06.01.2014

What do you think when you find out something is 'german made'?

What do you think when you find out something is 'german made'?

You may soon notice, if you haven't already, that something new has appeared next to the Roto logo.

Featuring the black, red and gold from a very familiar tricolour flag, it bears the legend 'german made'.

Of course, Roto has always been a German company, and is widely-known as such. Nevertheless, this latest move does underline the fact in a very prominent way.

The 'german made' motif will appear on all corporate branding. It'll be seen on Roto brochures, advertisements, web pages and business cards, and anywhere else the logo appears.

The company has never tried to hide where it comes from, but never before has used its national identity in such a prominent way.

So, what does 'german made' mean to you?

Before writing this article, I decided to do a bit of research. I went on Facebook and asked my friends this question:

"If I tell you a mechanical product you've just bought is made by a German company, what does that make you think about it?"

I asked them to write the first things that came into their heads, and not to look at what others had already written.

The replies were pretty much what you'd expect.

"Quality" said Amanda. "Precision engineered," wrote Steve, before adding, "Probably expensive but good quality".

“Reliable” said Claire. John declared, "Efficient", whereas Yulia opted for "Reliability and quality". Meanwhile, Jo chose "Well-made, reliable, stylish".

Out of 16 replies so far, no one has suggested any negative words. Most of the respondents were British, but a Russian and a Canadian managed to get in there too.

That sample, a good cross-section of men and women aged mainly in their thirties and forties, will no doubt be music to the ears of the Roto board of directors and everyone involved in the 'german made' initiative.

How then, have the Germans managed to get this reputation etched so strongly into people's minds?

A fair amount of credit must surely go to Audi and their famous "Vorsprung Durch Technik" - so well-known now, it's difficult to remember a time when no one had heard it. But think back to 1982, when the British advertising executive Sir John Hegarty visited the Audi factory, saw the phrase on a historic poster and decided he wanted to use it.

It's hard to imagine now, but at this time Audi was not a major brand in the UK and not all of the public were even aware that it was German.

But how would the British, a nation not generally known for their ability to speak other tongues, respond to a German language slogan?

Initial research indicated the results might not be favourable, but the Audi management team at the time decided to go ahead. Apparently their feeling was that they should be proud of being a German company. As this interview with John Hegarty shows, it wasn't just what the Audi adverts said, but the way they said it, with actor Geoffrey Palmer intoning, "'Vorsprung Durch Technik' - as they say in Germany", that helped win people over.

Of course, Audi continues to use the phrase today.

Meanwhile, over in Munich, BMW markets itself as "The Ultimate Driving Machine". The subtext of course being that their German way of doing things is a big part of the reason why.

The Bavarian brand has become well-known for its annual April Fool jokes, some of which play on its German identity. For example, when you're asked to email "Uwe Beanhadde" for more details, you know you're being had... Don't you?

When you look at a list of the largest German companies, it becomes obvious that manufacturing is only one aspect of German business dominance. Names like Allianz, Deutsche Bank and E.On are very familiar. Still, it's the reputation for quality, precision engineering that people most associate with Germany.

Porsche provides an example of how German engineers don't fiddle with anything in the final product unless they are sure it offers a genuine improvement. Just look at some "then and now" pictures of the iconic Porsche 911. Of course, over five decades this has become a completely different car, but the evolution has been so gradual, with changes only being made when they have been proven to make the car work better, that both the original and current models are still recognisable as a 911.

Don't change things unless you can find something that works better. It seems there's a similar kind of thinking going on behind Angela Merkel's wardrobe choices.

Although born in Hamburg, Chancellor Merkel famously spent much of her childhood in what was then East Germany. The communist state isn't exactly remembered as a powerhouse of business and industry, but it seems even Germans living under a repressive regime can come up with good designs.

Located east of the Brandenburg Gate, in what was DDR territory, stands the 368 metre tall 'Fernsehturm' – otherwise know as the TV Tower. Commissioned by the communist administration in the 1960s, it remains Germany's tallest structure and is one of the most visible icons of modern Berlin.

There's something going on at street level too. Perhaps the best-loved design to come out of the period of Cold War division is Ampelmann - the lively character who started life on pedestrian crossings in East Berlin. After reunification, this little chap was going to be consigned to history until a public outcry led to his restoration. He's now a genuine icon, and can be found on every type of tourist merchandise you can think of.

It might seem surprising to discover East Germany had the more characterful pedestrian crossing symbol, but as the Wikipedia article explains, there was a lot of research and German practical thinking behind the design.

There's no easy way to transition from Ampelmann to Roto, so let's just imagine we've driven the 600 km from Berlin to Stuttgart. We're in the Swabian region, birthplace of names like Rudolf Diesel and Albert Einstein, and home to Mercedes-Benz as well as a certain manufacturer of door and window hardware.

When you read Roto's official PR material about the 'german made' branding, you'll see words like "reliability", "thoroughness" and "quality", and phrases such as "precision design" and "long service life". In other words, exactly the same sort of language used by that random sample we polled earlier when they summed up their view of German manufacturing.

One thing is clear: 'german made' isn't so much about the country in which something happens to be manufactured. It's about who designed it, the reasoning behind it, the planning, the methodology, the execution and a commitment to maintaining standards. Any company anywhere in the world could theoretically adopt the 'german made' approach and achieve better results.

So you don't actually need to be a German company. But it helps.

Written bySmithScribe
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