Audi drives trial with customized carrots

In the high-stakes world of luxury car marketing, manufacturers are continuously upping the ante as they vie for a very limited market of elite buyers....

In the high-stakes world of luxury car marketing, manufacturers are continuously upping the ante as they vie for a very limited market of elite buyers.

Late this summer, for instance, Cadillac mounted a direct mail program in Canada that offered prospects the use of a luxury car for a weekend plus their choice of a golf clinic or lunch at a country inn. (See ‘Cadillac drives trial with ‘Grand Escape’,’ Strategy Direct + Interactive, Oct. 9 ’00.)

In the U.S., Audi of America went one further – offering prospects a completely customized offer specific to the tastes of each individual driver.

As an incentive to get potential customers to slip behind the wheel of Audi’s top-line A8 for a weekend test drive, Audi Executive Consultants (AECs) were authorized to offer prospects just about anything their hearts desired.

‘It’s pretty free-form,’ says Jay Owen, the Audi account supervisor at Toronto-based DraftWorldwide, the agency that conceived the relationship-building program.

‘Some people are getting tickets to a particular game that they enjoy, or [they] can go fishing, or up to a little B&B. What [the AEC] will do is book it and make sure it’s all taken care of.

‘There is a certain dollar value [allotted to each prospect], but at the same time, if it’s a really hot lead, they’ll go that extra step. You take those things into consideration.’

Mary Ann Wilson, national advertising manager at Audi of America, says it’s ‘critical’ that the company do whatever it can to establish a more personal relationship with prospective buyers.

‘We’re all about developing one-on-one relationships with our customers overall with the Audi brand, but particularly in this [the premium luxury] end of the market,’ she says. ‘It’s not just about selling the car.’

So far, the program has focused on the key markets of New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago, but Wilson says Audi will likely expand the program into other markets next year, including Canada.

‘We’re really still in the testing phase,’ she says. ‘We want to get through this initial phase and see what else we might need to do to improve it and make it even more of a pure experience for our customers before we select additional markets to roll it out into.’

In the first phase of the program, a broad list of prospects was pulled together from Audi’s customer database, as well as from responses to direct response magazine ads and a direct mail package.

The magazine ads, which ran in finance and lifestyle periodicals across the U.S., included a business reply card that readers could return if they wanted to receive a ‘video brochure’ of the Audi A8. The ads also included a Web site address and 1-800 number.

At the same time, the database was augmented with a mailing that went to prospects identified through open market lists and event sign-ups.

The direct mail package consisted of a letter, an eight-page brochure, and a brief survey asking prospects when they were planning to buy or lease their next vehicle and to specify their preferred method of contact. As an incentive for completing the form, respondents were given a choice of a box of smoked salmon or a US$25 gift certificate from www.wine.com.

The creative featured a fly-fishing motif, a trendy activity among America’s elite, according to Sophie Mair, vice-president of relationship marketing at DraftWorldwide.

‘It’s very progressive. It’s the big new sport,’ she says. ‘We didn’t want to do golf and we didn’t want to be mainstream, because it’s not the profile of the car.’

Owen says the response rate to the initial mailing was much higher than expected, coming in at over 4% – more than double the anticipated 1.66%.

‘We pulled in what we were expecting to get in eight months, in three,’ he says.

Respondents who filled out the survey or requested the video then received a personalized letter from an AEC, together with a more detailed survey. The ‘preference profile’ asked recipients to rank an automobile’s features in order of importance and, further, specify their preferred leisure activities. Prospects were given a list of 15 upscale options, including art collecting, golf, equestrian sports, boating, car racing, tennis, wine collecting, fishing and going to the opera/theatre.

‘At one time, all we had was name and address,’ says Owen. ‘Now, we’ve got so much more that we can utilize. We can give Audi much more [detailed] information about who their market is, who buys their car, why they buy their car – [data that can] affect marketing, product development, the sales cycle, and distribution.’

Using both Audi’s database and responses to the preference profile, Draft has developed a very detailed image of the typical Audi driver: He is a 53-year-old male, has an annual income of $350,000, lives in an urban centre, is an early adopter of technology and is on the lookout for unique environments to enjoy on his own.

‘We have a unique kind of customer,’ says Owen. ‘We have somebody who is very independent, who is very unique as an individual and who wants to distinguish himself from somebody who is buying a Mercedes, or a BMW.’

Respondents who return the preference profile are considered hot leads. At that point, the account is turned over to the AEC, whose job it is to contact and meet potential Audi buyers, offer them a customized incentive, and, it is hoped, help move them to an Audi dealer.

Since the process from initial contact to face-to-face meeting can take several months, the program is only now entering the conversion phase, Mair says. As such, it requires absolute patience, she adds.

‘You have to be committed to delivering that experience and not dwell on the immediate payoff,’ she says. ‘Although we’re definitely generating sales, what we’re [also] doing is generating a rich database of prospects and relationships that will be cultivated down the line.’