Chrysler drives at retention

Chrysler has launched three new customer retention and acquisition programs — Dodge THX, Chrysler Inner Circle and Planet Jeep — to woo female buyers during a challenging time for car manufacturers.

The effort comes at a crucial time, as Chrysler sales were down 23% through July (compared to 11% for US car sales overall) and Chrysler brands ranked at or below the industry average in a Uni­versity of Michigan consumer satisfaction survey, according to The New York Times. Sales for the Jeep Grand Cherokee fell 48% this July and those of its flagship sedan, the 300, slipped 39%.

“We all know the power of women and their purchasing power clearly influ­ences the purchase of vehicles and often makes the decision,” said Susan Thomson, Chrysler’s senior manager of global brand communications. “We wanted a different conversation, opening the doors to some­thing we hope will be more long-term.”

A direct mail campaign touting Planet Jeep was first tested with in-market women in 2007, after which Chrysler expanded it to all three brands, said Thomson.

“The program is not about offering people incentives on vehicles or cash off — it’s about targeting women in a psycho­graphic way with goods that fit into their lifestyles,” Thomson explained, adding that all three brands have had customer loyalty initiatives, and the new programs are ways to test that targeting.

For each program, Chrysler had Har­ris Marketing Group send direct mail offers to 2.4 million qualified women in six markets across the country, branded by program. The pieces invite women to join the program by purchasing a new vehicle. The program offers incentives for membership, including freebies and discounts from partners such as Sunglass Hut, Blackberry, Fitness magazine and Tar­get. Through Chrysler Financial, loan pre-approvals of at least $25,000 are offered on a retail purchase or lease of a new 2008 or 2009 Chrysler, Jeep or Dodge. Each of the three programs highlighted one

vehicle — Jeep Cherokee, Dodge Journey and Chrysler 300 — but the offer applies to all vehicles in the brands.

“What worked [was putting] the part­ners together with the right vehicle and service contract,” said Holly Scerbo, communications manager for Chrysler marketing. “If you give the [customer] peace of mind, they walk in the door of the dealership and know they are pre-approved for purchase.” The opt-in nature of the offer created great buzz, she contin­ued, pointing out the level of pass-along, even to men, was important to take the program further.

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