MINI USA: the Car Brand Keeps it Cheeky in Real-Time

“It’s tricky to react quickly. So brands should be prepared to be spontaneous”, said Lee Nadler, marketing communications manager at MINI USA. He offered that advice, along with creative content and marketing tips, at ANA’s recent Real-Time Marketing Conference in New York.

The petite (aka “itty biggy”) British car brand has maximized its U.S. presence. When MINI first launched here 12 years ago, they threw a party, jointly hosted with The New Yorker magazine, at a showroom venue in Manhattan’s up-and-coming Chelsea neighborhood. “MINI works of art” featured several MINI cars where artists had painted the roofs with “you-nique” themes.

Fast forwarding to 2013, how does MINI’s lean marketing and comms staff and agency (Beam Interactive) stay ever-so-clever on real-time’s race track? For starters, check out this video about the car’s soon-to-be-redesigned MINI Hard Top model creative contest. The MINI Final Test Test Drives clip shows the brand’s marketing and design employees’ tongue-in-cheek reactions to the crowd-sourcing concept. (video courtesy of MINI USA)

Nadler provided a road map highlighting how the MINI brand stays fresh in real-time.

Maintain your brand character: ”We’re irreverent and risqué, but not offensive, and we stick closely to what the brand stands for”, said Nadler. “We’re feisty, celebrating our underdog status, our racing heritage and our cheeky British humor”. MINI’s “young at heart” approach features an optimistic, fun-loving design-oriented crowd. The brand also likes playing with convention, featuring the car in unlikely ways. A MINI convertible recently served as the official safety boat at Boston’s Head of the Charles Regatta.

Plan content ahead: MINI projects one quarter in advance, Nadler said, and they draft a monthly calendar. That includes selected happenings in the real world along with events impacting the brand. Some are tie-ins with their partners’ programs, like Burton Snowboard’s U.S. Open, while others are entertaining annual events like National Doughnut Day.

React fast: “MINI isn’t into second-guessing”, Nadler noted. “Sometimes we hit, sometimes we miss, but we go for it”. He advises having guidelines and approvals agreed to in advance with legal. Lining up monetary resources is also valuable in case “something takes off”, he added.

Own up to and move on after mistakes: Even MINI veers off course on occasion, like when they accidentally over-emailed some subscribers. Instead of the standard apology message, they sent gift boxes with a Spam-shaped stress ball, chocolate roses and a letter of regret. Their “we’re sorry” packages generated a huge positive public reaction.

Forge brand alliances: MINI has official partnerships with like-minded, complementary brands, such as Burton snowboards. For real-time purposes they also “play or have brand volleys” with other companies on an ad hoc basis. Nadler cited Miracle-Gro, showing the MINI’s larger Countryman model, with the image implying the car’s growth was spurred by the plant food.

Be part of customers’ lives: “MINI is like a member of our owners’ families”, Nadler said. MINI drivers identify closely with their vehicles, and they’ve organized into owners clubs across the country. The brand holds contests like “Name your car day”, and “Do you and your MINI look alike?” for customers to share and tag their photos. (#minilookalikes)

The brand also hosts “MINI Night Out” events in select U.S. cities, a “Motortober Rally” in the fall, and the Final Test Test Drives will take place this spring. Their bi-annual event, “MINI Takes the States” cross-country drive, will start in San Francisco in late July of next year. So MINI owners can start revving up their engines and social media fans can stay tuned, in real-time.

(Images courtesy of MINI USA)