Exposed: Thirty seconds with a marketing maven

Recently ensconced as top marketer for Mitsubishi's North American operations, Cypress, Calif.-based Ian Beavis is settling into a role for which he has long and varied experience.

Recently ensconced as top marketer for Mitsubishi’s North American operations, Cypress, Calif.-based Ian Beavis is settling into a role for which he has long and varied experience.

The Australian-born Beavis got his start in that country with Ford, but has done much of his work in North America on the agency side. If the name sounds familiar that would be because he was previously president and CEO of New York-based Foote, Cone & Belding. He has also worked for Bozell-Detroit, managing DaimlerChrysler’s Asia Pacific account, and for Saatchi & Saatchi, running its Toyota business. He most recently co-founded an independent marketing solutions provider in northern California called The Shop.

Managing Mitsubishi’s sales across all of North America may prove his biggest challenge yet. With the industry reeling from the biggest consumer slowdown in Canada since 1998, Beavis is tasked with increasing the company’s very modest 1.2% market share (for light vehicles).

‘We’re changing our marketing strategy considerably. We’re going back to celebrating the car and getting people to understand the car. We’re going to be getting back to attributes that are the DNA of the Mitsubishi brand, which is engine performance, dynamic handling performance and edgy styling.’

For example, the Super Bowl spot featured a Mitsubishi Gallant and Toyota Camry doing evasive maneuvers to avoid objects tossed from moving trucks. The spot was frozen before a climactic impact and consumers were enticed to see the conclusion by visiting the Web site.

‘It’s the first of a number of commercials that are going to [focus on] dynamic performance in terms of safety and acceleration,’ says Beavis.

Strategy grabbed a seat with Beavis while he was in Toronto for the Canadian International Auto Show and asked him, ‘How do we drive this thing?’

What is your immediate marketing goal for Canada?

To raise intentions. They’re a very good precursor of what often becomes market share. You really need to have intentions running at about double what your market share is in order to have a good natural demand. Our intentions are around 1-1.5% and we’d like to get it around 3%.

The auto industry is experiencing its biggest slowdown in recent memory, due to a saturated market. How can you be proactive about selling cars?

You have to do it in a way that will create natural demand and not deal-driven demand. You have to align your sales strategy with what the market realities are. We’re not here to be the highest volume manufacturer. We’re here to build a profitable business in a segment we can own. We’re out of the ‘zero-zero-zero’ business. We’re not going [back to cash-back and financing deals].

Mitsubishi has moved away from its youth-focused strategy. Why?

The underlying strategy for Mitsubishi worldwide is ‘spirited cars for spirited people’ and it’s a mind-set. What happened in North America is that it got steered into a demographic rather than a psychographic. And that was bad for our business in terms of financing and lots of other things. I don’t believe that any key marketer worth his salt should be going after a demographic. He should be going after a mind-set.

What’s the main difference between the American and Canadian markets?

While the Gallant and Endeavor [mid-sized cars] are the core vehicles in the U.S. market, the Lancer and Outlander [compacts] are [bigger] in the Canadian market. There’s greater price sensitivity in Canada and a greater emphasis on leasing than there is in the U.S. It ramps up even more in Quebec. And Canadians tend to be more cautious purchasers.

Is any advertising done specifically for the Canadian market?

We do a lot of our U.S.-based work for English-speaking Canada but we do specific work to talk to Quebecois. Retail is sourced out of Canada because dealers have specific deals and requirements for the market.

You have a long history on the agency side. How does that affect what you do on the client side?

I’m a great believer that agencies deliver to clients what they richly deserve. Good clients beget good agencies, and vice versa. Mitsubishi has to have more of a focus internally to be developing strategy. And my emphasis in the short term is to get our business strategy in order. Then that becomes a marketing strategy and then we communicate that to the agency and they execute against that strategy.

What car did you first own?

It was a twin cam Ford Escort, lotus-engined, which I modified and rallied and then finally crashed.