James L. McDowell told us the story of the MINI – one of the most important products for BMW. He starts out by asking how many in the audience have a friend with a MINI, where about 1/3 of the crowd raises their hands. He tells us that the MINI has actually been around since the 50’s – starting with the Austin 850. It didn’t do well in the US since it was half the size of an American car, so the MINI is the story of a reinvention.
First, they needed to establish a new customer base and energize the brand. The MINI stats today: owners are mostly male, but some are females. Only 32 people work for the company, but they sell 40,000 cars per year. What’s unique is that MINI has a truly emotional bond with people. That’s special in the marketplace and what helps make it so different in their minds.
60% of purchasers customize their car waiting up to 6 months for it to be built- with everything including color, and the dashboard experience being personalized. They can track where it is in production and how far along the supply chain it’s moved. People want to make their MINI theirs from day one. The MINI is more like a first home – more than just a house. MINI drivers feel like this is exactly what they need, and all they need. As a benefit they get a thrilling driving experience while not consuming much gas. It’s for people that are open in more ways than one. That seems to be the theme of his talk and what they’ve learned about their customers- who are those looking for adventure and different paths in life; clearly the cars are not for everyone but for some, they are the perfect choice.
McDowell says the management team realizes that they are only half in charge. They know that as soon as they try to control the experience, they will ruin the brand and destroy the deep loyalty that exists. The other half in charge? The MINI owners who hold their own events and create new features for the car. They get lots of feedback, including the following letter:
“I’m writing to thank you for sending me to a good home. I met Sarah Bird on the 31st of August. She seemed happy to see me but was a bit nervous at first. She named me Peaches because of my color…How can I convince her to let her husband drive me more often?”
This letter shows how attached owners are to their MINI. How they truly take on these personas. McDowell even met this woman in person when he found himself in Richmond, VA, to better understand a customer and the relationship she had with their product “Peaches." He showed us the MINI credit card which provides a picture of the owners actual MINI. It’s been hugely successful and much like showing a picture of your son or daughter. Talk about creating a connection with consumers and their products!
MINI Takes the States: 3,347 MINI owners drove across 19 states in 15 days. A videographer went along, and McDowell showed footage. This confirms what I suspected from the beginning of this talk….MINI owners are crazy! And they lovvvvvve their cars. One couple even got married during the trip. It’s like the company helps the MINI lovers express their uniqueness through their choice of car. The road trip was simply for fun and for owners to meet each other. There is a real sense of community among MINI owners, which dealers understand- they hold special rallies to foster more fun. One example is a Halloween Party where owners dress up their MINI. We saw pictures of MINIs dressed as sharks, hula dancers and ghosts.
93% of MINI owners recommend the car to their friends – that’s the highest in the industry. So they created a special owners manual called “The Awesomeness of Small.” Included in it was a decoder that could be used in special ads so MINI owners learned first about factoids related to smallness, i.e. how ants achieve great things, etc. The treasure hunt ended with a reward of an invitation to the MINI takes the States roadtrip.
MINI owners can even download special toggle switches for their car like an “ejector seat.” How cool is that? Don’t worry, it doesn’t actually work but fun to show your friends.
McDowell asserts that our world is increasingly closed. People are so isolated with headphones, gated communities, even TIVO pulling in programming that agrees with you. MINI owners are completely different. They are glass half full people that are open to new friends and new experiences, which includes combining their personal life with the automotive experience. Talk about your atypical driver/car experience. Another learning is that their drivers embrace their “inner child” which allows them to get more joy out of life.
He says that’s what makes his job so much fun- waking up every day to find out what owners have done with the brand. I think I need a MINI. I’ll name mine Bulldog.