BMW India unlocks creativity with insight and imagination

Creativity is a multifaceted skill that has become essential to success in today’s accelerated world. It’s important for leaders to understand their own creative potential and how it can be applied to key areas of their business.

“For me, creativity is about much more than a wild imagination,” says Pallavi Singh, marketing director at BMW India. “It’s easy to come up with an idea, but very difficult to execute it if you haven’t thought it through.”

Singh recently completed the Adobe Creativity Quotient (CQ) assessment, a baseline test designed to measure aptitude for creativity and creative capabilities across businesses.

Her result – “The Assembler” – suggests a propensity to link imagination with insight to shape new ways of thinking among her teams and throughout the organisation.

It’s a creative approach that has served BMW well. Since joining the marque in July 2019, Singh has led the marketing response to the customer engagement challenges arising from COVID-19. In doing so, she’s taken the brand experience in an innovative and creative new direction.

Let’s look more closely at how Singh’s CQ persona is impacting the internal culture, marketing and overall brand experience at BMW India.

Creating imaginative experiences

If you were considering a luxury car purchase, face-to-face assistance, vehicle test-driving and personalised after-sales service would all be part of the experience you’d expect from a premium brand such as BMW.

So how can that be replicated in a virtual setting? This was the question on Singh’s mind when India went into lockdown in March 2020.

“The first step was to come together as a cross-functional team,” she explains. “Sales, marketing, after-sales and financial services, we got together and asked: ‘What can we do together to ensure we are here to serve the customer?’ Personally, I can’t understand anything that is solely about a creative piece of work, because where’s the value in that? I always say to my teams, ‘Do not have a creative thought without having a customer in mind’.”

This customer-first and collaborative approach is typical of “Assembler” CQ types. For them, teams working in concert often provide the creative impetus for stepping out of the status quo.

In this instance, the solution has been a campaign called the “BMW Contactless Experience,” an online platform designed to invite new and existing customers into an interactive experience with the brand.

“The initial idea was basically not to sell, but to let people know that if you’re looking for information, or you’re still in the market to buy a BMW, we have a platform where you can choose to be part of our world,” says Singh.

Customers interact through an animated simulation of the sales experience: they can browse the range of vehicles, choose a model and customise it to their specifications.

The campaign, Singh says, was an imaginative response to the customer engagement challenges of the pandemic, and one the company was probably moving towards regardless.

“Facebook listed our campaign as one of the first mobile campaigns, then all of the automotive brands followed,” she says.

“I think the change was bound to happen from an automation point of view, COVID just helped accelerate it. I was glad we did it first.”

Customer insight for a creative future

Another hallmark of the Assembler CQ type is recognising that the growth and innovative ideas spring from both the internal culture and the customers – two areas that often converge at BMW.

“A question I’m always asking myself is, ‘How do we ensure our customers feel that they’re part of a tribe?’” explains Singh. “That’s the biggest emotion we need to play on because the way customers evolve within the brand is a true testament to its success.”

While this tribal emotion is strong at BMW (and in the luxury goods sector more broadly), Singh says it’s only a small part of her own creative process. Emotion alone is not enough to deliver results, she says. Results come from a deeper understanding of your customers across the entire journey.

“Marketing is no more about making beautiful ads,” she says. “I’m a personal believer that marketers today are business developers, because they know the consumers more closely than anybody in the value chain.”

Singh suggests greater collaboration between departments and external agencies can help ensure stronger cohesion in the brand experience and drive better results.

“One thing we often do as leaders, especially marketers, is brief creative and media teams separately – that’s the worst thing to do,” she says.

“They need to be briefed together because the customer journey is not linear anymore. Media needs to provide a lot of insight to inform the creative and ensure it resonates with different customers at each stage of the brand experience.”

As for how creativity will factor into BMW India’s future, Singh is open to opportunity. “Creativity will go through its different journeys, but how fast we adapt to a customer mindset will define the future of marketing from my perspective,” she says.

“I firmly believe that creation and execution need to work together. You can’t have them in isolation because then the idea is not complete.”