What's behind the latest brand symbol overhaul at BMW

BMW GM of marketing talks about the fifth iteration of the automotive brand's iconic visual identity

Some brand symbols are iconic, and immediately convey not just an identity but a set of attributes that clearly describe what the brand stands for. Such recognition can take years to establish, and it is something most brand owners are loath to mess with.

Over time, however, market sentiment and behaviours can change, and the relevancy of a brand symbol to some audience members can wane. So how should a brand owner go about ensuring their symbol remains effective without risking losing what has taken decades to achieve?

BMW has asked itself this same question many times since its formation in Bavaria in 1916, having gone through four revisions of its circular brand symbol up until 1997.

Tony SestoCredit: BMW
Tony Sesto


Yet the world has been swept by the digital revolution since then, changing the media formats brands use to engage with audiences, as well as the behaviours and expectations of audiences themselves.

And it is specifically these digital audiences BMW has in mind with the fifth revision of its iconic symbol. Unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March this year, the new symbol does away with its former 3D effect in favour of a flatter look on a transparent background.

According to BMW Australia general manager of marketing, Tony Sesto, the new symbol has been designed specifically for digital marketing and communications and is intended to convey openness, clarity and modernity.

“We want it to invite our customers to become part of the world of BMW,” Sesto told CMO. “BMW is not giving up on the past, but we are embracing our future with our new and most loyal customers, and a new symbol for digital marketing is an integral step in this process.”

Sesto said the reduced complexity of symbol, in terms of its colours, proportion and flat design, coupled with a distinctive typeface, means the new identity is highly optimised for digital marketing, and allows the brand to remain flexible and harnesses the opportunities of digitalisation and communicating in new ways.

“We are confident both of our brand identities – the one seen on our vehicles and at dealerships, and the other for marketing – will complement each other perfectly,” he said. “Relevancy is incredibly important in today’s market and to achieve that, we must focus on being a relationship brand with today’s consumers. The new and transparent version of our BMW brand identity invites our existing customers and new customers to join us as we embrace the future.”

Most importantly, Sesto said the new symbol reflects BMW's transition from focusing purely on the automotive world, to being about technology and connection to our customers.

“We are a premium brand that happens to build cars, but we’re in the business of providing luxury experiences,” Sesto said. “So not only is the intrinsic detail of the vehicle critical for us, but it’s also the overall experience that wins hearts and disseminates joy, which is at the core of our brand. It is this that has won over customers and earned us a spot on the best global brand rankings.”

Sesto said feedback from employees, network of dealer partners and customers has been positive.

“Since its official unveiling at the Geneva Motor Show in March this year, the new brand symbol immediately became an integral part of our brand communications in Australia,” he said. “This is just the beginning, and we’re excited about the opportunities the new identity will deliver for BMW’s marketing efforts in Australia in the coming years.”

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