Subaru is doing a little badge engineering. The company has launched, very sub rosa, a new Web site where owners of Subaru vehicles can order badges designed to be affixed to cars. The badges reflect, numerically, where the current vehicle resides in the history of Subarus one has owned. Owners can then expand the numerical badge with more icons representing hobbies, passions and achievements (one says "100K+").
Kevin Mayer, Subaru's director of marketing communications, says people have ordered over 7,000 badges from www.BadgeOfOwnership.com, which has been live for two weeks.
"They are like merit badges for lifestyle activities," says Mayer. He said the site has proven to be popular beyond owners, and that people are even using VINs for vehicles they don't own as a way to obtain the badges.
The automaker is in the midst of its "Love" campaign, which launched last year. "The recession was an opportunity for us," Mayer tells Marketing Daily. "We needed mass media for our new campaign and when GM and others pulled out of the market, it was huge for us. We did mini upfronts, and looked for opportunities to out-share-of-voice the competitors on TV."
Subaru eschews the traditional tier system for addressing buyers in different parts of the purchase funnel, where national ads are for awareness and brand equity, tier two are dealer group ads for people in market, and individual dealer advertising touting local deals.
Mayer says the "badge" effort is part of a larger loyalty strategy. "We plan to evolve it into our version of a 'frequent flyer' program, so that based on your interaction with the brand [both at retail and online], you can earn things. It's one of those things where one might be able to earn rewards points."
The badge program works well for the Subaru zeitgeist. "Our customers tend to live full lives; they are very engaged physically, love outdoor sports, and are also politically active and involved in socially responsible programs," he says.
The company two years ago began moving from a traditional tier one, two and three approach to parsing the purchase funnel (from national ads for awareness and brand equity, to dealer group ads for products and individual dealer ads for deal-of-the-week type messaging) to a "heart to wallet" approach. "A tier-based approach is really about who is going to pay for that message," he says.
Subaru decided that the less concrete brand attachments don't get left behind when consumers get to the bottom of the purchase funnel. He says while marketing messages for people who are about to buy tend to be about deals, beauty shots and specific comparative features, but consumers in the market for a car are not purely rational.
"We thought that was short-sighted because at the end of the day people buy cars emotionally and justify their purchase rationally," says Mayer. He adds that the company's "heart to wallet" strategy is also media-agnostic. "With TV we run the full gamut at different times. Same with digital. Lots of people think digital is bottom funnel, but we run heart messaging in digital media." Subaru is actually focusing more this year on "heart" messaging [which would traditionally be top-funnel brand equity advertising] because "we are seeing results." Subaru had a good 2009 and sales are up 40% year-to-date. The Subaru "Love" campaign in its current "Dear Subaru" iteration is a bit like a consumer-content effort, where creative is based on letters from consumers.
Ads, like one that shows a vehicle completely covered in mud, may not feature current-model vehicles. One that only shows a worn-down key (that wore out before the car did) doesn't feature vehicles at all.