Editor's note: The earlier online version of this story misspelled Dean Evans' first name in the main text.
Dean Evans has spent nearly half his life working in the auto business and more than half that time in digital marketing.
The past two years have been at Subaru of America, where Evans, 45, is chief marketing officer, the same post he held earlier at automotive Internet marketing company Dealer.com. He also has worked at Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin North America, as well as smaller digital companies and start- ups. At one time, he managed an auto dealership in San Francisco.
At Subaru, which has had rapid sales growth over the past several years, Evans' challenge has been to incorporate more digital tools into the brand's marketing mix without rewriting its underlying strategy, which targets what it calls "experience seekers."
"This is the flag we march to," Evans told Automotive News.
Subaru figures 60 million people fit its definition of experience seekers, an ample pool of potential buyers.
"We can sell more to them because rather than a new type of demographic, it is more of the same demographic," Evans says. "We are better at reaching more people who align themselves to us."
With a digital guru leading its marketing, Subaru spends 25 percent of its marketing budget on the Internet and social media, up from 15 percent two years ago, and it's paying off. In the past two years, Internet leads have quadrupled and the closing ratio, the percentage of leads that result in sales, has jumped 50 percent.
Evans spoke with Staff Reporter Diana T. Kurylko.
Q: Even though Subaru was a customer of Dealer.com, there had to have been surprises when you became Subaru's chief marketing officer.
A: I was most surprised in how well run the company is, how much brand advocacy there is in this organization and the dedication. The other big thing was how much the retail organization and the manufacturer truly have a hand-in-hand partnership.
But you stepped up the digital side?
Obviously when I first got here, digital was front and center. That was my background. I looked at that part of the business and what things they are doing right and wrong. They were doing a lot of things right to make sure the brand is being managed. I came to a brand that knew what it was, thanks to the many people before me. Getting my head wrapped around that and what it stood for was my target.
One of my first reactions after understanding how it worked is to get us more media spend from [parent company] Fuji Heavy Industries and to get us on TV. You can do a lot of things on Google, but you have to stimulate them. The most efficient channel is still TV, even when you read the metrics.
How much of your marketing spend goes to TV?
It is probably up into the 50 percent range and digital is 25 percent. Digital was more like 15 before.
Where did you cut your spending?
Print -- because the pie is only so big. Fuji Heavy Industries said we believe in what the marketing department is doing. The pie got a little bigger with TV up, digital up. Print went down and events stayed flat.
What is an "experience seeker," the buyer Subaru targets in its marketing?
While most people live to collect possessions, experience seekers live to collect memories. They are not chasing materials, they are chasing life experiences and they do stuff.
How are you going mainstream without losing loyalists?
We have moved our media buy. We spend more on television. We are out there more and getting more exposure to the experience seeker. Love has always been our core. Our storytelling changed. When I got here you had to make them laugh or cry. I said let's bring more humor to the emotion.
How much do you spend on marketing compared with other automakers?
Today, when you look at the volume, we are the 10th-largest brand. When you look at marketing spend, we are 22nd. I like to remind my boss and Fuji Heavy Industries that what we have is one of the most efficient departments in the automotive space.
What brand values do you market?
We asked customers what they think about us and have four frequent responses. First, we build vehicles that last a long time. Second, those vehicles are ready for adventure -- like the Outback and the Forester. Third, we have safe vehicles. Fourth is versatility. Those are the four brand attributes. When you bring them together, you get Love.
And "Love" is still the tag line for Subaru marketing. What changes did you make in the campaign?
A few things. We fine-tuned our creative. We like and claim to be an emotional brand. Our TV creative has continued to get more emotional. Secondly, we have refined our lead generation capabilities. Converting Web site visitors to leads, the ratio is improving.
On Subaru.com we make the phone numbers bigger and the phone number is on top, so many click to call. The phone number used to be buried. Now people call faster. Those are examples of our digital activities so our media spend goes further.
Do you see connections between TV and the digital world?
The younger generations are not watching television. They are using the Internet and watching what has been traditional TV from a smartphone or the computer. There are blurred lines. We call that video advertising that is part of the digital budget today, but we see that soon becoming part of the TV budget.
For example we have a favorite on television, "Portlandia," which is a show we really love. If you go see "Portlandia" from Netflix and you run it, there are places where you can run a commercial and you can't fast-forward. We learned a traditional 30- or 60-second commercial format doesn't work -- a 10-second format works better.
What is the next frontier for Subaru as a brand?
Customer service. We have increased volume and vehicle quality has standardized. Customer treatment has to be one of the differentiators, and we are focused on how to better do that for us.
How are you improving loyalty and driving sales through service?
We did it with Care Connect to use technology to automatically communicate with the customer and to automatically get them back into the store. That was one of the first initiatives I took on when I got here. That is one of the reasons we are out of capacity. They do not go to Jiffy Lube. We are communicating with automated systems, and that is driving our service, and of course, it does spill into sales.
How are you marketing to buyers in the Sun Belt and Southern California, where you want to increase sales?
We put more TV and cable in the Sun Belt. We added some creative: You drive through rainstorms and hurricanes, traction environments. We added incentives: a 3-year/36,000-mile warranty for free. Obviously our awareness is lower. People do not necessarily think they need all-wheel drive in the Sun Belt like in the North. The added maintenance [coverage] is to help dealers in the Sun Belt to get seeded with customers. It helps bring people in. It is just for Florida and half of California.
Your incentives have been well under $600 for the first seven months of the year. Toyota and Volkswagen have spent nearly three times as much. How do you keep them so low?
We are fortunate enough where we have this finite amount of product we can build and we are smart enough to build more demand than there is product to sell through marketing. It is always better to have one fewer than one more.
How do you lead a team?
I hope I bring positive energy, motivation, creative freedom and the general direction that people know where I want to go. When you have a powerful sales organization and marketing team sitting here, they [the marketers] are often the punching bag. If sales go down, the sales chief says the commercials suck.
I learned you drive more demand with digital and you can record that demand. [Before], the only number we had from the field is some guy at the sales desk making phone calls and asking, "How much showroom traffic do you have?" Today we measure lead volume, phone volume and service appointment volume digitally. You can go back to the [sales] organization and say we generated 650,000 opportunities.