Aston Martin’s marketing boss Simon Sproule has just finished off a lunch with one of the luxury car brand’s customers when he meets us in the Charlotte Street Hotel on a rare sunny June day in London.
“I have been in the car business a long time, but I never had lunch with customers before I joined Aston Martin,” Sproule said.
“I think that says a lot. Not that I’m anything special, but that the CMO of the company is taking the time to sit down and have lunch with a customer, one on one with him and his son, talking about the business and showing him a few pictures of what we’re doing — and he paid! I offered, but he paid. That’s the luxury business.”
But while Aston Martin, famed for being the choice of fictional spy James Bond, clearly has a personal rapport with UK luxury car buyers, the brand has struggled to achieve the same rate of success in the US.
Sproule said: “We sell approximately 15 to 20% of our cars in the US. The US market [for Aston Martin] is about the same size as the UK right now and it should be about three times bigger, just for our natural volume and our natural competitive share. We think we are underperforming in the US versus our potential. There’s nothing wrong with the cars, nothing wrong with the brand, we’ve done all the checks. I think our challenge is saliency and awareness.”
People think of Ferrari as red sports cars, Lamborghini as “more extreme” Italian sports cars, Rolls Royce do big luxury sedans, but what do people in the US think of Aston Martin?
“If you said define Aston Martin to a lot of American consumers, I think they would struggle,” Sproule admitted.
If you said define Aston Martin to a lot of American consumers, I think they would struggle
Aston Martin does have plenty of reasons to be cheerful. Production is up to 3,500 cars a year, a rate it has never achieved before in its history — and it has ambitions to produce 10,000 cars a year soon to get closer to the volumes of vehicles produced by the likes of Ferrari (around 9,000) and Bentley (around 10,000). Earlier this year, Aston Martin also signed a deal to build its first electric car, in partnership with Chinese tech company LeEco, to rival the Tesla Model S.
Sproule doesn’t see Tesla (his former employer, where he was vice president of marketing and communications) as a direct competitor — “it’s like saying I am going to buy an apple or a lobster for lunch, it’s like two different things” — but there is no doubt their customer segments have some crossover.
Aston Martin plans to increase its US advertising and events budget in areas where affluent buyers live — the west coast, south Florida, the east coast, and the Hamptons, for example — and it is in conversations to bring on board a brand ambassador.
Finding a US brand ambassador
Aside from James Bond, Aston Martin’s only brand ambassador to date has been tennis champ Serena Williams, who came on board last year. She was already a big fan of the brand and has been to visit the car manufacturer’s factory in Warwick, UK.
Sproule said the reason Aston Martin has not chased down more brand ambassadors is that it hasn’t felt the need, or hasn’t found itself in a position where someone has come along and genuinely invested in the brand.
He added: “I get plenty of agents and celebrities calling me saying: ‘I love Aston Martin, I’d be a great fit for your brand.’ I say: ‘Well, do you drive one?’ [They reply:] ‘No, but I would!’ It’s like, I’m sure you’re very nice but this has to be authentic. It’s really important to the brand. Serena has been with us as a customer and she gets who we are. We are currently talking to a couple of other people who get who we are.”
We ask whether a rapper might be a good fit for the brand, recalling Rick Ross’ 2010 single “Aston Martin,” featuring Drake and Chrisette Michele.
“I’m fine with it. I know some brands sort of recoil at that. But look, the nice thing about Aston, we hope, is we feel that we are quite an inclusive luxury brand. So you don’t go into an Aston Martin [dealership] and feel intimidated. You should be able to breeze in, have a look around, and move on,” Sproule said.
What happens after you buy an Aston Martin
Another area Sproule — who came on board in November 2014 — plans to transform, is aftercare.
At the moment, when you buy an Aston Martin, you get a warranty, you receive a magazine around once a quarter, and that’s it.
Sproule thinks that isn’t good enough right now, so the company is currently redesigning the whole owner experience — partly through technology, employing platforms like Salesforce, so Aston Martin can keep the conversation going with customers after they make their purchase.
It’s not just a case of giving them more stuff though, Sproule explained: “If you can buy a Ferrari, Rolls Royce, or an Aston Martin, you’ve probably got a lot of things and you probably don’t want or anything. Sending them a Swiss Army knife with Aston Martin on it, do they really value that?”
But what they do value is hanging out with the company’s CEO Andy Palmer or its chief creative officer Marek Reichman up at its HQ.
“Marek is great, our chief creative officer will do a sketch on a napkin of a car and sign it and people go crazy for that stuff. They met the guy who designed the DB9 GT Bond car and they want those things,” Sproule said. “They want us to organise driving events. They say: ‘Please, just set it up, we don’t care how much it costs, just set it up so we can go off and get together with a few like-minded friends and go off and drive the Italian lakes or the Cotswolds in our Aston Martins’.”
It was that insight that led to Aston Martin signing a deal with the Quintessentially events group this year to launch its “Art of Living” website. Now fans of the brand — not just owners — can pay to be helicoptered into Le Mans and stay in a chateau, be the first to drive the DB11, or be taken to Cuba on a trip curated by Aston Martin.
Sproule said: “The experience of owning an Aston Martin will get richer over time. Not because I’m going to send you a baseball cap in the post, but because I’m going to invite you to [events and experiences] — and not always charge you, by the way: I might say ‘why don’t you come over to the factory in the next couple of months as I’ve got something to show you’.”
He added: “We are 103-years-old. We have only produced 80,000 cars in 103 years. It takes Toyota three days to build that many cars. We are a small family, so we can afford to spend.”
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