Mitsubishi Steers CRM Course

Mitsubishi is putting retention at the center of upcoming marketing efforts for its Outlander SUV, and is introducing ways for gathering and using customer data to keep drivers in the Mitsubishi family.

The new Outlander campaign includes a new Web site at, plus advertising the company said will set the tone for forthcoming vehicle launches over the next 18 months. The new ads, from BBDO, describe how the vehicle can do things like "OutFast," "OutLeadfoot," "OutMusic," and "OutLoad" the competition.

"We are looking to drive sales from our existing customer base," said Rich Donnelson, a 25-year veteran of Mitsubishi, who became director of interactive and CRM last May. Until now, the Cypress, Calif.-based company has been unable to do that. "When a lot of our customers leave [Mitsubishi], we don't really know it," he said.

Donnelson said the enhanced CRM capabilities include the Web site--which has a much better design for capturing data--an updated database, a direct-marketing communication strategy, and better digital integration with dealerships. The idea is to know where customers are in their buying cycle and to communicate appropriately.



Mitsubishi's owner database goes back 12 years, with customers categorized based on when they bought a vehicle. The first prospects will be Outlander owners who haven't bought a vehicle in 24 months and have indicated some interest in the brand, said company spokesperson Janice Little. Mitsubishi knows typical consumers are in the market every three to five years.

Mitsubishi will "make sure customers are aware we have a lot of new products we didn't have in the past," Donnelson said. "The goal is no customer should leave until we have been able to talk with them first."

Hiroshi Harunari, who took over as president of Mitsubishi Motor Sales last January, has made customer retention a keystone of a broad recovery strategy that includes smoothing over strained dealer relations.

Tom Libby, senior director of industry analysis at J.D. Power & Associates, agreed that customer retention is critical because it's far less expensive for a company to retain owners than to find new ones. But it will be tough for Mitsubishi because their best-selling vehicle, the sporty Eclipse, is in a segment where buyers tend to be fickle.

"Sporty cars have low segment loyalty," said Libby. "The Eclipse may be competitive in its segment, but those buyers are not loyal. They need to develop a core product in another segment--with vehicles like Lancer and Galant--so they will be able to retain more of those owners."

While the company reported a 13.6 percent gain in September sales compared to 2005, those gains are driven by Eclipse, whose sales were up 42 percent year-to-date through September, the company said.

According to J.D. Power & Associates' Power Information Network, which monitors dealership transactions, in this year's third quarter, 56 percent of Toyota owners shopping for a new vehicle bought another Toyota. About 53 percent of Honda buyers were repeat purchasers. By contrast, 21 percent of Mitsubishi owners returned to Mitsubishi.

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