What to do with unexpected clients? - And how not to lose them

“You are not really going to ride that ugly car, are you?” Since I admitted to buying a Mitsubishi Outlander I get overwhelmed by disappointed reactions from friends and family. Because they are car lovers. Petrol heads.

I get their point, but…

The diesel guzzlers they love to drive are not very sustainable and a more environmental friendly car had been on top my wish list for quite some time. The Mitsubishi Outlander seemed the ‘least dreadful’ version of all hybrid cars on the market. A little less ugly and dull than the others, so to say. Take into account the tax benefit on top of that and the choice was easy.

Reluctantly though.

Brands are part of our identity

We all have our preferences for specific brands. Whether it is conscious or unconscious. We search for a brand with features that are in line with our own desired personality. By choosing a specific brand, we are associated with a target group to which we would like to belong. While one person does not want to be associated with a Japanese car at all, the next will not stop talking about the amazing technical features of the same car.

But what if ‘your’ brand does not deliver the kind of product or product features that are very important to you? What if none of the brands you prefer offer a sustainable choice?

That will force you to step out of your comfort zone and look at another brand. This brand then has the challenge to connect with these new, unexpected clients. And to keep them, without losing their existing clients.

11.000 sold cars without test-drive (but “Mit-subsidie”)

Mitsubishi is a strong player in the hybrid car market. A few years ago, the Japanese brand said to have the ambition to focus on the production of sustainable SUVs for an affordable price. In 2020, 20% of their cars will be electric or plug-in hybrid. Electric driving will become one of the pillars of their worldwide sales strategy.

And it is already paying off, so it seems. Last year the brand took the semi-electric Outlander PHEV to the European market. Aided by the significant the tax benefit (the Dutch nickname the brand ‘Mit-subsidie’ – with subsidy) there was a big run on this car. No less than 11.000 cars were sold without the future owners even taking a test-drive.

Awkwardness in the showroom

Mitsubishi is known for its user-friendly cars for an affordable price. The dealers have adjusted their sales pitch entirely to this message. But how do you approach this new group of sustainable buyers? They clearly have no idea, so it seems when I walk into the showroom with my wallet already pulled out.

Dealers seem to be ashamed for the relative high price of the sustainable Outlander. They think it is a waste of money to pay for the extra features and have almost nothing to say about the sustainable qualities of the car. With every unanswered question, I get more uncomfortable.

The green ambitions of the management have obviously not yet reached all layers of the company.

But as long as there are no serious alternatives, Mitsubishi will profit from this situation. However, there is no reason to sit back and relax. Other European brands will follow suit with their own affordable hybrid. And if Mitsubishi’s unexpected clients still do not feel at home with their new brand, they will go straight back to their own familiar brands.

Know your customer

Bringing a new sustainable product to the market has a lot of consequences. One of them is that you may gain a new target group. The group of consumers that makes choices based on the sustainability of a brand is growing. This group is focused on innovation in the market and they like to be well informed.

As a brand you need to be prepared for this. Being the first with an innovation only gets you one step ahead on short term. If you want to keep those customers in the long run, you need to make an effort. You have to understand your customers. What motivates them? What are their wishes?

This means that your sales people should learn how to handle different target groups. Which clients is motivated by price and which clients do you seduce with the technical aspects of the product?

Learn their language. If new clients feel understood, they might (unexpectedly) become a regular client


Brand Purpose Model: what is the most beautiful thing you can do with your brand?

As a marketer your goal is to win fans and keep them. You do that by making a difference. And by showing what moves you. What you stand for. But what is the best way to get to the core of your brand?

Brand positioning models

Brand positioning models come in many different forms, from the brand diamond, the brand propeller, to the brand sun, etc. All magnificent one-page models that try to cover the essence of a brand. The truth about the brand, meant to be brief and guide colleagues and external contacts. Most are inspired by the brand key: the model developed by the Unilever Marketing Academy to consistently manage their brands internationally. Just one A4, containing all important information in nine clear bullet points. As a marketing strategist I see them in many shapes and forms: from boring Word documents to inspiring works of art. Accurately defining your brand is no easy task. It requires many decisions. Those decisions together define the strength of the brand.

Marketers and brand managers recognize the need for choosing a cutting edge position in the market. Who is the brand, for which target group are you always the best choice, and of course a razor sharp consumer insight. We can’t live without it.

Stand for something as a brand

If you ask me, the brand key is hopelessly worn out. In times like these, where what used to be rattles, we need the courage to let go of the old and embrace the new. The brand key is not sufficient anymore because it doesn’t take into account the world around the brand. Both the internal organization as well as the external stakeholders need to receive adequate attention. Next to the functional and emotional advantages consumers increasingly expect “like-mindedness”. Choosing for a brand that shares their values. A brand that doesn’t just stand for something, but also cares about something! And I’m not talking about a briefing that was sent to the advertising agency ordering to “come up with an authentic campaign”.

I believe that brands should decide on how they can improve and enrich people’s lives. How they can expose and contribute to social issues. Current position models fall short in addressing this.

We need an inspirational model that helps marketers to proudly carry their profession and helps companies to create true value. Brands have the power to encourage people to make better, healthier and more sustainable choices every day. Brands can help to redefine our vision on quality of life. Brands can guide us, by hitting the sustainable route. Brands can enthusiasm people for this route. They can trigger positive change in the behavior of people.

The Terrace’s ‘Brand Purpose Model’

As a warm-up we start with the question: “what is the most beautiful thing you can do with your brand?” Bam! It provides food for thought and breaks with the laws of conventional marketing mechanisms. This is your chance to think something about something, to be opinioned. Stand for something. And that is exactly what customers expect from you. That’s how you create preference.

The “Brand Purpose Model” by The Terrace offers companies a holistic view on their business to sharply define the purpose. In that process the marketer doesn’t just need his or her own team, but also colleagues from PR/PA, Sales & CSR are needed. Of course having the general director at the table is highly desirable. Without connecting these different disciplines, no shared “purpose” will arise in the organization. Any social activity will just be a little something on the side. Your customers will see right through it.

How it works

We work from the outside-in. Based on insights and needs from different angles we determine the business value and the social impact that fits the brand. The target group and competitors follow next.

Of course you have to know who you’re up against in the market. However, successful brands create a cooperative environment. Take for example cooperation in the supply chain; for marketers, the transition from a linear to a circular economy means that your products will come from two sides, from you and to you. That’s not something a company can manage on its own. Cooperation is crucially important. This includes your target group, who has become more conscious and can arrange more things themselves. Granting others something is the key.

Everyone knows it, character can’t be copied. Why do so few brands of today show what they really stand for? A strong brand purpose provides focus for successful collaboration and innovation.

What does your brand stand for?

Leontine Gast