[CMO] Mirjam Van Coillie from Gazelle: ‘Marketing is a holistic profession for me’

Bicycle brand Gazelle is entering Europe and America with a revolutionary mission: just like in the Netherlands, getting as many people as possible on (electric) bicycles. For CMO Mirjam Van Coillie, there are three important marketing challenges in this mission: how can Gazelle become even more a consumer-driven organization, how do I get the right quality awareness (and price level) between the ears of the foreign consumer and how do I keep the competition at bay. “An important marketing message is that the bicycle should be seen much more as a daily commodity.”

As a monumental building, the Gazelle bicycle factory in Dieren immediately wins points. The colorful tile pictures, the no-nonsense architectural style of the twenties, the imposing factory walls breathe history, the love for the bicycle. Once past this facade, the visitor enters a hypermodern assembly hall with hundreds of bicycles every day [concrete cijfers mogen we vanwege concurrentiegevoelige informatie niet publiceren, red.] roll off the assembly line. Corona halted production for a while in March 2020, but after the introduction of safety protocols and after intensive consultation with the retail network, it was quickly restarted after three weeks of shutdown. The demand for bicycles – and especially electric ones – has been fueled even more by Covid-19, with the result that in August 2020 – at the time of the interview – Gazelle is still struggling with a small delivery backlog.

Europe and America beckon
Better this way than the other way around; the bicycle is simply super popular. With the virus still present, people want to move freely and safely and prefer to take the bicycle rather than public transport. To make it easier and safer for consumers, Gazelle introduced free home delivery of the new bicycle. In recent months, the emphasis has been on this in marketing. But Mirjam Van Coillie, CMO at Gazelle [en Union, beide merken zijn eigendom van Pon Holdings, importeur van onder meer Volkswagen, Audi en Skoda, red.], is making plenty of new plans to conquer Europe and the US after the Netherlands. Slogan in the new TVCs becomes We step in more and more and less and less, in other words, we take the bicycle more often and less the car or public transport. Van Coillie embarks on the foreign adventure with the trusted agencies B-Wave and Dept, but a real advertising agency is still being sought to scale up internationally. The shortlist is in the making. To be continued.

Now that the Netherlands was actually conquered as a cycling country a long time ago, Gazelle is pedaling abroad. How does that look?
“In 1900 we were the first bicycle importer and, later as our own producer, we got the Dutch people on their bicycles. Now it is time for a second cycling revolution abroad. In the coming years this will be an important focus in marketing. How do we get people in Germany, France, Italy, Scandinavia, the UK, but also the US, by bike every day? This will mainly be the electric variant, because the division is already 60% -40% in favor of the electric bicycle. Every second e-bike produced by us crosses the border. In our mission it is essential to export Gazelle, but also the associated cycling culture. Cycling must become a daily phenomenon abroad. Now people in other countries first put on sportswear before getting on a bicycle. It should become a daily habit to use the bike for groceries or to cycle to work. Cities such as Milan and Paris are also increasingly seeing the importance of daily bicycle use from the perspective of sustainability, a better environment and a healthier lifestyle. They invest millions in new cycling infrastructure, because that is of course a requirement. Studies have shown that cycling not only has a preventive effect in terms of health, but also curative. Incidentally, we do not oppose public transport or the car, mind you, but short journeys are still too often done by car. With an electric bicycle you now have no more arguments to keep doing that. We really want to make people alert. Headwind, up a bridge, all easy to do with an e-bike. “

The second cycling revolution is very emphatically your mission, which says something about your influence as a CMO.
“In the end it is a unanimous and supported mission from the management team, but it is true that I laid the foundation. You must not forget: Gazelle is originally a B2B company that was and is mainly driven by the product, technology and engineering. That took quite some effort when I came on board here in 2016 from Philips. It is now much more important to make everyone in the company even more aware of the importance of B2C, of ​​the user-friendliness of the bicycle, of consumer insights, of the needs of the customer and also putting the customer first.

Gazelle was originally a B2B company that was mainly driven by product, technology and engineering; that was quite a shift when I got on board here in 2016

The concept of a customer journey and all the touchpoints that play a role in it, is still in its infancy for many people here internally, but also in our retail network. My job is to involve everyone in that B2C process with my team. Gazelle works with 1,100 mum and dad stores and we also have to keep them on track. They are crucial in maintaining service, maintenance and brand experience. As a CMO, I shape that transformation process, together with colleagues at sales. At Gazelle we have short lines of communication, I do not have to argue much about procedures or my marketing approach, neither with my CEO [Huub Lamers, red.] as with owner PON. The trick is of course to get people on board in the process in time, because we certainly do it together here. “

Retail is an important partner. How do you keep retailers sufficiently Gazelle minded?
“Retail is crucial to us, because we deliver our bicycles through them. So how we are presented in the store is super important. They too are now increasingly realizing that a beautiful presentation with a convincing brand message, good photography and decoration positively influences sales. I often compare it to a lamp store, where everything is close together and you don’t see how a lamp looks. That is also the case with a bicycle. If they are all crammed in a row, then there is no experience. We recently converted dozens of shops in the Netherlands and a few in countries around us, whereby the Gazelle bicycles were spacious and beautifully displayed. That has really boosted sales and helps convince retailers that presentation matters. “

In marketing terms, what is an important aspect in the second cycling revolution?
“In addition to the export of Dutch bicycle culture, we also want to get the right price perception and the sense of quality between the ears of the foreign consumer. If you buy a 300 euro bike at the hardware store, it will be rusted away after a few years outside. It is of a lesser quality. That’s okay, because there’s a market for that too, but people need to understand that a quality bike costs more money. When you buy a Gazelle, you buy quality, that’s the message. Electrification helps us with this, because everyone realizes that they are simply more expensive than a normal bicycle. The advantage is that Gazelle as a brand is strongly linked to leadership and that is also seen abroad. But it is definitely not over yet, because we have to keep working on the brand. “

Because that is in need of rejuvenation? Is there something old-fashioned about Gazelle?
“I don’t want to go that far, but I already saw that the brand had to be dusted when I walked in here four years ago. Along with the export story, I started thinking about the positioning. Gazelle is the market leader and we are leading in terms of design and innovation. What we must clearly show in the new campaign in the autumn is the renewed Gazelle with a great eye for pride, history, design, technology, wide range, durability and comfort. Renewal, but with respect for a great past. We especially want to bind younger people to our brand, because competition is fierce and the market is growing. Authenticity is and remains important to me, because it is the basis for our success. Gazelle is a brand that, in a manner of speaking, also retains its expressiveness without a logo. Some renowned car brands already dare to omit their logo completely, because everyone recognizes them anyway, thanks to the product, the quality, the design and the service. It is all about how you come across as a brand, how people experience your brand and how you deliver on the promise. Marketing used to be a lot of wool and little content. Now authenticity is much more important, make that work for your brand. I am someone for statements like practice what you preach and walk the talk. No hot air balloons, but transparency and keep the promise as a brand. I don’t have a blue bicycle tire there [Swapfiets, red.] or, so to speak, a red bicycle bell. “

Speaking of market leader: there is fierce competition from online bicycle brand Stella. Stella even claims to be the market leader in the field of electric bicycles with almost 70,000 copies and a turnover of more than 100 million euros. Stella is also emphatically looking across borders when it comes to brand expansion. How alarmed are you?
“Of course we are alert. Stella was founded in ten years and it is a great brand, but they are mainly present online and have a direct to consumer business model. They have service vans, but you are not going to win the competition with them, if you compare that with the service level that we strive for. It is a completely different business model than Gazelle’s. We also invest heavily in online, but for us that is a complementary and essential part of the consumer orientation phase. All e-commerce aspects can be found on our website, but as Gazelle we value personal service and interaction with the customer. You can order a Gazelle click and collect, but it will be delivered via the dealer. We believe that a reliable network for maintenance and service questions is essential in these times. “

Stella of course also claims that they have excellent service, good design and an attractive price. In June 2020 trade magazine Twinkle they literally say: “We have our own customer advisors, our own R&D department, our own delivery staff and our own maintenance technicians” …
“Let me say this: Gazelle is distinctive in design, we are making huge steps in that direction. VanMoof and Stella will say that too, so you do have a point per segment. But we design all our frames ourselves, our bicycles have their own look, our range structure is very spacious and good, just like our level of finish. And Gazelle has unique driving characteristics. Based on a particular use and orientation, you will always find a bicycle that suits you: sporty, recreational, commuter traffic. All of this, the other brands cannot claim. “

But the loyalty will also be less with bicycle brands than before?
“In the past, people bought the same make of car every four years, you saw that effect with bicycles. You can no longer live up to that, unfortunately. It is a dream for every marketer to make every customer loyal, but in 2020 consumers switch very easily. That is why it is important as a brand not only to act based on your authenticity, but also increasingly based on your mission and purpose and to behave as a market leader. Gazelle is therefore looking for partners such as the Longfonds and Natuurmonumenten who, based on that purpose, fit the brand and the brand will then become more than just bicycles. As a marketer, I think purpose is super important, my work should make the world a bit more beautiful. “

As a marketer you worked for ten years at Auping and more than eleven years at Philips, now four years at Gazelle. Another six years and then something else?
‘I do not know. At Philips I worked in various departments such as lighting, TV, household appliances. I always had a different challenge and that suits me. I see so many opportunities and challenges here in the field of mobility and in making bicycles connected. There is still plenty to discover and do, for example look at the foreign story just mentioned. Moreover, there is still a lot to be gained if you look at consumer insights and put the customer first. Again, sometimes people still think in terms of technology and production and too little in the needs of the customer. “

How do you think marketing will eventually evolve – perhaps even under the influence of Covid19?
“I think marketing has become much broader and it no longer has the same function as it did roughly twenty years ago. I was trained as an industrial designer with an additional MBA and from my first job I always think about the vision of a company: where are we going, what is the competition like, what trends do we see, where are opportunities? Ultimately, the conclusion is always that you must remain relevant to consumers and society. As a marketer you have to keep developing yourself and at the same time include all aspects of marketing in your strategy. Marketing is product development, innovation, design, KPIs, IT, data, communication, digital and you name it. You have to get into that. I see myself as a facilitator, as a director who brings unity to that process. I have a holistic view of brands. I often find that internal disciplines work too closely together and I can fully underline from experience that better cooperation, however simple that may sound, always leads to better results. I often have to emphasize that at Gazelle too. The fact that we, as design and marketing, are now launching products here together, we have never done before as one team. That you emphasize benefits for the customer instead of emphasizing features of your product. That’s not the point. The bicycle is not a Christmas tree. It’s about the user experience. “

In the implementation of your marketing you will be assisted by agencies such as Helden, B-Wave and Dept. To what extent is their contribution decisive?
“I am very fond of my own direction and my own creativity and input. That’s not to say I don’t need an agency, but me and my team are deeply committed to our own concepts, our own strategy and vision. As an example: the new commercial that has been running since September largely comes from our tube. B-Wave produces these and thus helps us realize the commercial. We work with Mediacom for media planning and together with them we look at how we can use our money as effectively and efficiently as possible. We have our own dashboards, we have been measuring everything with the BrandAsset Valuator every year [meet de kracht en het groeipotentieel van merken en merknamen, red.], we track everything online, know how many people come to our website and where they click, so we have a good idea of ​​where challenges lie.

So we are still looking for an advertising agency that can assist us in this and listen to us carefully (laughing)

In the new brand campaign, for example, we want to focus more on emotion and the bicycle. So we are still looking for an advertising agency that can assist us in this and listen to us carefully (laughs). Because with all due respect, there is a lot of ego tripping in the advertising world and I can’t do anything with that. I have been working internally with the team for four years now and we also regularly take a critical look at ourselves, assisted by external advisers. An important lesson for us is that we as Gazelle have been too modest for too long. We are the market leader, let’s behave like that, especially if you want to start a revolution! “

There is a lot of ego tripping in the advertising world and I can’t do anything with that

What would you have become if you had not rolled into marketing?
“That is very obvious, of course: designer. The great thing about this profession and this job is that I can perfectly combine design thinking and marketing. I once got disappointed because my work as a design consultant was often messed up by the marketer in question. Then everything went into a bottom drawer. In my work at Auping, as a design manager, I moved much more towards marketing, especially in order to better understand how both disciplines can reinforce each other and I also completed the MBA during that time. This here at Gazelle is actually a dream job for me, yes. That you think from the perspective of the user, that you want to keep improving the convenience and the product. I look with pleasure at a brand like Apple, which always thinks from a user-friendliness point of view. A brand that makes the product the hero and makes customers fall in love again and again. As a marketer you ultimately want to achieve that. “

Is being a marketer a lonely job?
‘No not at all. I am a team player and you will learn over the years that it is important to make people enthusiastic and get them involved in your mission. I was allowed to manage departments at a fairly young age and sometimes I was annoyed by the fact that things did not go exactly the way I wanted. But you have to learn to be able to work with everyone because everyone has a certain role in the overall picture. It is always the sum of its parts that makes it better. That is also the case here: from engineers, product developers, marketers, designers to people in the production hall. It is also remarkable that during Covid-19 everyone suddenly works from home and everyone finds each other digitally. So that just works. Then you see that multidisciplinary working also runs smoothly from a distance. “

What blunder and success can we note?
“At Auping I came up with a campaign with the perhaps well-known pay-off: Auping Nights, Better Days. It had been tested very well, but the retailers were far from happy. As it turned out: you didn’t see a bed anywhere in the tvc. It was only the silence, the sun rose, ready. Everyone in the test immediately recognized Auping, but I really got a lot of dredge from the dealers! Horrible. Then as a marketer you are sometimes too far ahead of the troops apparently.
An important success now is the current design of our bicycles, which is doing very well, dusting off the brand and improving the relationship with the dealer. “

How do you relax?
“I exercise a lot, of course I cycle and run. I go to the gym three times a week for high intensity impact training and aim to take at least 10,000 steps a day. The Veluwe is nearby, so if I feel like it, I can take one of the corporate Gazelle bicycles from the rack and go for a tour. Fitness is very much encouraged from Gazelle. I am also extremely interested in design, of course, I sit on many juries in that area and I enjoy going to museums. “

Do you have a tip for fellow marketers?
“Marketing is like a skewer, make sure that all aspects that touch on marketing are connected. Make sure that there is no pin in between. In short, approach marketing as a holistic profession. “

Finally, marketing has always been learning and retraining. Once?

“Certainly true, because you have to stay relevant. Education is then key. Sometimes it is good to go back to the school desk, as I recently did with the Digital Transformation course. I regularly do these kind of refresher rounds. I am also on the board of MEC and have been a loyal member for four years. I always learn new things in the MEC sessions with other marketers. I judge a lot at design awards and at the Design Academy. I see many new things in the field of design and product innovation, both nationally and internationally. A great way to keep up. “

This article was in MarketingTribune 15/16, 2020.

Also read our other interviews with CMOs:
Dorcas Koenen | Rabobank
Johan van der Zanden | Albert Heijn
Marlin van Straaten | HMSHost
Brenda Smith | Kruidvat
Martijn Smelt from Philips TV and Audio TP Vision
Arno de Jong of the Dutch Lottery
Peggy Spaapen from Centraal Beheer


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