Brand executives decided they weren't getting enough bang for their buck. Lexus expects to get better results by hosting fewer customers at events that are more frequent, better focused — and less lavish.
In 1999, Toyota's luxury brand began throwing shindigs for invited prospects at racetracks and airfields. The events combined closed-course test drives with musical talent and trendy, catered food from celebrity chefs. The eight-stop tours cost about $1 million per city and drew about 2,000 customers at each event. The tour grew to 14 cities and was imitated by many luxury brands.
Now, rather than whistle-stops featuring the entire model lineup, Lexus is holding more — and smaller — events with specific products aimed at a targeted crowd.
Before: 14-city tour featured the entire model lineup at lavish $1 million events that drew thousands.
Now: Up to 37 smaller, guerrilla marketing events that focus on specific vehicle types.
Plainer brownies"The destination was becoming more important than the cars," says Brian Bolain, Lexus national manager of interactive and automotive events. "The brownies were outweighing the driving experience."
This year, Lexus is holding separate events that emphasize performance, luxury or all-wheel-drive capability, Bolain says. And although there is food and music, the tour is more about the driving.
The new tour has up to 37 stops. Still, Lexus spends less money putting them on, Bolain says. "We still want people to come and eat, but do we need to create a shopping mall to get them to drive a car?"
Lexus data show that the most frequently driven car at "Taste" events was the SC 430 coupe, which also is the lineup's slowest-selling vehicle. "People came to drive the car they weren't going to buy," Bolain says.
The performance edition of the new tour was recently completed. About 6,000 hard-core enthusiasts drove IS, IS-F, GS and GS hybrid sedans.
"There still has to be an experience, a story they couldn't get anyplace else," Bolain says. "The performance guys are enthusiasts. Put them on a track, and they are happy. But for luxury, that's where we bring our partners to life — the hotels, the 'hybrid living' designers, things like that."
Specific targetsLexus also drew lessons from another Toyota brand: Scion. Rather than make customers come to an event, Lexus is going to the people.
For the all-wheel-drive portion of the tour, Lexus will conduct guerrilla events at ski resorts to show the prowess of the vehicles in snow. Some performance and luxury events have been held at high-end fitness clubs.
Lexus also is handling the invitations more efficiently. The old routine involved mailing expensive invitations on glossy paper. With a 10 percent response rate, that was a lot of wasted paper and postage.
Now Lexus places targeted invitations through Lexus owner club Internet sites. Banner advertising is placed on third-party automotive and lifestyle Web sites, as well as on fan sites for competing luxury brands.
"People are self-selecting right from the beginning," Bolain says. "This is much more interactive and more economical. We're doing a better job of focusing these events."
You can reach Mark Rechtin at firstname.lastname@example.org