This will be a multi-part post detailing steps Bentley Motors North America should consider to engage with stakeholders in the modern communications environment. Enjoy!
Bentley Motors, Inc. operates out of its North American headquarters of 3 Copley Place, Suite 3701, Boston, MA 02116. As one of the most recognizable luxury automakers, Bentley produces elegant, hand-built, powerful vehicles to the one percent of consumers who can afford them. With the majority of Bentley’s sales coming from the US, this contemporary headquarters of 25 employees sits in the heart of wealthy downtown Boston (Auto Channel, 2007). Since it was first established by O.W. Bentley in Crewe, England during 1919, Bentley Motors grew from its racing heritage into a major auto brand and was absorbed by Volkswagen AG in 1998 (Bentley website, 2011). Vehicle sales in 2010 were just shy of 5,000 cars (Gulfnews.com, 2011).
As a young auto-racing pioneer, O.W. Bentley sought to develop a brand that proved its worth on the track. Over the years, Bentley racing became a separate aspect of the brand, while consumer vehicles continued to develop as hand-crafted, refined machines. The 20th century molded heavier, more powerful and more luxurious Bentley models. Finally, by the turn of the 20th century at the hands of its new Volkswagen parent company, Bentley became a global icon of luxury and status (Bentley website, 2011).
The auto industry began struggling in 2008 during the recession and though Bentley’s consumers were wealthy, the luxury automaker was not exempt from the economic woes. This meant Bentley Motors sold 50% fewer vehicles in 2009 than they did in 2007 (4wheelsnews.com, 2011). Since before the recession, emerging markets have pulled Bentley out of lack-luster sales periods. China and the Middle East have lunged at the massive vehicle status symbols in the 21st century (4wheelsnews.com, 2011). Though Bentley has struggled to recover since the recession, the company has been financially supported by Volkswagen’s massive market presence (VW AG owns Audi, a percentage of Porsche, Bentley, and Lamborghini).
The rich and famous gravitate to Bentley vehicles, with the media in pursuit (Gibson, 2011). Bentley’s media center of its website archives press releases and “Bentley Magazine” issues. Newspapers, auto industry magazines and websites serve as the majority of Bentley’s media coverage. In the U.K., Bentley vehicles are featured in stories within “Evo” magazine and “Top Gear” magazine consistently. In the U.S., “Motor Trend”, “Car and Driver” and “Autoblog.com” feature Bentley cars several times each year. International auto shows like the Los Angeles International Auto Show bring quality coverage for Bentley, especially when the automaker has a new model revealed, like the recent 2012 Continental GTC (LA Times, 2011).
With its cheapest model starting at $190,000, Bentley’s competition is very light. Vehicles in this price range are the definition of specialty goods. Jaguar/Land Rover Cars, Daimler AG (Mercedes-Benz) and Rolls-Royce Cars are the only competitors who mimic Bentley’s luxury, status and performance (Yahoo! Finance, 2009). Jaguar and Mercedes have a range of models with much lower starting prices, so those in the market for a Bentley will usually consider Rolls-Royce the immediate alternative. Considering Bentley and Rolls-Royce were once under the same ownership, the distinctions between the two brands are minimal (VW Group, 2011).
Bentley Motors has an iconic brand that is recognized across the globe, though this PR plan will address the need for Bentley to find and measure its digital and online audience, targeting the young adults who will be the next generation of owners. With the majority of Bentley’s resources going to traditional communication, the automaker has been behind in the industry and global transition to digital communication. Bentley needs to gain market capitalization on mobile devices and internet sites that generation Y use frequently. With increased activity on the digital front, Bentley Motors will prompt engagement and interactivity between its brand and publics. By doing so, the auto maker can educate its young adult audience about its brand heritage, modern vehicle technology and refinement. At the same time, it can improve its customer experience for current owners.
**Now before I go further, what do you think Bentley needs to be a successful automaker in the future?