Subaru turbocharges customer research

By targeting highly educated and technical customers, Subaru has improved its marketing and grown its U.S. market share.

It's not easy for an automotive company to hit on all marketing cylinders these days. At Subaru the solution has

been to turbocharge its customer research.

"We research potential buyers constantly," said Rick Crosson, Subaru's vice president of marketing. "Let's face it, nobody buys a car on impulse anymore. We find purchases are extremely well-researched, so we try to keep up with that trend. It's hard to be smarter than today's consumer, so we try to be more targeted."

Subaru has found its most valuable and growable customer group in buyers who are highly educated and technically oriented. Constant feedback from this group through surveys and dealer communications showed that it could be further defined as urban customers. That urban group expressed a desire for an SUV. Such knowledge helped its recent launch of the Tribeca SUV.

"We knew we had to reach out more to engage new customers," Crosson said. "An SUV wasn't an entirely different kind of car for us, but we needed to bring out features for that audience."

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Crosson said customer research on the SUV customers showed that potential buyers wanted the ability to interact frequently with the company in the purchase of the vehicle. They also wanted information about Subaru from past owners. Its email campaigns and Web site reflected both of those desires. A MySubaru function on Subaru.com gives Tribeca owners access to service reminders, owner case studies, invitations to dealer events, and message boards.

In addition, Subaru spent 90% of its Tribeca launch budget online after customers indicated that's a receptive medium. Now, the ability to target key customer groups online will figure prominently in product development and marketing.

"We're investing heavily in several kinds of alternative technologies," Crosson said. "More important, we're actively investing in finding out [through interactive surveys] how customers feel about those technologies."

Subaru exceeded its goal of a 1.5% market share in the U.S., according to Crosson. Part of that success came from effective market research, says Lincoln Merrihew, director of the automotive practice at Compete Inc., which advised Subaru on the Tribeca launch.

"[Subaru] did not rely on cash incentives and frankly, they don't work anyway," Merrihew said. "They understood who their potential audience was and went after them."

Reprinted with permission from 1to1 Media, a division of Carlson Marketing. (c) 2006 Carlson Marketing Worldwide

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