At the last count, BMW offered 16 model variants and will launch a further seven very shortly. At the end of this model explosion, there will be as many model variants of the entry-level 1-series as there were cars in the entire catalogue only two decades ago.
Interestingly, while car, and other, manufacturers have become expert at creating products for niche markets, there has been a corporate shift away from the plethora of microsites deployed by, for example, British Telecom in the late 1990s. At first glance, this might seem strange. Does the customer interested in a BMW 1-series expect the same web experience as the customer about to drop $95K on a range-topping M5?
From the company's perspective, the trend is easy enough to recognize as the need for centralized brand control. After all, car showrooms are the same the world over, and in that environment the 1-series and M5 rub along together quite nicely. But, ultimately, does this control result in a lowest common denominator online, with any life squeezed out by the consistency of approach? I argue that it does and will provide some examples of risk taking that have bucked the trend and piqued consumer interest.
Watching Cricket More Exciting than BMW's Website
Readers of my opinions will know that I am a BMW aficionado, so it is not without pain that I describe the firm's website as less exciting than watching cricket. As the firm's automotive design language became more progressive under Chris Bangle, its online design language has been neutered. And yet BMW-owned Mini has a centralized website strategy that allows each market to tailor its content -- and even launch microsites like this excellent offering from Glue London.
Der neue Golf, which is not really that new, also has an excellent microsite for the GTi variant, which, even if you don't speak the language, is pretty exciting.
And, to show how bad things have got, it is worth remembering that there is still considerable demand for Fallon's innovative online BMW film series, which launched in 2001. All of them, including my favorite, "The Star" with Madonna in the lead role, are on YouTube.
In the charity sector, microsites are used because they are effective, allowing specific communication with an audience. (Here is our recent work for Cancer Research UK as an example). They do not replace the main website presence but act in concert with it.
In fact, the musical analogy is a good one. An online presence should be like an orchestra. Sure, you need some big instruments, but it is the smaller notes, rising and fading, that bring the interest, variation and harmony.