Mini Cooper Us Launch Case Study

April 14, 2003

How To

Top 7 Tips for Launching a New Brand from MINI Cooper's Marketer

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SUMMARY: OK so you probably knew that the MINI Cooper is the hippest, hottest car in the US today. We asked its brand marketer, \"How did you do that?\"



After all, it was not a foregone conclusion. Americans are not exactly known for thinking smaller is better.

New product launches offer marketers the chance to take risks, reach for the brass ring, and turn a previously unknown product into a cultural icon.

At least, that is how Kerri Martin, Guardian of Brand Soul for MINI USA, approached the launch of the MINI Cooper auto brand in the States. “It isn’t often you get a blank slate,” she says. “We knew we had the opportunity to affect every customer touch point.”

With that in mind, she and her team set out to make the MINI message consistent down to the tiniest detail (like, what kind of on-hold music would MINI customers like best?), with the goal of creating an icon.

-> Here is how she met her top three challenges:

Challenge #1 -- Launching the brand across all media

“When it comes to launching a new brand, every point of communication must work in concert with each other,” says Martin. “Every time the brand speaks, it needs to work as hard as everything else.”

Because advertising is only one of those touch points, she says, they decided they needed a “Brand Advocacy Partner” rather than an advertising agency, a true business partner that would be involved in developing every detail.

After choosing to work with Crispin Porter + Bogusky, they set out to coordinate everything from the look of the new customer welcome package to what they would call the MINI dealer salespeople. (BTW: They went with “MINI Motoring Advisors.”)

Challenge #2 -- Launching 2 new models at the same time

Martin’s team had to decide what was their brand hierarchy: Was it better to raise awareness about the 2 individual models, or the brand as a whole?

“We needed to create interest a desire in the brand itself,” Martin says. “We couldn’t do everything with the resources we had, so brand hierarchy was top.”

The thinking was, the MINI philosophy extends to both models. Getting a person to buy a MINI is the goal, then they can choose which model they want.

Challenge #3 -- Launching a new automotive category

“We asked ourselves: How are we going to treat the fact that we are the smallest car on the road?” Martin says.

One trait of the MINI brand, they decided, is confidence, and confident people celebrate their traits.

MINI celebrates its size in a variety of ways, with the marketing campaign talking about “sipping rather than guzzling, parking challenges being eliminated, and once you’ve had small, you’ll never go back.”

The celebration of small included a 22-city pre-launch tour of MINIs atop SUVs. A sign on the sides of the SUVs asked “What are you doing for fun this weekend?” The idea being that the fun stuff always goes on top, whether its your mountain bike, camping equipment or surfboard.

Martin’s team is also trying to redefine the driving category.

“Everyone talks about driving, but we thought there was a real opportunity to come up with something different,” she says. “We came up with the term ‘motoring.’” Motoring in a MINI, she says, is a philosophical way of getting from a to z and everywhere in between.

-> Here are Martin's top 7 tips for brand launches:

Tip 1. Align yourself with relevant popular imagery.

However, you must be sure it fits your brand personality. “Icons tend to hang out with other icons,” Martin says. “Look at the Rat Pack.”

Martin hired a popular cartoon artist to make cartoons of the MINI brand and had a booklet of them inserted in the New Yorker magazine. She also created a billboard campaign that portrays the MINI as characters from iconic TV (Kit from Knight Rider, Brady Bunch characters).

Tip 2. Look for passion in your team.

“I would much rather have team members with passion and tenacity than category experience,” says Martin.

Make sure those traits extend to your business partners. “CP+B clearly has caught the MINI bug,” she says. “Ten of CP+B staffers own MINIs and even have a little club.” (Kind of reminds us of those Nike staffers with the "swoosh" tattoo.)

Tip 3. Just say “no” to focus groups.

Focus groups are a waste of time, Martin says. “Our best consumer input was getting on the street, face-to-face with consumers.”

According to Martin, gut instinct is even better than standing on street corners and talking to people.

“More marketers need to trust their instincts. We didn’t have the money to be testing everything, or the time. And that didn’t matter, because we had the gut feeling,” she says.

Tip 4. Your customers and prospects are your ambassadors.

“We had long waiting lists and didn’t want them losing interest,” says Martin. “We knew waiting customers could be our greatest ambassadors.”

Her team devised a program called Make Waiting Fun, a combination online/offline experience, in which customers and prospects were sent gifts such as a MINI-Parking Only stencil for the garage and an Unauthorized Owner’s Manual that tells them “all the little secrets of a MINI.”

They created a MINI Owner’s Lounge online, and gave waiting customers a production number so they could track the progress of their MINI. Once the customer takes delivery, the MINI Owner’s Lounge becomes an on-line social environment where owners can share stories, pictures and post their MINI’s resume of experiences. They even came up with a private label of gear and accessories called MINI MotoringGear, featuring garments like a chamois jacket with sleeves that zip off, so “you can shine your MINI at a moment’s notice.”

Tip 5. Break down the silos of responsibility early on.

A couple of examples: The brand team is normally not in charge of training potential dealer candidates, says Martin. “But how can you train them without the brand team there, exciting them, getting them on board?” She got her team involved.

CP+B came up with the MINI MotoringGear idea, which normally would be the responsibility of the Aftersales team. The brand team worked hand in hand with them on strategy and approach, identifying what the gear would be and how it would be marketed. It had to be gear with a purpose, not just a polo shirt with a logo.

Tip 6. Redefine your competition.

It may not be the likeliest suspect. “We think motoring in a MINI is more akin to riding a motorcycle than it is driving an SUV,” says Martin

Consider what that means for you from a communications perspective.

Tip 7. “Invertise.”

Your employees are an important target audience. “Our task was to excite and delight our employee base and turn them into advocates for the MINI brand,” Martin says.

Her team arranged a special employee test-drive, offered motoring horoscopes in the employee newsletter, held a MINI Monte Carlo theme party for launch.

“It was little things that didn’t cost a lot of money but put smiles on their faces,” she says.

--> Motoring on …

By now, a number of MINI-fan Web sites exist and they are all starting to use the vernacular, LET’S MOTOR. It is a phrase Martin’s team came up with, but she is quick to assure us that it is not a tagline. “It’s a communication platform,” she says.

Want to meet Martin in person? She will be at the next IIR show, The Branded Entertainment Summit, in Beverly Hills April 28-30.
Info at http://www.iirusa.com/brandedentertainment


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Agency: Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Miami
Client: MINI USA
Brand/Service/Product: MINI
Campaign Title: “Let’s Motor”
Planners (alpha):
Adrian Fogel
Liliana Rodriguez
Jamie Webb

One-sentence Topline:

SUCCESS FOR US WOULD BE EVERY CAR COMPANY AND AGENCY LOOKING AT OUR LAUNCH AND THINKING THAT THEY ARE DINOSAURS. -February 2001

75-word Summary

By studying car culture, analyzing iconic brands, and uncovering the unique characteristics of our brand and best prospects, we created – “Motoring” – an alternative culture of driving. And, by using non-traditional media and traditional media in non-traditional ways, we proved we’re different and stood out. MINI sold out its first year, and we have achieved measures on key metrics that are better than brands that have been around for years and outspend us 10 to 1.

Business Background

The stakes are high when automotive marketers launch new brands. The BMW Group hired us in February 2001 to help them launch the MINI brand in the U.S. BMW’s mandate was to successfully launch the MINI brand and two new models and ensure MINI’s initial and long-term success. No small task considering how badly the deck was stacked against us.

When we first started working with the MINI brand in early 2001 American roads were dominated by SUV’s – the fastest growing segment – and light trucks was the most popular segment in the category. Japanese and German brands dominated the import segment and gas was $1.25. Bigger was better. Small car sales were at their lowest point in 15 years.

It was into this environment that we were asked to launch the MINI brand, and two new models the Cooper and Cooper S – the smallest cars on the American road. And, MINI’s heritage was British, which was synonymous with unreliability in the car category. And to top it off, we were asked to do it with a budget that gave us less than 1% share of voice in a cluttered category? We freaked out. We’re optimists when it comes to brand building, but even to us, the glass looked half empty.

Insights About Icons

The MINI client saw the glass half full. Their only real concern was voiced at the agency briefing.

“We know we have a cool car, but how can we keep
the new MINI from becoming a fad?”

-MINI agency briefing January, 2001

They kept reminding us that the classic Mini was an icon in the U.K. and Europe – the European car of the century. And we knew icons were the opposite of fads. But, the new MINI had no equity in the U.S. Unlike its predecessor, the new MINI wasn’t an automotive icon in the U.S. In fact, it wasn’t even a brand.

So, planning set out to answer two questions. First, how do brands become icons? And second, does the new MINI have what it takes to become an icon in the U.S.?

We did an exhaustive study of iconic brands across a variety of categories and discovered six characteristics common to iconic brands.

1. A defining signature look
2. An ability to elicit a physical or emotional reaction
3. A tendency to take on characteristics outside their category
4. A tendency to own a unique benefit within a category or create a new category altogether
5. An ability to connect with and reflect the attitudes and values of a broad user base
6. A tendency to break conventions and reinvent to stay salient

The implication? We needed to establish these six iconic characteristics for the new MINI.

Insights About Our Brand

Next, planning needed to find out what, if anything, we could do to bring those characteristics to life for the new MINI. As part of our planning efforts, we talked with classic Mini owners and put hidden cameras in a new MINI and left it out in public.

We discovered MINI’s most defining characteristic – its size and contrasting roof and body. That took care of number 1. We learned that the physical or emotional reaction MINI was most likely to elicit was a smile – MINI was a smile-generating machine. That’s number 2.

We discovered that classic Mini owners didn’t talk about their Mini as a car, but tended to anthropomorphize and refer to it as a pet or family member. They named their Minis. When they saw the new MINI, they would say things like “This car looks like the muscle-head brother of Roxy, my ’72 Cooper”. That takes care of number 3.

The new MINI is a blast to drive. A raw, exhilarating driving experience. More like riding a go-kart than driving a car. We wondered if other cars were as exhilarating as the new MINI? We thought this might be our opportunity to own a unique benefit within the category or possibly create a whole new category of car.

To answer this question, we examined dozens of cars in terms of their 0-60 acceleration and skid pad rating (a measure of a car’s ability to hold a corner at high speed). We also created a “WOW” factor by showing consumers pictures of dozens of cars and asking them to rate each car in terms of its curb appeal and head turning ability. These measures were combined to form an Index of Exhilaration, where:

Exhilaration = (0-60 acceleration) + (skid pad rating) + (“WOW” factor).

The top 10 cars with the highest Exhilaration Index score, listed by index and list price respectively were: Lamborghini Diablo (138, $275,000), Dodge Viper (136, $70,000), Ferrari Modena (130, $141,000), Plymouth Prowler (128, $43,000) Porsche 911 (128, $111,000), MINI Cooper (127, $18,000), Aston Martin Vantage (120, $140,000), Chevrolet Corvette (117, $46,000), Audi TT Roadster (115, $40,000), Ford SVT Mustang (107, $54,000).

Planning showed that what set MINI apart in the category was its high exhilaration relative to its price-point. The implication? This was MINI’s unique benefit, number 4 on our list.

Insights About Our Prospects

Initially, MINI identified their primary target as a younger, upscale male who lived in an urban market. But planning showed that MINI’s best prospect was not defined by age or gender or income bracket. It was defined by a similar way of thinking, a similar approach to life and similar values. These were people who loved to drive and wanted to be their own person and choose their own path. For them individual self- expression was key. And these similarities crossed generations and gender and socio-economic status. The implication? The most effective way to market the new MINI was not to a demographic, but to connect with a broader mindset. That’s number 5.

Insights About the Category

When we examined the automotive category, we saw a category defined by certain conventions. Television was the dominant medium, followed by print. Everyone talked about “driving” and the car’s technical specifications. You never showed a car dirty. The list goes on. We realized that with less than 1% share of voice we could never break through following these conventions. We had to break them to stand out. That’s number 6. The implication? Advertising wasn’t the answer – innovation was.

The Brief

Make MINI an Icon.

The Briefing

We told creatives that in order to make this happen, we needed to:

Showcase the defining look of the new MINI – its size and contrasting roof.
Create as many opportunities as possible for people to come in contact with the new MINI so they could experience its smile generating magic.
Subtly anthropomorphize the new MINI.
Communicate our unique benefit – life-affirming exhilaration at an attainable price.
Emphasize customization and individual self-expression.
Use non-traditional media and traditional media in very non-traditional ways.

The Big Idea

So, we have the new MINI, a car uniquely exhilarating to own and drive. And, we have a person – a mindset – who is fully engaged in life and individual self-expression. We knew something very remarkable would happen when the new MINI and our best prospects came together. We knew this was our opportunity to push MINI further from the car category. Further away from driving. Now we could create an alternative culture of driving and do all the things that the current culture couldn’t or wouldn’t do.

We first called this new culture “going”. But “going” in your MINI sounded a lot like peeing in your MINI so we kept on thinking. Then the creatives came up with the perfect name – motoring. Motoring is different than driving, it’s more exhilarating. It’s less about getting from A to B and more about getting from A to Z – about taking a unique route. It’s a closer relationship between driver, car and road.

Motoring was the big idea that was at the heart of launching the new MINI in the U.S.. We knew motoring was something MINI could own because every other automobile manufacturer talks about driving.

The Results

We’ve built awareness and consideration for MINI.

* Total brand awareness is 80% after our first year of marketing.

* The MINI Cooper converts about 40% of awareness into consideration – which puts it in pretty good company among its competitive set. Only the Toyota Celica, Honda Civic and VW Jetta convert significantly more.

We’ve driven traffic to the website and to dealerships and sold a ton of cars.

* We’ve averaged 67,000 unique visitors to the website each week (675,000 total site visits per month) and have over 150,000 registrants – people who have given us their personal information and asked for interaction with the brand.

* MINI sold 25,000 cars in the U.S. last year – 5,000 more than projected, and MINI has surpassed its sales projections every month since the launch. One year after launch we’ve had our best two months (May and June ’03) ever.

But, probably the best measure of our success is the ROI of our marketing efforts.

* MINI spent roughly $567,000 for each percentage point of awareness. The other 12 brands in MINI’s competitive set spent an average of $5,973,000 (or more than 10 times as much) to do the same.

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