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Opel's Tina Mueller is striving to improve the carmaker's brand image

With deliveries rising in the second quarter and General Motors Europe and its core Opel brand posting its first quarterly pretax profit since 2011, the US carmaker hopes to continue the upward trend in  Europe for the rest of the year. In an interview with automotiveIT, Tina Mueller, who heads Opel's marketing, explains how digitization is changing Opel cars and services and is making an entirely new kind of customer dialog necessary. Traditional dealerships must make dramatic changes as purchase processes are being transformed, Mueller says. The full interview will run in the September edition of automotiveIT International magazine.

Ms. Mueller, you are in the process of honing Opel’s image. What is your biggest challenge in breathing life into a battered automotive brand and creating a lifestyle?If you look at the history of Opel, you see that the brand has continually lost market share over a period of 25 years ”“ and, in fact, the company only made a profit one year, namely 1949. If you look at what we have done over the past three years, you realize that we are selling more cars and have increased our market share in Europe. Let me put it figuratively: It is still a tender little plant that continues to need a great deal of care, but it is a step in the right direction. This is the challenge that you are asking about: Opel's brand image was very badly damaged, its product lineup was outdated and the brand’s social acceptance had suffered a great deal over the years. For starters, we had to lead people back to the brand so they could give us another chance.

Is the brand standing in the way of the products?You could put it that way. There is a virtual wall between the product and brand. Customers definitely feel that individual models appeal to them, but the Opel emblem on the car bothers them. The brand ultimately keeps potential customers from buying a car. In the first place, we had to work on the brand image, which we did in an entertaining and humorous way. The message: Give us a chance and discover surprising things that you may not have ascribed to Opel.

Can you describe the Opel brand strategy a bit more precisely?We have defined four fields with whose help we intend to anchor the brand: design, exterior and interior, and quality ”“ with a clear reference to German precision. The fourth area is connectivity.

Connectivity is an important field to marketing strategists at auto companies. GM CEO Mary Barra has said: “The auto industry will change more in the next five years than in the previous 50 years.” She was referring to increasing digitization. What does this mean for your area?To me, digitization has several dimensions. The first level is the digitization of the product itself, that is, the networking of the car in an increasingly networked environment. The second level is the digitization of our campaigns. As a company, how do I communicate in a digital world where the personal command center is the smartphone. You have to completely rethink things. Or to put it in the vernacular, you can forget everything you’ve done to this point. The third area is the digitization of the buying process, meaning the famous “customer journey” ”“ how I actually buy a car”¦

 (Read the full interview with Tina Mueller in the September edition of automotiveIT International magazine. For a free digital subscription, please go to: www.automotiveIT.com/subscribe)