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The Mini-stry of Mini Pt 1

Marketing Genius at Work.


On January 29th, the New York Times published an article by Barnaby Feder entitled “Billboards That Know You by Name”, that talked about MINI USA’s new advertising campaign created by ad agency BSSP. The strategy: To create personalized digital billboard messages targeted at MINI drivers.

Bear in mind that MINI’s existing customer base is only 150, 000 strong in the United States. Compare this with a company like Ford, which sold over 2.4 Million vehicles in 2006 alone. It seems counter-intuitive that MINI USA would focus its attention on such a small, target audience, particularly when this is the audience that obviously does not need convincing.

This is where MINI parts ways with the other car manufactures out there. They consistently focus their attention and their money on their existing customers. It comes as no surprise to MINI owners that MINI USA would invest in digital billboards that use RFID (radio frequency identification) to shower them with good wishes and fun catch-phrases as they speed by. You see, from the moment they bought their cars, these people have been romanced and catered to, often with humor and silliness, and completely convinced that MINI genuinely cares that they enjoy their cars.

Take my friend Murray for an example: the first conversation I ever had with him was about his MINI and a recording he’d posted on Evoca featuring the sound of his MINI’s engine. Since then, Murray and I have chatted many times about MINIs in general and his car in particular. He’s even got a blog, about MINIs named for his car, Murmini.

Oh yeah – MINI drivers have a tendency to name their cars, and blog about them.

Through Murray I heard about “MINI Takes the States”, and I was dumbfounded. How many cars? Doing what?! I could not imagine that over 3300 people would get in their cars and drive across the country “just for the fun of it”. You should check out the “Go A-Motoring” link under the “Play” section on MINI USA’s website to see more on this event. And while you’re there, take note of the fact that “Play” is part of the main navigation on the website.

That’s what MINI understands about their drivers. MINI owners don’t drive their cars to impress the Joneses’, they drive their cars because the cars are a heck of a lot of fun. And when something is a lot of fun, you have a tendency to talk about it to all your friends and family. This is the simple genius behind their marketing strategy. MINI is in the business of making believers out of their drivers. Not pew-warmers mind you, I’m talking about full-blown, shout from the rooftops EVANGELISTS. In his article, Barnaby Feder refers to this as the “holy grail” of marketing.

Granted this marketing strategy works only if your product is great to begin with. Not an issue when you’ve got a company like BMW in charge.

The MINI had a loyal following long before BMW got involved. People have always loved these little cars. But when BMW bought the brand, they ironed out rough edges and added the luxury component that they are known for. What they created was an affordable, stylish and luxurious vehicle that came with the engineering and technological bells and whistles typical of the BMW brand. The cars get great gas mileage, (which is amazing since they handle like sports cars) go around corners as if glued to the asphalt, and with six airbags, rate really well for safety. (In case you’re wondering, MINI did not pay me to say this. The drivers themselves say this when you talk to them or read their reviews and comments online).

When your product is this well developed, with tons of nostalgic appeal, and then on top of this you lavish attention on your customers, the rest is simple.

And then there are the little inside titbits: MINI secrets if you will. Most MINI drivers are aware that they should always park front-end out, and will reverse into a parking spot whenever necessary to achieve this. And they make a point to wave if they encounter another MINI driver on the road. It’s like they’re part of a cool club. And in many ways they are. The interesting thing being that it is entirely owner initiated and perpetuated.

If you hang around a MINI owner long enough you notice things like this. And it makes you envious. You feel like you are missing out on what a driving /car-ownership experience should be.

MINI is counting on this. This is why they send their drivers random gifts. Like spy-decoder glasses so that only they can read the secret messages embedded in MINI magazine ads. Messages that lead them to a website for their eyes only, where if they follow enough clues they can earn special medallions. Would a busy professional even care about something so silly? Damn right they do.

I will tell you this:I want a MINI. And I blame Murray and his other MINI driver friends. They are having way too much fun, and I want in on the action.

And I want my secret decoder glasses!

Check out my up-coming posting. “The Mini-stry of Mini Pt 2: Evangelists go A-Motoring”. I’ll be posting some great video footage featuring interviews and showing you what MINI owners do for fun.

Susan Isaacs

Susan’s a multitask-er who prides herself on the vast number of things (read: loose papers and coffee cups) on her desk at any one time, and yet she still manages to keep an eye on all the moving parts at Paragon.