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Dec 06, 2004
How To

7 Tactics Mitsubishi Motors Uses to Gain Consumer Trust & Grow Its Ranks of Brand Evangelists

SUMMARY: Tip #3: don't send your top brand evangelists (the folks who really adore you) a generic email newsletter that every other name on your list is getting. Instead, consider giving them your personal cell phone number...
That's what Ian Beavis, Mitsubishi's North America SVP Marketing & Promotions, does. Here's more of his advice to rise above the now almost-universal consumer distrust of typical brand advertising:
Study after study shows consumers dislike and distrust most ads. What's a marketer to do?

Ian Beavis, SVP Marketing & Promotions, Mitsubishi Motors North America advises, "Don't get into hyperbole. And treat [consumers] like human beings."

"Trust is being violated online more than anything else," he adds. Take pop-ups, for example: "If someone is very deep into a site looking at things and gets a bloody pop, it just gets my hair on fire. It's the old story of, just because you *can* do something doesn't mean you *should*."

Some marketers try to play the empathy card instead, with ads mimicking the voice of the target demographic, or playing on their heartstrings. They hope the target demographic will empathize enough with the brand (or think it's so cool) that they'll start to buy.

Beavis says that doesn't work either. "Trying to have an emotional connection with a consumer doesn't make the message relevant."

Ok, so what does work? Here are seven tactics Beavis's team uses to build trust and gain brand evangelists:

-> Tip #1. Non-cluttered event marketing to grow the ranks of brand evangelists

In August, Mitsubishi Motors North America launched a consumer driving tour that took their online/offline "See What Happens" ad campaign a step further, calling it "Feel What Happens."

"The company that performed the tests that show how superior our vehicles are came to us and said, 'Why don't we take those tests on the road?'" Beavis explains. "So we just completed a 10-city tour, and let consumers do the test themselves."

The test allowed consumers to drive two Mitsubishi brands and top sellers from its direct competition, Honda and Toyota, on performance driving courses.

While other car companies have conducted ride-and-drives, Mitsubishi's was different, says Beavis. "Ours is all about our cars against other cars," without the gourmet food and hoopla surrounding other events. "We got people who are into cars, because we want someone who finds out the Honda doesn't handle very well rather than someone who finds a nice recipe."

About half the people who attended the ride-and-drive said, when interviewed before driving the cars, that they wouldn't put Mitsubishi on their shopping list. At the exit interviews, over 90% said they'd *definitely* -- not probably -- put Mitsubishi on the list.

Of course, says Beavis, fewer than half of those who went through the course will likely end up purchasing a Mitsubishi product. "But I bet almost all of them, within their circle of friends, will suggest it, and they can do it on the basis of knowledge. It's the advocacy element."

Beavis acknowledges that advocacy is "a squishy thing" when it comes to ROI -- but it's extremely important.

-> Tip #2. Give evangelists knowledge they can share

One group of Mitsubishi fans, owners of the Lancer Evolution and members of the Evolution Group, are "the most fanatical group imaginable," says Beavis.

So Beavis focuses on encouraging them to spread the word to their friends. But encouragement doesn't mean giving them incentives. Instead, he gives them more information about the brand, so they can understand it better.

When a limited edition of the Evolution was launched, "We took it down to the Southern California Evo Club, and they got to see it before anyone else. We took product specialists down, and they stood around talking about the product like regular folks."

-> Tip #3. One-on-one communication (not mass email)

The fan clubs grow organically, from happy owners, without intervention from Mitsubishi. Once it's seen as marketing, it ceases to be effective, Beavis believes. But he and his team stay in touch with as many of the clubs as possible.

He doesn't do it in the increasingly common way, through email newsletters -- at least, not newsletters that *he* sends out.

Rather, he receives *their* online newsletters. "We stay in touch via email, respond to their enquiries as promptly as possible and treat them as special," he says.

If fan club members call, they speak to someone from marketing or PR, not simply a customer service person. For example, the president of the Southern California Evo Club has Beavis's personal cell phone number -- and uses it.

Other Mitsubishi staff in touch with fan club presidents include any one of about 15 people in Beavis's 40-member (approx.) marketing department, as well as select staff from PR, advertising, product planning, and market research.

"We know when their club meetings are and make sure that at least one person tries to attend them," he explains.

-> Tip #4. Monitor chat rooms and react when necessary

Though Beavis and his team can't watch everything that's being said everywhere about all Mitsubishi brands, they stay on top of chat rooms as much as possible and enter the conversations when need be.

For example, he noticed once that some people on a chatroom were questioning some of the changes that had been made on the Evo, "so we went into the chatroom and said, 'This is why we did this; this is why we did that.' It's information that helps them," Beavis explains.

Another time, he noticed a rumor circulating that Mitsubishi was monitoring race activities (because if you race a car it voids the warranty). "That was completely untrue so we had to go into the chatroom and correct that."

There was a lot of chatter in chatrooms about various modifications Evo owners were making, and Mitsubishi incorporated some of those modifications into later models.

"We saw a trend emerging and incorporated it into our car," he says.

At future fan club meetings, Beavis's team let members know that their input had been integrated into the product.

-> Tip #5. Include insider references in your ad creative

If a person wants a car as an appliance, Mitsubishi is not for them, Beavis says. He markets to people who actually like to drive. Because those people tend to be younger and more educated than the mainstream, ad creative can be more conceptual.

"We don't have to use a blunt instrument," he explains.

For example, one magazine ad for the Evolution showed the car sitting on a video game controller. "That's a nod and a wink to the fact that the Evolution was on a PlayStation game two years before it came to the States," says Beavis. "We had people emailing us to ask us to bring it to the US."

Evolution fans loved the ad -- they emailed to say they got the connection and thought it was wonderful.

"I tell people to celebrate our smallness," says Beavis. "By being small, we can be nimble."

-> Tip #6. Build trust (don't faux blog)

Although blogs are the knee-jerk campaign of choice for some marketers who want to get closer to potential brand evangelists, Beavis is vehemently against using them for marketing.

A fake blog can destroy customer trust so badly that it's not worth the risk.

In fact, Mazda just did a marketing blog and got "absolutely slammed for it, and I think they should have been," Beavis says. "It's wrong. Blogs are not for marketers. It's a good example of violating consumers' trust, and I've forbidden it."

-> Tip #7. Test offers that show you trust your product

Beavis wanted to make sure that he substantiated the implicit claim that "we're here to stay, we look after the car, and we stand behind our product."

For example, complimentary scheduled maintenance for three years was standard in luxury cars, but not in mainstream cars. So Beavis tested complimentary scheduled maintenance for all new Mitsubishi vehicles for awhile.

Results were positive enough that the offer is now standard.

"The quality of the cars is such that we can afford to offer this," he explains. "People want worry-free motoring and that's what we're doing."

Currently Mitsubishi Motors has just 1-2% of the market share, "but that's still a lot of cars," notes Beavis.

Note: If you'd like to meet top-notch marketers like Beavis at future AD:TECH shows, get more info at: http://www.ad-tech.com

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