I had a chance to speak with Alan Bethke, the director of marketing communication at Subaru Americas. He presented a fascinating overview of how Subaru grew its share in the highly competitive auto industry with only a tiny fraction of the investment of the competition. Subaru has been the only auto manufacturer to gain share and grow volume in each of the last four years.
A Different Consumer
After years of following the big automakers, stressing the marvels of automobile engineering and the latest accessories, Subaru saw its market share and sales going nowhere. With only 1% share of the US market, there was little downside to trying something new. Against the wishes of its dealers who wanted more features and lower prices, Subaru marketers tried to gleen insight by listening to what core consumers said about their relationship to the Subaru brand.
What did they find? First, Subaru consumers are fiercely independent, family-, dog-, car-, and adventure-loving souls that defy the typical car buyer stereotype.
Message of Love
Once Subaru took a look at consumers’ letters, they found a message that a Honda or a Chevy marketer would die for. “I LOVE my Subaru and let me tell you why….” Stories of adventure, family (and dogs) and an old Subaru with over 200k miles were everywhere. It was a message of love. Subaru decided to jettison the typical images of sleek new models driving across America, and go for the emotional message that would resonate with its target. So much so that it is not uncommon to not see a new car in a commercial. Subaru will gladly feature a 10-year old car covered in mud or a family of canine’s in a print ad rather than the latest model (not that Subarus have ever been known for their glamour). While the other guys stressed power, performance and features, Subaru found “love”.
Subaru translated their Love theme into three important marketing messages tailored to consumers’ buying cycles — the heart (brand awareness), the brain (model selection), or the wallet (closing the deal). From there, the campaign came full circle, dealers were happy and everything started to click.
Subaru has nearly tripled its market share (off a small base) and continues to grow. And while GM is not likely running scared yet, Subaru has turned in a record of success.
Successful communication comes from great consumer insight. While today’s marketing seems to be focusing on digital trends and technology, the Subaru story reminds us that a creative message based on an insight can win in the toughest markets .
Love – It’s “really” what makes a Subaru a Subaru.