When you think of Mini, chances are you identify it as something that is iconically British. The original model became somewhat of a British motif of the 1960s and was produced by the British Motor Corporation (BMC) from 1959 until 2000.
It’s distinctive shape meant that it was voted the second most influential car of the 20th century and little alterations have been made to the original model over the years due to it’s continued popularity. It’s demand soured even further after it was featured in The Italian Job, which was prompted by multiple Monte Carlo Rally victories.
When Rover Group dissolved back in 2000, BMW retained the rights to manufacture cars using the original Mini name (later changed to MINI) and form. They have since gone on to release a number of new models, including the MINI Hatch, Coupé and Roadster.
Being such a recognisable and popular brand, you would expect MINI’s social media presence to match up to their iconic reputation. I’m going to investigate how exactly the car manufacturer perform on social media, from the content they share, to their level of engagement with customers.
MINI are the most active on Twitter (@MINI) out of all of their social media accounts and have a huge 187,000 followers from across the globe. They maintain their presence on Twitter by posting an average of 2-3 times per day, which is enough to keep their brand fresh in their followers minds without bombarding their newsfeed with dozens of posts.
The journey begins where the shoreline ends. #TGIFpic.twitter.com/qV40VMtnL6
— MINI (@MINI) September 4, 2015
The content that they share is made up of mainly a combination of high quality images and videos. Their photographs usually present their cars in action, driving through different locations around the world on different kinds of terrains and environments. Occasionally they share images of landscapes in a variety of countries, to reinforce the global theme they are incorporating into their social media content.
MINI have developed a number of branded hashtags on Twitter, such as #MINIMonday where they share some inspiration for the week alongside an image of one of their cars. A series of hashtags for their different models have also been incorporated into their tweets, including #clubman, #cabrio and #classicmini.
Occasionally they get involved on trending and popular hashtags, which is a great way for the car maker to expand the reach of their content and encourage more engagement from people outside of their followers.
They’re good at building engagement with their followers by asking them direct questions to get them talking, usually about where they like to go for a drive or what their plans for the day are.
They don’t tend to respond to any replies however and only really interact with tweets from followers when they are a customer enquiry.
Only when the weather is fair, or every chance you get? Tell us how often you hit the road for pure enjoyment.
— MINI (@MINI) August 27, 2015
MINI have recently been running a campaign called #GoWithYourGut for the release of the new #Clubman model. The general theme is that your gut instinct should be to go and buy their new car and as part of the campaign released a series of short videos about four people who “put the butterflies in charge.” No MINIs are actually featured in the videos, but it shows how the different individuals follow their gut instinct.
Alongside the videos, they also created an interactive game on their website that assesses your personality and suggests what model and colour MINI Clubman would suit you the best. This adds a personal touch to their marketing and tailors it to the individual making them feel valued as a customer.
Inspiration comes from unlikely sources. Hear Ciguë’s take on progressive design. #GoWithYourGutpic.twitter.com/N177KU5kwc
— MINI (@MINI) August 31, 2015
MINI have their greatest following on Facebook, exceeding 10,500,000 followers on the platform. Though they have the largest community on there they aren’t quite as active on Facebook as they are on Twitter, only sharing one post every day or so.
I expected to see quite a lot of crossover in content between the platforms, and although there is some, they also share a lot of content that is exclusive to Facebook.
A lot of their posts are made up of videos and photographs; however when they post a photo that has been featured on Twitter they will often share the whole album rather than just the one, as due to the nature of the platform users like to be able to scroll through and browse photographs on there to see the whole story.
They recently encouraged their Facebook fans to join their MINI fanbase on Instagram too by sharing an album of the best Instagram photos of MINIs that month. Sharing user generated content is an effective way of building a sense of community and make their fans feel valued.
The video content that MINI share on Facebook is usually a demonstration or preview of one of their cars, however they do also often share clips from their events and short point-of-view driving clips, such as a journey along the coast as part of a recent #surfMINI campaign.
MINI run quite a lot of campaigns on their Facebook page, such as the aforementioned #surfMINI campaign and also the “Go with your gut” campaign that they have been running on Twitter, including a series of videos.
They also hold a lot of competitions; recently having partnered with Picturehouse Cinema and Shortlist to offer followers the chances to win prizes, such as a test drive, a preview cinema screening and a weekend away to the home of MINI. These competitions are a great way to build engagement with their Facebook community and they always receive a lot of positive feedback in the comments section when they post them. I was surprised they do not hold their competitions on Twitter too and this would build their engagement even more.
The majority of the feedback that MINI receive from their followers on Facebook is positive and although MINI do not often respond to many of their comments, they do hop in now and then to respond to customer enquires, get involved in conversation and encourage fans to get more involved with the brand.
MINI really know how to get the most out of Instagram (@MINI) and have kept all of their best visual content for the platform. They generally post once a day and receive the highest level of engagement from their 239,000 followers than all of their social media accounts.
Their photography is of a really high quality and they use locations from all around the world to keep them interesting and attract customers from across the globe. A lot of MINI’s marketing follows a theme of travel and seeing the world in your MINI and I feel that Instagram is a great platform for this type of content as a lot of people use it for sharing and browsing travel related content. They have a unique way of showcasing their cars on Instagram, with “flick book” style animations which gives their content an edgy and modern feel.
Their #GoWithYourGut campaign is also featured on Instagram, though they have shortened the clips due to length restrictions and shared a series of screenshots from the videos, which entice user to follow the provided link to their campaign page on the website.
They have also recently been running an interesting campaign called #Mini360 which involves fans using a cardboard viewer or smartphone to experience a “virtual reality” film. Users must visit the MINI website to view the whole film, however previews have been shared via Instagram as a teaser.
They make good use of hashtags to promote each of these campaigns and like on Twitter, they are sure to use the branded hashtags for their different MINI models in order to build a community around each. A lot of MINI owners have adopted these hashtags when sharing photos of their cars, so a lot of buzz has been created surrounding the brand on Instagram.
MINI really put a lot of time and resources into their online marketing and I think that quality campaigns like theirs are really effective for building brand awareness and driving traffic to their website.
As I said previously, MINI produce some really high quality videos and therefore YouTube is a great platform for them to build a presence on. They currently have over 48,000 subscribers on the site and generally post videos about once a month, sometimes more depending on the campaign they are running at the time.
Though everything they post on YouTube is also posted elsewhere, it helps to expand the reach of their videos to an audience who are actively seeking video content, due to the nature of the platform.
Their videos often attract comments from YouTube users, which MINI are good at responding too. In fact I think they interact with users the most on YouTube out of all the social networks.
They have recently featured the “Go with your gut” films that have been cross-posted on each of their accounts and also often share product demos/reveals.
Overall I feel that MINI are doing some really good things on social media and I really like that they produce new content for each platform as it keeps it fresh for anyone who follows their different accounts.
They are also very aware of what type on content works best where, as they keep their best visuals for Instagram, whereas they encourage users to interact with them on Twitter by asking their followers questions about their life and experiences.
You can tell from the high quality of their content that they dedicate a lot of time and resources to producing their images and videos , which cater well for their target audience. Their videos are particularly impressive and add a cinematic experience to their content that draws customers in and could work to convert those who aren’t avid car fans.
One area that I feel they could improve a bit is their engagement with their followers, as they do a good job of encouraging users to interact with their posts, but do not reply to them very often. Making conversation with fans can help to show a bit more of a relatable side to the brand and ensure that they feel valued as customers.
Despite this, as a consumer I am drawn to their social media updates and think that they do a good job of making their products appeal to a vast range of customers.
There must be something special about a brand if it can pass between six different owners in half a century and still be described rightfully as ‘iconic’. In the case of car brand Mini, that special attribute is its ability to reinvent itself.
Last month, in a graffiti-daubed former factory in central Berlin, executives from Mini’s owner BMW gathered to announce “the third chapter” in its 56-year history. Marketing Week received exclusive access to hear the story behind the brand’s latest reboot, including new designs, a new logo and a new positioning for its cars.
Since the German manufacturer relaunched the quintessentially British car brand in 2001, sales have gone from strength to strength, rising 12-fold to reach more than 302,000 units last year. Yet Peter Schwarzenbauer, the BMW board director with responsibility for the car brand, declares that despite this success, Mini will have to embark on a new direction if it is to continue to thrive.
“Things are going extremely well for Mini, so why is it is reinventing itself now? To explain this we have to look at a comparison between 2001 and 2015. Society has changed dramatically – consumption is less of a priority [now] and people are questioning more and more the purpose of everything and the benefits [of products], for ourselves and for society,” he explains. “People are more focused on ‘the essential’ and I believe that no other car brand is better positioned than Mini to meet this new focus on things that count.”
New grown-up attitude
In other words, Mini is growing up. The brand unveiled a new stripped-back version of its corporate identity at the event, which also saw the launch of the new Clubman model. The pared-down 2D black-and-white logo, which replaces the 3D ‘badge’, reflects a broader shift in Mini’s brand communications that aims to address practical concerns about its products and its wider role in society.
Upon separating Mini from the defunct Rover Group in 2000, BMW revamped the car’s engineering and appearance in order to turn what had been a utilitarian economy car into a stylish premium marque. The car’s relaunch, combined with a self-confident, tongue-in-cheek approach to advertising, which stressed its difference in the marketplace, was hugely effective at a time when the developed world’s economy – and the confidence of its consumers – was booming.
“The zeitgeist in 2001 was that we had just entered a new millennium and people were jumping into that with a lot of energy,” remembers Schwarzenbauer. “People were very willing to question conventions and the new Mini really hit right at the heart of that.”
Fast-forward to the present day, and the effects of rapid technological change, geo-political uncertainty and the financial crash of 2008 have combined to fundamentally alter consumer behaviours. The brand is targeting the same audience that it did in 2001 – namely, affluent urban dwellers in their 20s and 30s who enjoy the fun, freedom and individuality that Mini offers – but the outlook of this audience has shifted considerably.
“We have more digitalisation, so all of a sudden people can get more information about everything and are keen to know what’s behind the brand and the shiny surface,” says Marc Lengning, head of brand management at Mini.
“They want to know where products come from and about the whole supply chain. The second thing is people want to have a dialogue with a brand and are asking for authenticity from that. These are the big differences compared to the past that have led to these [brand] changes.”
The new brand identity will debut in advertising for the Clubman when the model goes on sale in October. A preview of print and outdoor ads shown at the launch event reveals a more sparse, sombre presentation in comparison to recent Mini campaigns, such as ‘Not Normal’ in 2013. The Clubman is simply photographed against a hardwood floor in an old industrial building as light streams in from a glass roof, with minimal copy underneath.
The familiar black background used in ads over the past 14 years has gone and instead Mini will focus on creating a separate identity for each of what it calls its five “superhero” models, including colour schemes and aesthetic concepts tailored to each car.
This will provide the somewhat unusual spectacle of a piecemeal brand relaunch that reveals itself over time as each of the five models receives their new identity – a conscious decision by Mini as it looks to make consumers more aware of its different product lines.
Despite the strength of its brand, Mini is a relatively small company in sales terms. Schwarzenbauer announced last month that Mini is having its best ever year, selling more than 160,000 units in the first half of 2015, yet this performance pales in comparison to some of the world’s biggest car brands. Last year, Mini vehicle sales accounted for 14.3% of BMW Group’s total volume.
The decision to bring Mini’s different models to the fore is intended to broaden its appeal and bolster its current growth trajectory. At present, the flagship Mini model, the Hatch, accounts for 69% of all Mini sales in the UK, while the all-terrain Countryman accounts for about 15%. By giving each of its five models their own platform, Mini hopes to achieve greater diversity in its sales mix and encourage consumers to reconsider the brand.
The new Clubman, for example, is Mini’s largest ever car, measuring 4.3 metres in length. With about 100 litres more boot space than its predecessor, the car aims to attract more families to the brand and marks Mini’s first move from the small car market into the compact segment occupied by the likes of the Ford Fiesta. The Clubman’s focus on functionality and elegant design is reflected in the simple, cerebral imagery of the upcoming ad campaign.
Lengning insists that despite this downbeat approach, Mini has not lost its gregarious, edgy character. This is due to reappear in some of the advertising for its other models as it rolls out in the coming years, he says. For example, the John Cooper Works – Mini’s sporty performance vehicle that accounts for around 5% of sales – would appear to lend itself to a more ebullient tone of advertising.
“With our five ‘superheroes’ we want to make it very clear that each of those cars has its own character,” explains Lengning. “The Clubman is the most extreme example in terms of moving in a direction away from the past, but you should still expect a lot of fun from the different models as each character emerges.”
Alongside this new brand strategy, Mini is diversifying its approach to customer engagement by embracing the emerging ‘sharing economy’. At the Clubman launch in Berlin, the company announced that from now on it will automatically offer new customers the option to enter their car into BMW Group’s car sharing service DriveNow.
The option enables Mini owners to make money from their vehicles when they are not using them by authorising registered DriveNow users to access and drive their cars. People can locate cars in their vicinity via the mobile DriveNow app and Mini owners can use the platform and respond to requests on their connected car dashboards.
DriveNow, which launched in 2011, operates in eight cities around the world at present using a specially branded fleet of BMWs and Minis. The decision to allow Mini owners to offer their own cars for sharing represents a significant escalation of the scheme and there are plans to launch DriveNow in around 20 further cities within the next three years.
While undoubtedly a bold move, there is a danger it could backfire in the long term. By encouraging more people to get involved in car sharing, Mini may simultaneously contribute to a culture in which people are dissuaded from purchasing their own car.
However, Lengning says the strategy is indicative of Mini’s new resolve to move with the times. The rapid growth of brands like Airbnb and Uber has destabilised many legacy businesses, but rather than row against the tide, Mini is seeking to compete on its own terms by encouraging more people to experience its brand.
“In all sectors, digitalisation changes things and you have two choices: you just ignore it, which in my opinion is not a good idea, or you start playing with it and really shape the future. That’s what we’re doing,” says Lengning.
The Mini heritage
In the rush to embrace digital change, Mini is also keen to avoid losing touch with its rich British heritage. The original Mini, created in 1959 by car designer Sir Alec Issigonis for the British Motor Corporation, was a no-frills small car dedicated to making optimum use of space. The first version to go on sale even did so without in-car heating on standard models; customers had to request the installation of a heating unit if they wanted one.
Although focused on functionality from the outset, Mini quickly developed a reputation for style and excitement following a partnership with racing car maker John Cooper, who in the early 1960s developed performance models branded with his surname. Mini’s popularity soared as iconic celebrities, such as British model Twiggy and American actor Steve McQueen, were photographed driving the car, while in 1969 Minis played a prominent role in the Michael Caine film The Italian Job.
The brand moved between a series of British owners (see timelines, above), ending up at Rover Group prior to its acquisition by BMW. Today, most Minis are still made in the UK at a factory in Cowley, Oxfordshire and new models incorporate multiple design elements that speak to the car’s earliest iterations. For example, the new Clubman features horizontal double-doors on the boot in the same fashion as the 1970s version of the model.
BMW’s Schwarzenbauer says that in addition to this design legacy, Mini’s brand principles are still guided by the minimising, practical instincts of Issigonis on the one hand, and the maximising, performance-driven approach of Cooper on the other. “The ethos is ‘maximise the experience – focus on the essential’,” he explains.
“Mini has always been about new ideas, inspiration and a lot of passion, and these things are not going to change.”
Though it is reinventing itself again, retaining its links to the past will be crucial for Mini as it develops its new brand identity in the years ahead. Among other announcements made last month was a pledge by the brand to begin investing in startup accelerators around the world that aim to develop solutions for “urban living”. Yet as Mini expands its services and its role within society, it must also hang onto the qualities that have made it iconic for so long.
“Mini crosses cultures, class, gender and age,” says Mini’s head of design Anders Warming. “Anyone who buys a Mini feels immediately younger while driving it – it just puts a smile on your face. People keep coming back to Mini because it has real substance.”