Q&A: Lexus' Bolain On The Entry-Luxury Sandbox

Lexus-BLexus, which launched its CT compact car last year to compete in the entry-luxury segment alongside older stablemate the IS sports sedan, has been busy updating both its vehicle designs and advertising to create a new, less pragmatic and more emotional brand persona more appealing to younger consumers. Brian Bolain, Lexus’ national marketing manager, speaks with Marketing Daily about the rigors of fighting for share among younger prospects and how Lexus is pivoting with products and marketing to win them over.  

Q: First off, how are you ramping up for the 2014 IS launch this summer? 

A: We have a prelaunch in the middle of April called "The Amazing Mix" [Lexus.com/AmazingMix]. It's a music and visual experience with a little stage, where the IS is front and center. Every letter on your keyboard activates either sound or motion on the car or props around it. The system will record your keystroke movements so basically you can make your own 30-second video. We will bury some surprises there so certain keystroke combinations will do something surprising. A social media contest around it [where you can upload your creation for votes] will give the winner a trip to one of our hotel partners. We will promote it with digital buys and social. 

Q: Are you doing experiential programs?

A: We are going to do a 12-city ride-and-drive tour this summer for the IS. But one thing we will do differently is that, often when we do do tours we focus only on the car we are promoting. But with the IS you can imagine a customer who might say they'd rather have the mpg of a CT (compact), or the size of a GS sedan. So we will focus on the IS but will also have CT F-Sport (performance marque), the GS F-Sport and LFA [supercar]. 

Q: What are the biggest challenges in entry-luxury?

A: The entry-luxury area will be an absolute battleground for the next five years with an influx of new buyers. And I think we don't know them very well yet, so we have lot of educated guesswork to do to anticipate what their needs will be. I personally think there's going to be a big question about loyalty because with all the new vehicles being launched into entry luxury, the more choices there are, the more temptation there is. We will have to up our game in terms of what it means to own a Lexus.  

Q: How do younger auto prospects feel about the Lexus brand nowadays? 

A: [Perception] is changing fast. In our own ratings on desirability, which are more about emotional versus rational appeal, we are trending significantly higher on people under 47 than over over 47. People over 47 are still gravitating to us for rational reasons, but those under are realizing an emotional appeal. That's outstanding. We really started seeing this over the last 18 months. It's an early signal that the moves we are making are having impact on younger audiences without hurting our older buyer base. Our measures suggest that to a younger audience we are becoming a compelling proposition. Our real test is the IS, which historically has the lowest median age in luxury.

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