Dreaming, and Talking About, a Benz During a Recession

An invitation-only online community created for Mercedes Benz USA by customer collaboration player Passenger is seeing a healthy level of interest from prospective young owners even as the auto industry free-falls.

Justin Cooper, co-founder and head of innovation for the L.A.-based Passenger, said the invitation-only “Generation Benz” community currently has about 800 active members and that about two-thirds of them have yet to buy a Mercedes. The community was launched in May.

Once they gain access to the community, these interested non-owners get to talk about the vehicles with passionate owners as well as representatives from the company.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen, since Passenger’s been in business, a brand attract a majority of its members as non-owners,” said Cooper. “I think that brands having these conversations during this recession are really at an advantage. While other automakers are challenged to stay afloat, Mercedes sees this as way to extend its brand.”

The online communities enabled by Passenger’s technology often provide members with exclusive access to live discussions with company executives, including product designers. Cooper said Passenger-designed communities go beyond typical company or product forums.

Other automakers, such as MINI, have fostered communities of owners and fans. Cooper claims Passenger’s deployments provide more direct engagement with consumers. In one instance, he said the designers of a product engaged community members in an online discussion synchronized with a rich media presentation. The designers asked whether product designs were “on track,” according to Cooper, and asked members for ideas.

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