MINI Customers Drive Its Marketing

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The auto brand's marketers let customers get behind the wheel of its latest campaign.

MINI's campaign fired up the engines of existing and potential customer alike.
MINI's campaign fired up the engines of existing and potential customer alike.

Ah, that exhilarating feeling when you first get behind the wheel of a new car: indulgence, excitement, even success. Marketers at MINI set out to capture that zeal by including customers in the U.S. launch of the new MINI Cooper Hardtop. “We wanted to make sure we placed the new MINI Cooper Hardtop in the hands of our owners,” says Tom Salkowsky, head of marketing at MINI. “Our community [of MINI customers] is so important. We wanted to do something that would go down in history that maybe has never been done before by an auto brand—or anyone else—and give our newest product to our owners [to test drive] months before it arrived for sale.”

Along with revving up interest and engagement among current MINI owners, the brand's marketers aimed to harness that enthusiasm to help overcome a major challenge in attracting new customers: The iconic British car is relatively new in the U.S. car market, having only been available, for a second time, to drivers in the United States since 2002. Salkowsky says the brand needed a campaign that would familiarize car buyers with the vehicle, as well as include MINI owners in the new car's package designs. “It's a chance to grow and reach new audiences. [But] the challenge with a brand like MINI—a brand that's embraced so passionately by its community of fans—is that [they] have to accept the car, too,” says Chris Cardinal, BSSP group business director for MINI. “You want those people to be excited about it and to become evangelists for the new model.”

Yet with those challenges came opportunities for marketers at MINI to create a unique customer experience for MINI owners and potential customers. The marketing team knew that with the right campaign, they could boost engagement with the brand, amplify awareness of MINI, and spark positive word of mouth around the new model. “We want customers to be drawn into the brand emotionally,” Cardinal says.

Salkowsky and his team determined that the best way to create an emotional connection with customers was to give them the proverbial key and let them design the car package and test drive most appealing to them. So, MINI launched its “Final Test Test Drives” design competition. The campaign called for the brand's 200,000 U.S. MINI owners to develop and submit ideas for the new MINI Cooper Hardtop package designs and any test drive they could dream up. Ten winners would have the opportunity to take the test drive they created prior to the car's general availability.

 

More than 800 owners responded with a range of proposals—some practical and others quirky. “You name it, we had it in there as an idea,” Cardinal says. Package design themes included such add-ons as pulsing lights and specialty paint. For the test drives, MINI owners pitched everything from a race against the clock at an airport parking garage to a medieval jousting match on the hood. “It was a way to bring the owners, and the diversity of the owners, into [the launch] campaign,” Cardinal continues. “It's letting the owners express themselves through the car, inspire us, and speak for the [entire MINI] community.”

After sifting through hundreds of customer ideas, marketers at MINI selected 10 and brought them to life in videos, which they later posted on miniusa.com. Potential buyers can watch the films at anytime or even order the winning package design when they purchase a MINI Cooper Hardtop. Salkowsky says that by spring 2013 the contest had created significant buzz around the MINI Cooper Hardtop before it arrived in the U.S. earlier this year. “The Final Test Test Drives helped demonstrate [that MINI] is open to your ideas, how you see the car, and [how you] want to test the car,” Salkowsky says.

He adds that the campaign fired up the engines of customers and potential MINI buyers alike. “So far, we're seeing more than one million people who have viewed those ten films,” he says. “But we also identified more than 10,000 hand raisers [who wanted more information about the new MINI], and then garnered about 1,200 leads that we were able to send to dealerships across the country. Ultimately, we've already sold hundreds of [MINI Cooper Hardtops], after sending [the cars] to the dealers just last month.”

Salkowsky says the campaign celebrates MINI owners by including them from concept to sales and beyond. “This [campaign] makes people feel special,” Salkowsky says. “It reminds us that the car may be the star, but the owner is the hero.”

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