Branded customized service reminders help Subaru sales

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SAN FRANCISCO -- In 2000, Subaru of America came up with a
straight-forward way to increase dealership visits, part sales and brand
loyalty - send customers branded customized service reminders with
relevant offers and coupons from their dealership of choice.

In practice this task requires understanding and tailoring the
communication not only to its 2 million end customers, but also
extensive data management, corporate buy-in and dealership support.

"The basic program is a strategic foundation and will work for the
dealers if they don't put a lot of effort in," said Ginny Newkirk,
advertising and communications manager at Subaru of America, Cherry
Hills, NJ.

That program, or CARE, is Subaru's longest running and most successful
program according to Ms. Newkirk. The car company paired with business
service provider Minacs to gather data from more than 600 dealerships
nationwide and provide an interface that each dealership can use to
customize offers. Dealers who opt-in to use the program pay 50 percent
of its cost - a choice an increasing number of dealers are making due to
improved and more frequent response from car owners.  

"Customers are too sophisticated to respond to a postcard every 3
months," said Steve Knier, vice president of marketing solutions at
Minacs.

Mr. Knier said that CARE managed maintence schedules and estimated
mileage counts in order to time offers for when each customer would need
care. It also provides different offers to returning customers versus
lost customers and customers who have never returned to a dealership for
service.

The dealers and the car owners aer only a subset of people that needed
to be in support of the program.

"When we sell that program, we need to make sure that everyone from the
corporate to the regional to the independent dealers are buying into
that program," Ms. Newkirk said.

In order to gain the support of the corporate leaders at Subaru, the
loyalty program gives the distributor insights into customer needs and
provides opportunities to cross-sell. The program is integrated into the
company's Web site feature MySubaru.com a platform that allows customers
to choose their preferred method of communication and update owner
contact information. Along with service reminders and coupons customers
recieve information on new models.

Overall, Ms. Newkirk said the key to the program's success was
considering the needs of all the stakeholders, openly addressing their
concerns and get all of those systems to work together.

"In the end even if we consider the needs of all the other players and
the customers don't respond then the program won't be successful," Mr.
Knier said.

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