Subaru drives one-to-one relationships, record sales, with cross-country event

Not only did Subaru Canada's most recent marketing initiative spur sales, it marked the beginning of a new gambit for the company - one of customer data collection and management - that will ultimately lead to much closer relationships with its consumers.

Not only did Subaru Canada’s most recent marketing initiative spur sales, it marked the beginning of a new gambit for the company – one of customer data collection and management – that will ultimately lead to much closer relationships with its consumers.

This summer, for the first time, the auto manufacturer (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fuji Heavy Industries of Japan) invited driving enthusiasts across Canada to participate in a ride and drive program for its new models – the Impreza WRX and the Outback H6 3.0 VDC.

The six-city Subaru National Retail Drive Event – which included Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver – was designed to raise the brand image of Subaru, says Ted Lalka, managing director, product planning and research for Mississauga-based Subaru Canada.

‘We wanted to explain what we’re all about – driving performance. The ride and drive was an excellent way of doing that,’ he says. ‘But one of the most important things was making sure we had a really good list and that we were reaching the people we really wanted to target.’

Unlike other car manufacturer’s ride and drive programs, whereby existing customers are asked to participate, Subaru charged its agency, Toronto-based Myriad Marketing, with getting the right people out to the event – primarily people who were currently driving competing car brands, but also those who had an affinity for rallying (of which Subaru Canada is huge supporter).

In addition to referrals by dealers across the country, customers were pre-qualified through auto show promotions followed by direct mail.

‘The timing was great because we were able to catch the auto show season [Fall 2000 to Spring 2001]. That allowed us to start hunting down these people in a place where, to a large extent, they’ve already pre-qualified themselves by paying to come, by having an interest, and probably also a purchase or lease within the next twelve months,’ says Roman Szostak, director of creative services for Myriad, adding they had show-goers fill out a short questionnaire to gauge their interest and begin to develop a profile.

The auto shows generated more than 5,000 leads that were then paired down to a list that met a certain demographic criteria – predominantly male with at least two years of university education, superior computer skills and Internet usage and incomes in excess of $50,000 or $60,000.

Similar information was also garnered from Subaru’s Web site, which linked to a ‘cautiously-worded’ registration page offering interested visitors ‘additional information and the opportunity to participate in an upcoming event.’

‘We didn’t want to make any big promises in case you weren’t in the ideal demographic. Once the list got cut, we didn’t want to disappoint people,’ says Szostak, adding that all potential customers – whether or not they qualified for the ride-and-drive event – continue to receive ongoing communication from Subaru. This was the first time Subaru had used its Web site to establish any kind of electronic link to a customer, or potential customer.

Overall, 3041 response cards were collected at auto shows across the country, 2526 registrations were received from the Subaru Web page and 350 people were referred by Subaru dealerships, bringing the total number of registrations to 5917.

Three thousand invitations were then sent to qualified recipients alerting them to the events taking place across Canada. Once RSVPs were received, another package was mailed with a confirmation number and additional material. Of the 3000 invitations mailed, 2300 people attended the events.

‘We were able to initiate the process at the auto shows with lead generation, targeting and list management with the invites – capturing leads and creating relevance. [So] we’ve been able to break the leads out by region and postal code and subdivide them back to the individual dealerships on behalf of Subaru,’ says Baron Manett, director of strategy and clients services at Myriad. ‘We’ve put qualified sales interest back into the hands of dealers – now there’s a meaningful phone call or introduction that can be made, versus cold-calling people or hoping they will come in off a print ad.’

Long-term response to the program is still being tracked and will be for the next 12 months to determine ROI. ‘People walked away with smiles on their faces – a positive image – but from a practical standpoint, how much did it contribute to sales? We still have work to do there – it’ll probably take us another six to nine months,’ says Subaru’s Lalka. Three weeks after the conclusion of the campaign last month, Subaru and Myriad attributed approximately 64 car sales directly to participants in the event.

While sales leads have only just been delivered to the dealers, Szostak says the initiative has opened up a variety of ways for Subaru to converse with consumers – at a corporate level, as well as at the dealer level.

‘There’s an ability now on our part to send out targeted information updates,’ says Lalka, adding that Subaru is currently in the process of implementing a comprehensive CRM software solution. ‘Our intention is to have a single file on every customer – from the time they first expressed an interest in our product through to the dealer visit, to the sale, to the first service and so on. We want to track all of that to really know what consumers are interested in and what we can do to meet their needs.’