Germany’s favourite brands … Adidas’ originals, BMW’s new business models, and Weleda’s anthroposophy

March 1, 2017

I’m doing lots of work in Germany right now. It’s a country I know well, having studied and lived in the beautiful southern town of Freiburg im Breisgau. I’ve always been a big fan of German cars too, from my first Volkswagen Polo to the ultimate Audi TT.

This year, I’ve teamed up with GERBUS, the German Business Academy, to launch a fantastic new program for business leaders “Gamechangers Germany“.

This builds on all the best research, insights and techniques in my book Gamechangers, and applies it practically for each individual – how to drive smarter innovation through design thinking to new business models – and be a leader of future progress and accelerated growth.

In preparation for the 2×2 day executive program (6-7 June, 6-7 September), I’ve been exploring Germany’s most innovative brands and businesses – from the start-ups of Berlin, to the powerhouse corporates of Bavaria.

I’m also running an online competition Gamechangers Germany Awards 2017, to find the nation’s most disruptive innovators right now. Contenders include ProSiebenSat1 Media which features in the latest Forbes Global Top 100 innovators list, or Grohe who won Brandeins Innovation Awards 2016, or award-winning start-ups like Number26 Bank.

In exploring all of the latest research I came across a new report by Prophet exploring which brands are seen as most relevant by German consumers. Whilst Amazon, Apple and Google inevitably featured at the top of the ranking, a significant number of local brands were prominent too.

Of course, a great brand is built on heritage, with quality and authenticity. But the best brands today are more about their audience – who you are, what they enable you to do, why they matter to the changing world – more inspiring and more relevant.

Solid, reliable, functional attributes are often associated with the German psyche, even stereotype, and these are common associations with German brands too.

As quality becomes an expectation rather than advantage in most sectors, German brands need to find more distinctive and emotional ways to engage local and global audiences – to be more creative, more contextual, and more human.

Here are Germany’s favourite German brands:

Adidas

Adidas owes its continuing relevance to its strong guiding principle – a determination to equip amateur and professional athletes with the clothes and equipment they need to achieve their ‘impossible’. Sticking to this principle keeps adidas relevant to people for whom Nike’s more lifestyle orientated positioning holds less appeal. While not as connected to their consumers as Nike, adidas is in tune with the modern consumer’s need to look great on and off the sports field. Their two fashion ranges adidas Originals and adidas Style leverage their heritage as a sport and style icon to great effect.

Audi

Audi is the highest ranking automobile manufacturer in the index. Consumers value Audi’s focus on technological innovation, as well as the way the brand connects with them emotionally. The perception of Audi as a very functional brand with a ‘babbitt’ vibe to it is fading away. It’s being replaced by a sense of Audi being design-focused, and emotionally engaging. This approach has helped the car maker to surpass BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the once predominant German car brands.

BMW

The car marque has a reputation for engineering excellence, which over the years has translated into a byword for driving pleasure and being the ultimate driving machine. With environmental awareness and a less hedonistic zeitgeist, a change of emphasis in the brand had to happen but be subtle enough to not alienate existing fans. It’s worked with BMW establishing ‘E icientDynamics’ and introducing new mobility concepts like ‘DriveNow’. BMW is now about the concept of mobility in the widest sense, and the company is making great strides in electric and hybrid vehicles. The brand scores highly in trust, and it is now trusted to change with the times.

Braun

Braun has enjoyed many glory years as the most advanced home appliance brand in Germany. Working with world-class designers like Dieter Rams helped the brand become an icon of modernist design. There are Braun products in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and Apple found inspiration in Braun’s designs. But, is the brand resting on its laurels? Older consumers remember Braun’s starry status, but for younger generations the brand has become commoditised. To stay relevant Braun now needs to reinvent itself.

DM

Under the leadership of its visionary founder, Götz W. Werner, dm (“Drogerie Markt”) operates as a social enterprise with a strong corporate culture and German values at its heart. Respect, transparency, pragmatism, and e iciency give the brand a deep emotional relevance to German consumers. Its 3,000 stores are beacons of trust and dependability. They are happy places to shop because dm is a happy company – it’s ranked as No.1 Retail Employer and third best employer in any sector in a recent Germany’s Best Employers study. Its strong environmental record and reputation for ‘capitalism with a human face’ play well with consumers. The company’s portfolio of big brands and private labels pays close to shifting trends, earning dm a reputation for innovation and customer focus.

Kinder

Kinder is owned by Ferrero of Italy. But it was launched and continues to be developed in Germany, and is regarded by German consumers as one of their own. Kinder has successfully appealed to health conscious German parents despite concerns about sugar in the modern diet. Now, 40 years later, Kinder keeps expanding its range of tasty products, and promotes the quality of its ingredients. The consumer agrees that this – and the fact that the snacks remain kiddy-sized – keeps the “healthy” promise. People are also responding well to the new products.

Miele

Miele was founded in 1899 and is still owned and run by members of the founding family. Continuity has been a strength for Miele, enabling them to work with a single mission in mind: to build the best quality, most reliable home appliances. The brand may lag just a little in digital, and the company’s dogged belief in quality may have given them a less innovative reputation than other German manufacturers. But it sends a powerful and very popular message to consumers: we’re with you for the long run. This long-term dependability is why Miele outperforms Bosch in aspects like ‘purpose’ and ‘trust’.

Ravensburger

Ravensburger uses over a hundred years of expertise to create puzzles and games that help children learn as they play. It remains relevant after so many years because of the company’s staunch commitment to “handmade quality” production and a high degree of inspirational creativity. Ravensburger scores less well for innovation, and they’ve yet to develop a strong digital presence. But a business that believes in “joy, education, and interaction” surely has the capacity to excel in those areas too – if they ever start to believe in it.

Thalia

The leading book retailer in Germany took a bet on delivering books in as many ways as the customer demanded. The gamble has paid o , as the brand serves German speakers online, in-store and with its own e-reader “Tolino”. This made it N° 1 in the General Merchandise category. The company is repaid for its diligence with loyalty and a burgeoning social media presence – and with a brand so strong it can diversify into the travel business, which research told them was allied closely in consumers’ minds with reading.

Weleda

In Germany Weleda is six times smaller than L’Oreal, and yet is seen as more relevant. The brand owes its reputation and relevance to clear ownership of the ‘green’ space, and its deep roots in German consciousness. Weleda was founded in Stuttgart in 1921 to produce and distribute natural cosmetics and naturopathic remedies. Today they only use organic ingredients and the brand essence is based on anthroposophy, a popular early 20th century German philosophical movement.

Zalando

Zalando – the European online fashion marketplace – has conducted a brilliant brand awareness campaign, and its website is a triumph of intuitive usability. The company also has an excellent reputation for its logistics, and a consumer-friendly returns policy. The style-conscious consumer needed a rich choice of modern design and apparel, delivered in a way that is convenient for modern life. Job done. But will any of these elements of the brand su er as the company cuts costs and partners up in an attempt to become profitable?

Gamechangers Germany

Sign up now for the GERBUS executive program “Leading for Innovation and Growth

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Who are the most innovative companies in Germany right now? Gamechangers Germany 2017

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