Audi has Vorsprung durch Technik and BMW has Efficient Dynamics (and still the Ultimate Driving Machine in the UK and US) but before last Friday Mercedes apparently didn’t have a contemporary global slogan to call its own.

Choosing to resurrect founding father Gottlieb Daimler’s maxim ‘The best or nothing’ heralds the start of a marketing offensive to reassert its brand in the face of pressure from Audi and BMW. Guy Bird caught up with Dr Joachim Schmidt, executive VP of sales and marketing, to ask the 61-year old what he thinks the Mercedes brand should now stand for, the new product that will attract younger customers to help expand from about one million sales in 2009 to 1.5m by 2015 and whether Mercedes could, or even should, ever be ‘sexy’.

j-a: What prompted you to re-evaluate your brand and when?

We said that if we want to grow into such a heavyweight and knowing that the brand is our most important asset, we have to display the brand in a more dominant, prominent way. It’s not completely new but what is new is that we’ve brought it together in one picture – our brand star – and one sentence. This was of course driven very much by marketing – by me – but it was not my decision alone; it was discussed among our top management in late 2009.

j-a: So what are these new values?

The three headline values Perfection, Fascination and Responsibility have nine values behind them and in the middle of the star are the words ‘Ambition to lead’. We invented the car 125 years ago and since then there have been a lot of innovations like the airbag and ABS. So we are something special, and every employee at Mercedes has to have that ambition. We had hundreds of proposals for a slogan or a claim but we returned to the phrase implemented by Gottlieb Daimler many years ago – ‘The Best or Nothing’. It’s not saying we are the best, but that we want to be the best.

j-a: A recent Fortune magazine survey of where MBA graduates want to work placed BMW at 27 but Daimler was not even in the top 100. Do you need to work harder at attracting talent?

Yes, of course we look at this research, but honestly every week there is other research too. However, we want to become the number one on this aspect again. For that we need a good passionate brand but also we have to be successful in sales, revenue and profit. As I always say, nothing is sexier than success. So if you have success, you are sexy and then well accepted also by MBA students.

j-a: This idea of ‘sexy’ is interesting. It¹s not a word that would have been used by Mercedes ten years ago?

It¹s more a question of our cars than of our brand. Of course you cannot 100% divide between the two but if I speak about design and ‘refined sportiness’, I need also to talk about it. If you want new young customers you need to have a brand that is sexy and sporty.

j-a: So younger customers are part of the new strategy?

We have a lot of potential to bring younger customers – that have the money – to Mercedes. We are making the brand more modern and stylish but the reason we didn’t get this customer before to the extent we wanted, was in my opinion, not a brand issue but more a product issue. We didn’t bring product focused on younger people. Look at the A- and B-Class. We were very happy about these products’ acceptance but the customers for the A- and B-Class are not younger than the C-Class.

j-a: Your forthcoming A- and B-Class platform will spawn new types of car for Mercedes. Will one include an Audi A1 rival?

You are very well informed! Our current A- and B-class will be replaced by a new platform for four different cars defining new segments for Mercedes.

This gives us the optimism that we could achieve our target of 1.5m units by 2015, including 300,000 in China.

j-a: Can you confirm which products will be first from this platform?

We will start at the end of next year, they will be different shapes [to the current A- and B-Class], but more I cannot confirm now.

j-a: I understand you are also planning to launch a range of sporty estates in parallel to your regular estates based on the recent Shooting Break concept shown in Beijing?

What we are discussing, and in principle have already decided, is to make a so-called Shooting Break – a combination of an elegant station wagon and a coupe. If you look at this compared to the past you will see we take more care than previously on design and sportiness.

j-a: And do you benchmark your Audi and BMW rivals?

First of all we have a good look. This may be a little bit arrogant, but we think we are the leader. We are of course watching, and they are good competitors so that drives us to do more.