Mercedes-Benz wants to become the leading choice among premium car brands for women by 2020, at which time it wants at least 30 percent of its customers to be female.
Daimler's premium brand is increasing its emphasis on attracting women because CEO Dieter Zetsche believes they are the world's "fastest-growing and most influential group of customers."
Analyst Frost & Sullivan estimates that women influence 80 percent of all new car purchases, either by buying a vehicle themselves or wielding a veto when it comes to their partner's choice.
Mercedes has to make up ground in particular in Germany, where years of conservative design and stuffy image as the preferred brand for rich, old men turned female customers away. Even sponsorships such as Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week have not helped. While 40 percent of Mercedes' customers in the U.S. are women, the share shrinks to 25 percent for China and just 20 percent in Germany – the three biggest markets for premium cars.
To emphasize his point about the power of women car buyers he provocatively compared them to China. "We first needed to create the awareness that we have great potential here and that's where this somewhat cheeky saying came from that 'Women are the new China.' If we have potential in China, then we have even more potential when we increase the share of our women customers," Zetsche told reporters earlier this year.
The automaker has created a separate initiative called She's Mercedes that specifically addresses women and combines an internet platform with exclusive event formats at various locations. The aim is to make women more familiar with the brand and help Mercedes learn more about women's mobility needs.
Since the end of 2015, Mercedes also has offered a lifestyle configurator as an alternative to the traditional car configurator. Instead of first picking a model and then working down from its powertrain options, female customers are asked about their preferences regarding architecture, music, travel, sports and home life. Afterwards, the customer is given a number of recommendations that correspond most to these preferences.
Potential to backfire
Appealing to women, however, is tricky and could potentially backfire, not only by inadvertently coming across as sexist. The door can also swing too far and become a self-reinforcing dynamic, as more and more male consumers turn their back on a perceived female product. This fate befell the first-generation Volkswagen New Beetle. Although the original was a car driven by many car enthusiasts, men were turned off by features such as a vase in the dashboard to hold a flower. This backlash prompted VW to reposition the second generation model.