.
When times are tough and money is tight, brand investment must get creative, not become the sacrificial goat at the altar of cost-cutting. This is a fabulous example and some news will follow for my own business, later in the year, along similar lines.
Full Disclosure: In this case, I am paying Mercedes Benz Driving Academy. So this post comes with the full disclosure that I am doing track and road sessions with the Academy and enjoying my experience.