WWD.com/business-news/designer-luxury/mercedes-focusing-on-core-values-2321144/

It’s been a roller-coaster year for luxury marketers, but Stephen Cannon, vice president of marketing at Mercedes-Benz USA, believes that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

This story first appeared in the September 30, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“We’re saying goodbye to programs that aren’t working to focus on fewer, better things,” he said.

The company will continue its long-standing association with IMG and the Bryant Park tents at Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week, but Cannon said there have been noticeable shifts in the marketing budget, such as putting more emphasis on TV than in the past.

“We’re in a fearful marketplace,” he added. “We are out there on TV building confidence and it’s driving traffic into showrooms.”

Cannon said consumers are still spending, but the hurdles are higher now, and they are trying to justify their expenditures more. “More ammunition is needed for a purchase and they are being opportunistic for demand,” he said.

This past summer, Mercedes-Benz skipped its summer selling event. Traditionally, car companies hold sales in the summer to clear inventory, but Mercedes took a different approach and instead decided to focus on a value message, pertaining to the launch of its ninth-generation E Class. “We focused on safety, design,” he said. “In a period when so many brands are on the defensive, we are on the offensive with a confident message.”

In a challenged environment, Cannon said luxury brands need to focus on core values. “Anyone can talk about a deal or a price,” he said. “Now is the perfect time to get close to your customers.”

One way to do that, at Mercedes, is through an online initiative, MB Advisors. The company has invited 1,000 customers to have a dialogue on a regular basis and it has built a level of engagement and commitment.

“They are responding just because we asked,” Cannon noted. “They are getting nothing for it. But trust in your customers. This is an example of how to stay close to them.”