At the recent Chicago Auto Show, I had the opportunity to chat a few minutes with Tom Plucinsky, BMW’s Product and Technology Manager in North America. We have met Tom several times at previous auto shows and with his help and Sean Lobosco’s, Press Fleet Manager, we were given the opportunity to drive recently the 335d and MINI E in L.A. But every single auto show has been a huge event for BMW, so we never really had a chance to sit down and talk about our favorite brand.
Prior to the Chicago Auto Show, I requested an interview with Tom and we set the meeting to take place at the BMW booth, next to the lovely cars displayed there. But since I wanted to give our readers the opportunity to ask Tom some questions directly through myself, I emailed several of our daily readers to ask for their input.
The topic of our discussion was going to be mainly focused on BMW’s marketing efforts, online and offline, the use of social networking tools in order to reach a larger audience and BMW’s future plans to engage young professionals that are always connected, “living on the web”. In the end, we ended up talking about few other things that you might find interesting.
BMWBLOG: Tom, is BMW taking advantage of the recent social networking tools that can connect millions of people together or to a brand?
Tom Plucinsky: The internet is an evolving thing, five years ago no one did video. Now you HAVE to do videos. Yes, definitely we like to be on top of these things and we definitely know that our existing customers and future customers use the internet in some form. The more we can get to them in various ways, where they are living in the “net”, better off for us. BMW is continuously evolving, now we are doing some things, next year it could be something else.
BMWBLOG: Does a certain department handle all of these initiatives?
Tom Plucinsky: No, it’s part of our marketing department, at least most of it.
So, from the marketing side, there is definitely a focus on various types of advertising on the internet and the Rampenfest, was a marketing initiative. It was fun and exciting. (Our Note: Rampenfest videos were all published on Youtube and BMW-web.tv).
From the PR side, we are also looking at different ways to reach our audience. For example, we work with BMW-web.tv and we post videos on there of all the new cars. We are a German company and we have a very defined process for certain things. When it’s time to start talking about a new model, we have a communication in place, but these videos sort of go around that, and it creates some …buzz and that’s good.
BMWBLOG: What about the young professionals and younger BMW fans that are always somewhat connected to the internet? Any plans to reach out to them more or build new communities?
Tom Plucinsky: Over the years we have developed a large BMW club and we have relied on them to do more of these things, to build the community behind BMW. We believe in a strong car club and in the past, the club was a magazine and chapters across the country. Now, the club is that but there are also people like you, that have built communities around our brand…..
BMWBLOG: Yes, almost half a million people reading us monthly, we’re proud also to have such community.
Tom Plucinsky: And that’s fine, we like that, I believe it has more credibility actually when it comes from someone that it’s not employed by BMW, but rather from fans, enthusiasts and owners.
Sometimes we don’t like what you say, but ….(joking together here).
BMWBLOG: Are you going to continue supporting the idea of live webcasts when a new products are being released?
Tom Plucinsky: Definitely, there will be more webcasts since they seem to work perfectly and draw a large audience. It is meant for the press really, but the last webcast which focused on the new diesel engines, was also sent to the dealers. And if a customer wants to jump on one of those live conferences, sure, they can learn more about the product.
BMWBLOG: So, is BMW focusing more on online advertising now, moving away from print media?
Tom Plucinsky: I think it’s a combination of everything, a balance between them. But it is not an easily achieved balance, especially since we have limited budgets. We are trying to do a few things: get the message out and target certain products.
For example, take our 7 Series, our customer is probably our older customer and the internet might not be as important to them as the New York Times, so we need to weigh all these things.
BMWBLOG: Since we’re here next to Audi, are they BMW’s biggest competitor now?
Tom Plucinsky: In Europe, Audi is roughly the same size as BMW. In the U.S., that’s not the case, they are not as big as we are here. Their quattro system is well known in the Northern states, but we also sell a lot of vehicles there. Audi is strong because of quattro, but don’t forget, we have the xDrive and I would argue that it’s a better system than quattro.
It has the ability to transfer power much more aggressively than the quattro system can. We can do 100% front and back and we can also go side-to-side. Our cars are more dynamic, better balanced. But don’t forget, Mercedes and Lexus are always our competitors as well. The 7 Series buyers are probably going to shop the S-Class and the Lexus LS450. We believe the new 7 Series will bring many of them over to us.
BMWBLOG: Are there any new niches that BMW is targeting in the near future?
Tom Plucinsky: Actually, PAS which will be called Gran Turismo (Our Note: the interview was taken the day before the official unveiling. It will be shown in Geneva and it’s an interesting concept since it takes some of what a sedan is and some of what an SUV is, and puts the two together and gives you a different take.
Think of it as a sporty luxurious, 4 seater. Clear your mind of the hatchback idea, back in the 60’s, a Gran Turismo was a Ferrari or a Maserati, a 2 seater with luggage with you travelling in style and luxury. It was a dynanic, fun car to drive.
But what would you do if you want to ride with four people? You don’t do that with a Maserati….the Quatroporte is not a GT , it’s a sedan. But we have a sedan and an SUV and we changed the look of it. It can be a five passanger, but it’s really designed for four people to drive in luxury with performance, enough room for the luggage and in a stylish high performance vehicle.
BMWBLOG: In behalf of our readers, I thank you for this interview.