Moving the Michelin Brand Forward

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Endeavor, a coworking space for Greenville’s creative community, hosted Jennifer Smith, director of image and brands for Michelin North America, at its July Collaborators & Cocktails professional development series, where marketing leaders share examples of the strategies and creative work that drove their brands beyond their competition. Smith spoke about her team’s mission to protect and promote Michelin’s brands and how they engage with their different communities.

The Michelin brand, valuated at more than $6 billion, is known for its unparalleled quality and standards. Smith, one of its fiercest advocates, states, “Our job is to ensure that the quality of our communications materials and experiences equal that of a $6 billion brand. We should have the same standard and adherence to quality as we do for our products.”

This is evident in how Michelin’s brand communications team proactively and reactively tells stories on behalf of their portfolio of brands, engaging with audiences across multiple segments. Smith shared the new advertising campaign that won a Cannes Bronze Lion — the first in the history of the brand — and their Super Bowl ad with a total implementation plan turned around in less than 48 hours. With more than 88,000 separate news items written about them last year and millions of social media mentions, Michelin’s brand marketing leads the mobility industry.

Moving beyond tires

The meaning behind Michelin’s tagline, “a better way forward,” goes well beyond manufacturing tires. The brand is using premium dining and driving experiences to create deeper connections with its consumers. Michelin recently bought 40 percent of Robert Parker Wine Advocate, the world’s most widely read independent consumers’ guide to fine wine. Through its highly acclaimed Michelin Guides, the brand partners with Michelin-star chefs and Robert Parker to bring the experience of gourmet dining and wine tastings together. Michelin also acquired Bookatable (Europe’s version of Open Table) to encourage the spirit of mobility — inspiring people to travel, enjoy life, and be mobile.

Evolving iconic brands

“Our mission statement, really, is that we care about giving people a better way forward. We are really a mobility company. Our portfolio of products reflects that,” Smith said. She shared how the company’s evolution and portfolio’s breadth led to an evaluation of their brand structure. Equally influential on the recent redesign is how digital communications have changed how marketers present their brands, requiring more design simplicity for smaller formats. In streamlining the globally recognized Michelin Man, people reacted strongly. “Any time you mess with the Michelin Man, you are going to hear love and hate stories from people. That’s part of the beauty of it, too.”

Creating change, one state at a time

Through road safety research, Michelin learned the No. 1 cause of death for teenagers is car accidents. Of those, 17 to 18 percent involving inexperienced drivers have some sort of tire-related factor, such as improper tire pressure or tread depth. Partnering with the FIA, a racing organization that shares the same passion for safe driving and reduction of deaths, Michelin launched “Beyond the Driving Test.” Their goal was to include tire safety basics in driver’s education by 2020, and in less than three years, they changed it in all 50 states. It was a major endeavor that required collaboration amongst many departments at Michelin. They also engaged teenage YouTube influencers to spread the word to their peers.

Launch, then let go of your brand

Michelin set a new industry standard this year, launching its ultra-high-performance Michelin Pilot 4S tires. Bringing together 300 of the most passionate and influential car and tire aficionados, Michelin created an overall premium experience, including driving on test tracks, driving through Joshua Tree, and exceptional dinners. A 100-person film crew tailored personalized long-form films for each influencer to share their experience with their fans. More than 10,000 pieces of shareable content were created, resulting in millions of impressions.


Endeavor, a creative, collaborative coworking community, presents a monthly professional development speaker series called Collaborators & Cocktails, where marketing chiefs from brands like Southwest Airlines, Ritz Carlton, and Nike share their marketing strategies.

Next: Collaborators & Cocktails
Presentation by Doug Poppen, Senior National Retail Brand Strategist
Aug. 17, 5–7:15 PM
Members: Free
Pre-registered Guests: $30
Email Endeavor@EndeavorGreenville.com for info.

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