3 Ways MINI Wins the Marketing War

Ever wonder what it’s like to manage a global brand? We did too so we decided to find out. Enjoy our interview with Steve Ambeau, Chief Marketing Officer, Rapid RTC Former Head of Brand Communications, MINI USA, Corporate digital manager & former Global Head of Digital Marketing, MINI, Munich, Germany. MINI might make small cars, but the brand is big with over 100 national sales centers across the globe.

How does technology within the car inform marketing decisions?

Hard to fathom, but each MINI car produces and stores over one terabyte (1000 gigs!) of data daily! This is a relatively new phenomenon and required car companies to reimagine data storage. I mean the only practical place to store that volume of data is in the cloud. The value isn’t necessarily in amassing volumes of data, rather it’s in moving that data from the car to people to convert the information into insights.

Side note because who doesn’t find autonomous driving equal parts titillating and terrifying? Each MINI is equipped with 5-15 cameras collecting data points for autonomous driving. The car companies are competing in the race to develop a driving model that works well enough to predict where and how the car will drive well enough to keep the human driver turned passenger alive. Fascinating.

Car companies know a lot about us. Like A LOT. They track data for product design and engineering purposes—easy to understand. But did you know the actions you take inside the car are being tracked by marketers? The infotainment centre tells marketers a lot about drivers and their preferences. All in the name of customer experience. After all, it’s a ruthlessly competitive industry. The more personal and targeted the marketing—to you, the other drivers in the car, your household—the better the experience and the more likely you are to buy again. Right?

Before you cry ‘Big Brother’, let’s face it. We carry smartphones in our pockets that know more about us than our own mothers. We forfeited our privacy long ago in exchange for power and convenience.

It’s all about media. Of course it is.

Top tier brands in the auto industry are spending the majority of their marketing dollars on (gasp!) media, not creative. It’s about getting the creative in front of the right eyeballs.

That’s interesting. Why is that? Steve explained that ‘automotive brands are seen as less emotional’. Interesting. As buyers, the purchase of a vehicle feels pretty emotional. Not the case from the marketer’s perspective.

What else? It’s a me too industry. There’s a lot of duplication and replication. For perspective, Toyota will spend over $1B in media in 2020 in the US alone. Explains why media budgets dwarf creative. Big dollars. Massive investments.

How do smaller brands like MINI, still a top tier, but much smaller brand, compete with limited budgets?

They get scrappy. Have to be smarter. Programmatic advertising is big — computer-based media buying. Servers, networks and computers communicating with one another in real time. A user may not even notice the millisecond delay as the standard display or video ad loads while the website they intended to visit is loading. That’s programmatic advertising. Tier 1 brands like and prioritize programmatic advertising because it’s efficient.

So how does it work? The demand side advertiser loads into the system a particular user profile with a set of specific attributes and affinities and is matched by the supply side platforms which accepts the lowest bid for that real estate. The match between supply (the platforms) and demand (the ad buyer) happens in milliseconds and it’s cost-efficient. The challenge is that the advertiser can’t control which platforms the ad units are displayed on. There’s a risk of brand reputational damage should the ad be displayed on a site that doesn’t align, but it’s a risk most brands are willing to take.

Find the white space. The blue ocean. All the competing brands are advertising on the same platforms. If we’re using the data properly, we know who our customers are. We can find the white space where competitors have not gone. Then you test. Learn from the data and look for the ceiling. The point at which further investment in advertising dollars yields minimal return in reach and frequency. The law of diminishing return in effect. At this point, the brand goes looking for the next blue ocean platform.

Be great on one channel. In the real world, it’s impossible to go deep on all platforms. The audience is on multiple channels so it’s important to have a broad presence, but make a choice. It’s not a perfect world. A brand manager doesn’t have the budget to be great in all the channels and can’t always continue the conversation from one channel to another. It bears repeating. Be great on one channel.

Going to War. A Metaphor for Search Marketing.

Search still plays a big part in automotive marketing. An old channel that works that continues to get more intelligent over time. There’s capacity to go really deep, far beyond PPC (pay per click advertising).

Steve shared his 3 step strategic approach to search marketing.

  1. Protect Your Castle. In other words, play defence. That is, place ads on all your branded terms so if potential customers are looking for you, they’ll find you. Not your competitors who may be buying ads on your brand’s terms.
  2. Own Your Market. Think general terms used within your industry related to your product. For MINI, it’s compact vehicles, fuel efficient vehicles, safe compact SUV, etc. The data shows which queries are attached to the brand. These can be pricey, so be selective.
  3. Targeted Conquest. Go on the attack. Pay to advertise on competitor sites. This is expensive because your ad isn’t relevant to the customer. Google will let you do it, but you have to pay for it. Use this strategically and targeted based on what’s going on in the market.

The Perpetual Market Research Feedback Loop.

What does market research look like? The good news is that it’s a lot less expensive to get market insights now than yesterday. Focus groups or direct mail surveys used to be the only way, but if you’re paying for the response, how valuable is it really? The big shift is that we’re always researching today. Feedback is constant and immediate. This is important. That marketers are getting the information instantly. That marketing can consume, understand and put it into effect quickly. Hence data science teams working for big brands.

So how does a marketing team implement? With dynamic content that’s constantly updated. And it isn’t big data. Rather small data is simple. It shapes the direction of the strategy. How the brand communicates, the content it creates and the audience it speaks to. The broader audience isn’t ignored. The brand still talks to them, but it uses different messaging for the ideal customers.

Technology is getting so good that data is beginning to be an acceptable substitute for in-person. There’s facial recognition technology where the market researchers can’t see the person, but measures sentiment. Technology can track ‘dwell time’, how long someone lingers, around a vehicle or POS (point of sale) display. Sentiment technology.

Despite the rapid advancement of technology in marketing, it still comes down to this. Regardless of the brand, it’s still people marketing to people so marketing must convey authenticity and empathy. Customers need to get a sense of who the brand is—not what the product or service is you’re selling—but how those products and services make them feel. This requires attentive listening to what’s happening in the world. Responding with sensitivity. Engaging in conversation—a two way exchange, a dialogue with the customer. That’s how customer relationships are built.

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