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Michelin Goes Full Speed Ahead with Influencer Marketing in Northern Europe

Aug 23, 2018

Traackr has partnered with Olivier Cimelière for the following interview. This forms part of our new global series “Influencer Marketing at Scale”, which also features Scott Guthrie from the UK and Mark Schaefer in the US.

‍Kevin Maleterre, B2C Marketing Vice President for the Michelin group’s Northern Europe region

Seemingly straightforward, tires are much more complex than they may initially appear, with design required to take into account high-tech performance, consumer driving styles, on-road weather conditions and the mechanical constraints of the vehicles to be fitted. Traackr got the inside scoop from Kevin Maleterre, B2C Marketing Vice President for the Michelin group’s Northern Europe region. The world’s leading tire manufacturer is ploughing significant investment into online influencers to build awareness of its tires’ USPs in a highly competitive market.

With 190 million tires sold in 2017 around the world and a business reputation that has just recently been crowned by the Reputation Institute’s barometer and acclaim from American magazine Forbes as “North America’s best employer”, you might think the company would be in no need of further bolstering its corporate image. Bibendum, the emblematic Michelin Man, enjoys a rock-solid popularity and sympathy, and celebrated its 120 years this year with as much dynamism as ever. Yet, the group from Auvergne in France is picking up the pace when it comes to influencer marketing. Although its products are primarily sold by distributors, the Michelin brand is deeply embedded in the everyday experiences of drivers. But also, in its "lifestyle" activities such as the famous Michelin Guide. The Northern Europe region (including the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Scandinavia) is scaling its influencer marketing campaigns.

[OC] Influence is in Michelin’s genes, as per the launch of its famous restaurant guide in 1900 for the world’s very first drivers who bought the brand’s tires. Why and how is influencer marketing becoming one of Michelin’s digital strategy priorities?

[KM] The first and foremost reason we are ramping up our efforts is our consumers. Although we aren’t a FMCG brand in the same way that food or hygiene brands are, our products are highly sought-after by vehicle owners. Whether they own motorbikes, urban cars, saloons or other types of vehicle. In Northern Europe, whether motorcycles, city cars, sedans or others, 70% of future tire buyers start with online research. They read manufacturers’ websites and specialist media platforms, but they also view content generated by influencers on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, blogs etc. Our studies show that 40% to 50% of them stick with their first impressions when the time comes for them to buy a set of tires. This emphasizes just how important it is for a brand like Michelin to develop a closer relationship with these communities. Influencers are excellent bridges between them and us.

Then, we want to enhance our user experience. The idea is to engage consumers more as users than just buyers. We want to be present in their daily lives and offer them brand experiences. Of course, this is less easy in the tire industry than in other economic sectors. To achieve this, we strive to work all points of contact with our consumers throughout the consumer journey. The tire is a seemingly simple product but in fact it is technologically very complex and the differences between products of the same brand (depending on the type of tire purchased, which may be more for sports use such as our Pilot Sport range, more comfort-oriented like our Primacy range etc) but also between competing brands can be very important. In this sense, influencers are key partners we’re inviting to events to learn more about our products and services. They then go on to describe and share their experience with their communities. The tire is also a slow-moving product: at best, in countries such as Austria or Switzerland where the change of summer / winter tires is required, the consumer only returns to the store twice a year. Using the influence of influencers throughout the year allows us to anchor the brand in the daily lives of our customers.

[OC] What key questions need to be asked before developing an influencer marketing strategy? Target audience, target content, mapping communities to better understand their expectations?

[KM] The first prerequisite is to ensure that the digital influencer marketing strategy is aligned with the overall marketing strategy. It’s not about reinventing the wheel, you’ll pardon the pun! Next, depending on the size of the target markets, we work to fine-tune our segmentation, as we’ve done in Germany, the UK, Switzerland and Austria. In parallel, there is also another crucial segmentation work to be done. The tire is intrinsic to the criteria of consumer behavior. I will give you several examples that highlight the huge variety of scenarios that we need to consider when communicating with our targets. Sports car enthusiasts want technologically advanced tires. Off-roaders want durable tires. Those who have family vehicles will prefer comfort for long journeys. City-dwellers who multiply short journeys want adapted ones. Transportation professionals need tires that endure heavy loads. Still others live and circulate in areas where the weather can be extreme. Hence the importance of the granularity of our targeting in our communication and marketing actions.

[OC] Who is responsible for your influencer marketing strategy and who oversees activities relating to operational tools, processes and shared best practices development?

[KM] Like many major companies, we work within a structured organizational matrix. To keep things simple, I’ll describe it as three levels of responsibility. We have in the marketing team "Segment managers" whose role is to define the positioning and the intrinsic attributes of each range of tires. Then, we have within our team a "Customer Experience management" who defines the strategy for each segment and a Social Media manager who sets to music and implements influencer strategy for each country in question. He is attached to the communication department but works closely with marketing and deals with all the segments. For some special campaigns, we work with the external communication, internal communication and press relations teams. In Germany for example, we organized an internal activation with two well-known influencers from our DriveStyle web-series, who we invited to come in and share their experiences with our colleagues. This is essential to making them feel involved in the projects and to ensure they get talking about them themselves on social media.

[OC] You have a portfolio of different brands, each with their own unique, in-depth ecosystem. How do you handle this diversity, especially considering the markets in Europe don’t share the same expectations in terms of tires, and considering some brands have very different pasts?

[KM] To make it simple, we have 3 main categories for our different tires. First of all, a global offer such as the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S, which has USP (Unique Selling Point) throughout the world. Then, regional brands and / or specific niches (like Kléber and BF Goodrich) like our Michelin CrossClimate tire for European countries. For others, finally, we have to integrate seasonality constraints specific to each market. In Germany, Austria and Switzerland as well as in the Nordic countries, we have a real difference. These markets are seasonal. Here we have a summer season and a winter season. This involves a range of summer and winter tires due to consumer needs and national regulations.

[OC] With so many market-specific criteria and constraints, does it become tricky to define the influencer profiles that will have the most effective impact on Michelin’s influencer marketing campaigns?

[KM] That’s precisely where the benefit of a tool like Traackr is precious, making it easy for us to identify the right influencers. That said, we have two recurring categories of influencer irrespective of country:

  • ‍“Vertical” influencers, who talk about cars, mechanics, transport, with a stronger focus on industry and technology.
  • “Horizontal” influencers, who are generally more interested in lifestyle. As we said earlier, each tire is linked to specific technical expectations from drivers, and different well-defined lifestyles.

It’s up to us to source and mix relevant influencers from both categories.

However, we don’t limit ourselves to influencers who already have huge communities and followings and/or are media stars or brands themselves. This type of influencer can sometimes have excessive financial demands. In these cases, we prefer to skip them. Some have even come back to us reviewing their demands after realizing they had missed out on an amazing opportunity. It’s crucial that the relationship between the brand and the influencer remains authentic. Without authenticity, the exercise is pointless. That’s why we also follow other influencers who may have a smaller reach or ability to go viral but a tone of voice and personality that make us want to involve them to build lasting relationships and especially to generate more engagement. That being said, it’s not always easy. The influencer world is a volatile one.

[OC] Can you briefly explain why and how Michelin partially co-created with influencers to launch its #MichelinTrackConnect connected tire in April 2018?

#MichelinTrackConnect campaign

[KM] I love talking about this example! The connected tire market is booming and a brand like Michelin benefits from a tremendous legitimacy to speak on this subject and when it comes to connecting with influencers. The “Michelin Track Connect” connected tire solution is only compatible with the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. This solution allows drivers to monitor tire pressure and temperature in real time and to better understand their track driving style. Naturally, this product is aimed at a very niche market, called “the racers”. These are people who drive sports cars on a daily basis and regularly hit the track for the racing experience. They have incredible technical knowledge and are always looking for the next best way of improving their times. They are also active on social media.

Given that context, we couldn’t reach out to just any influencer, as this could have tarnished the brand’s credibility. In Germany, for the launch, we therefore connected with Daniel Abt, a racing driver in Formula E who is hugely popular on social media. In Switzerland, we worked with Cindy Allemann, a professional driver who carried out tests on TV and who has more than 45,000 followers on Instagram.

The other real challenge in terms of influencer marketing is our ability to form lasting relationships with our influencers. We don’t believe in one-shot campaigns. Building loyalty is incredibly important to us. We see it as fundamental to creating dynamic and appealing content. Finally, we’re increasingly interested in micro-influencers and particularly in the lifestyle category. Although they may have fewer followers, they connect with other communities that Michelin needs to reach. It takes more time to manage, but influence also goes through these new online personalities.

About Olivier Cimelière

Olivier Cimelière is the founder and CEO of Heuristik Communications, a communications strategy, reputation management and editorial influence consultancy for companies and directors. A former press and radio journalist, he went on to work in corporate communications for major international companies such as Bœhringer Ingelheim, Nestlé Waters, Ericsson, Google and Ipsos.

If you’d like to find more from Olivier check out his Blog du Communicant, where he regularly covers the hottest topics in digital marketing and communication.