Search supports branding at MINI USA. The media connects to social. The automaker's campaigns are built on the premise that search belongs in the new mix of social tools available to marketers, and that social now resides in the toolkit of search marketers. All work together to brand products, services and companies. This is how MINI uses social and search, and gets MINI owners to provide the automaker's agency with more real images than it can possibly use.
Own a MINI Cooper? One of the goals of the photo challenges is to give owners reasons to create stories that point back to the brand. Take a picture of your MINI, and post and tag the photo on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, along with a caption.
The tags and hashtags allow MINI and its agency, Beam Interactive, to curate the photos. MINI launched the first challenge in late May, finished the seventh at the end of November, and plans to run the eighth in December, said Christopher Stemborowski, manager of strategy at Beam Interactive, which has supported MINI for about a decade.
The more successful campaigns like "My MINI not normal" or "MINI harvest" have broad themes and are not tied to a specific marketing initiative. Owners also give MINI their consent to use the photo in other marketing initiatives.
Thanksgiving month brings photos of MINIs and something their owners give thanks for. Many share photos of MINIs and dogs. December's challenge -- which is still up in the air -- might tie into a specific marketing initiative. The more closely we tie it to a marketing initiative, the higher the barrier for entry for participation, Stemborowski said.
When I asked about tying social shares to sales, Stemborowski said the specific goal is centered on branding rather than sales, but the agency does track how the photos bring people into the Facebook page, Web site and other places hosting the images. The agency measures the number of photos posted and shared as key performance indicators for success.
Managing and aggregating the user-generated content has been challenging, said Michael Gilday, senior multimedia producer at Beam, but social media helps MINI connect with its owners, while search allows other owners and potential owners to find the branding messages. "We set up some automated services to identify when someone uploads an image connected to a hashtag anywhere on the Web," he said. "Once the platform identifies the image it automatically gets uploaded to the asset management system."