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