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JUNO TALKS with Marlene Freienstein

We talk to Marlene Freienstein from Polestar about how to turn a new car brand into a sought-after design brand in Germany’s car country with a strikingly inconspicuous design.

Portrait von Marlene Freienstein

Marlene Freienstein is Head of Marketing at Polestar Germany. She has been building up the young Scandinavian e-car brand for the German market since 2020. Prior to that, she worked for many years in management consulting with a focus on strategic planning, brand and customer communication and the development of seamless customer journeys. Polestar was originally a Volvo tuning brand before becoming an independent electric car brand under the Volvo and Geely umbrella in 2017.

Before you joined Polestar in 2020, you spent several years at a management consultancy. What attracted you to the new role? Polestar was still virtually unknown in Germany at the time.

That’s right, I didn’t even know the brand back then. But after the first few conversations, it was immediately clear to me: that’s where I wanted to go. How often do you get the chance to help build such a brand and actively shape the mobility revolution? It really is a once-in-a-lifetime job. The colleagues, the design, the whole approach was special and didn’t feel typically automotive at all.

How do you build a new e-car brand in the car country par excellence?

When I started, there weren’t even any vehicles yet, just our strong vision. We then chose Cologne as our central location and were initially able to use the infrastructure and premises of our parent company Volvo. However, it was a lot of work to set up and at the beginning we were only a handful of colleagues at Polestar Germany. We then quickly looked for suitable partners and investors. That’s how we grew. Today, there are five of us in marketing for Germany, including an intern.

What went well in the early days? What not so much?

Of course, you make a lot of mistakes. In the beginning, we tried to position ourselves broadly - just like in the automotive industry. So a lot of out-of-home, a lot of TV. Then we realized that this was going beyond our budget. In 2021, we then focused on live communication and held many test drive events to bring people into contact with the brand and directly into the cars. We also invested in PR and had a strong digital presence in the first three years, i.e. 2021 to 2024 – almost exclusively through online marketing and with a lot of retargeting. This year, we have adjusted our strategy slightly and are trying to build awareness more broadly again. Because we can see that our narrower target group now knows us well.

I assume you check your strategy by taking regular measurements.

Yes, year-round data is important. But it’s actually the case that I sit down with the management every week and we look at the marketing KPIs.

Which KPIs are these?

We look at the aided and unaided brand awareness. We track these every four weeks. Then brand searches – in other words, how many people search for our brand on the Internet. We also look at how many visitors are on our website because we sell the vehicles there. We also see the number of configurations and test drives there.

The Polestar brand design was developed by Stockholm Design Lab in Sweden in 2017. When you joined, you were already able to work with it, right?

Yes, the global strategy came and still comes from Sweden. We now develop all campaigns ourselves with our own internal team. We in the markets are in close contact with the headquarters and implement the communication locally.

“Come on, let’s create a new Scandinavian brand that is actually catered to capture those customers – a bit more provocative, a bit more controversial, [something that’s] not pleasing everybody.” This is how your CEO Thomas Ingenlath describes his aspiration for the Polestar brand and cites the new Polestar 4, which no longer has a rear window, as an example. You can see what is happening behind the car using camera technology in the rear-view mirror. What does the Polestar brand mean to you personally?

It has taken up a very large space in my life. I love and live the brand. I love its look and feel and the team. The brand is very design-oriented, very clean. We are conspicuously inconspicuous. Not loud and colorful, but very understated. That makes the brand interesting in the automotive context. The team is also atypical for the industry. We have interfaces with tech, fashion and interior design. We are a premium luxury design brand.

Would you say you are a European brand?

Yes, definitely. We are Scandinavian in our design language, our touchpoints are pared back. Our cars and Spaces are very purist and minimalist. This runs through all channels – whether website, Spaces or advertising campaigns. We want to maintain this clear language. The corporate culture is also Scandinavian and European.

Your CEO says that Polestar arouses a certain desire. You talk about the brand’s own magic in interviews. What do you think this magic is?

For me personally, the design is a big part of it. It’s purist and creates a feeling of exclusivity and stylish luxury. Our customers want to be part of something special. With a Polestar, they can make a statement through understatement. The other is the feeling when you sit in it. Take the Polestar 3, for example, which offers a super dynamic driving experience, you have a lot of space and the entire infotainment system is intuitive.

But is design also a real reason for your customers to buy?

Design is actually the biggest purchase driver. Almost 40 percent of our customers say that design is the most important feature. Otherwise, the price-performance ratio is often mentioned. Performance and range are also important purchase drivers.

Would you go so far as to say that you are a design brand that sells cars first?

We remain an automotive brand, even if we now have some add-ons. But the focus is clearly on our cars.

Which brands do you compare yourselves with?

In the automotive sector, we are putting out feelers in the direction of Porsche. We naturally have a long-standing partnership with Volvo, as well as the brand values of sustainability and safety. But we also compare ourselves with German premium manufacturers and Tesla. Tesla was a pioneer for electromobility, and we have also benefited from that. In our collaborations, we like to work with design-oriented brands, such as Houdini in the fashion sector.

Who are Polestar’s buyers?

Our target group is not only defined by demographic characteristics. They are people who are interested in sustainability, luxury, design, innovation and performance. We have different target groups for our three models. The Polestar 2 and Polestar 4 appeal more to innovation lovers, while the Polestar 3 inspires luxury design fans.

How do you specifically reach this design-oriented community in Germany?

Above all, by offering stringent brand experiences. All touchpoints must speak the same language so that a design-oriented target group such as architects, for example, feels picked up. Then live communication is important. For example, we recently had an event with Architectural Digest in Berlin and our head designer Maximilian Missoni. We then invite them exclusively. We flank this with very targeted online communication and PR. We also hold design competitions, which are then discussed in the trade press such as Designboom.

The special thing about your Journey is that Polestars are not sold in car dealerships, but exclusively online. However, you do have showrooms in prime inner-city locations where people can view the vehicles. You call them Spaces. Can you say something about this concept?

It is important to us that we can control our own design standards in the customer experience and not soften them. We can do this very well with our digital D2C approach. On our website, customers interact directly with Polestar and configure exactly what they want. They experience the same high quality when they see one of our campaigns or move around the Spaces.

Your visual language is often very bright and architectural. There is also a certain light in the Spaces. Can you describe that a little?

Our lighting in the space is relatively cool, Nordic I would say. We have light boxes above the cars to set the scene. The light is more like day, not evening or night. It conveys brightness and clarity. This focus, this determination by reducing to the essentials in the interplay of design and technology makes our brand desirable and underlines our Scandinavianness. When we launched in 2020, our slogan was “Pure Progressive Performance”. The term “Pure” still describes a core element of our design language very well.

Polestar stands for guiding star and leadership. The terms innovation and technology come up again and again. How do you justify your claim to leadership here?

As a young brand, we have the opportunity to do many things differently. We were the first car in the world with Google as the operating system. That didn’t exist before. Another important issue for us is transparency. We have our lifecycle assessment, where we are completely transparent about what we use in our production. We are trying to change the industry in a positive way.

What role does sustainability play for you?

Alongside innovation, design and performance, sustainability is one of the strongest brand values for Polestar. However, we have seen in surveys that sustainability is not THE purchase driver for why customers choose a Polestar. The others are further ahead.

What’s next for you?

The Polestar 3 and 4 are coming to Germany this year and test drives will be possible from late summer. That’s keeping us very busy at the moment, because we suddenly have three cars to take care of. That means a lot of work over the next six months.

Thank you very much for talking to us!