Hallmark, Polk Hope New Car Card Drives Customer Loyalty

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Hallmark, which has a greeting card for almost any occasion, now produces cards to congratulate car buyers and attract prospective buyers into dealer showrooms.

Dealerships seeking increased customer loyalty can participate in a joint program from Hallmark and the Polk Co. launched earlier this month to build showroom traffic by helping dealers target potential buyers with an effective and memorable message. By starting early in the new year, the program is intended to boost sales during the typically slow post-holiday period.

Hallmark's Business Expressions Unit, Kansas City, MO, will produce two special greeting cards -- one aimed at retaining current owners and the other at attracting new customers. Hallmark can personalize a greeting on the cards upon request or allow the dealer to provide his own message.

The retention card features a man sitting at his desk staring at a new car and trumpets a fictitious "National Think About Buying a Car Week'' while the new customer card features a group of auto salespeople on the cover who are willing to do "anything to have you stop in for a preview of the new 1998 models.''

The cards are sent to current car owners and prospects gleaned from two types of targeted lists generated by Polk, the Southfield, MI-based information and database marketing company that has kept auto records in the United States since 1922.

Polk's joint effort with Hallmark is an extension of its Automotive Loyalty Excelerators program, a product line of loyalty profiles for dealers and manufacturers. Polk also sells regionalized lists directly to dealers.

"Most dealerships get our market area reports, so they know the Polk name,'' said Karen Piurkowski, managing director of Polk's consumer loyalty group, adding that the company has been providing consumer information to dealers for 50 years.

"We can pull very specific data -- for instance, the loyalty of Lexus owners from a certain model year,'' Piurkowski said. "That's our role to help them more effectively target their customer.''

Mailings have been sent to a random sampling of 2,000 dealerships nationwide. Dealers who have learned of the program by other means have contacted Polk about joining, said Jim Miller, director of public relations. Dealers also can join by calling 800/634-2714.

Drawing from a database that covers 90 million households and almost all new car owners, Polk uses a pair of utilities -- Focal Points and the Automotive Purchase Predictor -- to provide dealers lists of customers or prospects that are more likely to be in the market for a new vehicle and more likely to be loyal once they purchase from the dealership.

Focal Points clusters consumers into 20 categories based on their past auto loyalty. Automatics, for example, will always stick with the same manufacturer, lane changers stay with the same manufacturer but switch models while valets prefer to lease.

The Automotive Purchase Predictor then weights various household characteristics to come up with a rating 1 to 100 of how likely they are to buy a new car in the next three to six months.

While Polk has been keeping track of the auto industry for more than 75 years, retail giant Hallmark is a new player in the business-to-business segment. Hallmark Business Expressions is a 3-year-old division that provides customized cards and fulfillment programs designed to help companies strengthen business relationships and customer loyalty.

"It's one of the fastest growing new enterprises we have,'' said Jeff Olsen, manager of business development at Hallmark Business Expressions. "People want high quality, branded meaningful communication in their business.''

Hallmark has generated awareness for the division through a campaign that includes selected mailings to major industries, a catalog and Web site (www.hbe.hallmark.com). The mail pieces for the campaign were actual Hallmark greeting cards and have elicited reaction similar to that of receiving a card for a special occasion.

"We get a phenomenal opening rate over other pieces of mail,'' Olsen said. "There's no big offer there. It's the card that gets them to open it. Greeting cards often get kept and looked at multiple times. Instead of mailing five times, you mail once and [the recipient will] look at it five times.''

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