Challenge

Faced with escalating fuel prices and urban congestion, American drivers were searching for answers. To deliver a solution, Daimler announced plans in June 2006 to bring the smart fortwo vehicle to the U.S. as the right car at the right time for drivers. Known across Europe for its revolutionary design, this launch of a new automotive brand to American consumers also was the introduction of an all new vehicle segment – the microcar – and it required a unique approach to marketing and promoting a vehicle rarely seen in the American car market. To help smartUSA tell its story and bring its highly-anticipated microcar to the U.S., Stratacomm served as the car company’s key partner for corporate and product communications strategy and support from 2007-2010.

Our Approach

To start, Stratacomm conducted qualitative “soft soundings” of close to 100 individuals to gauge their interest in, and perceptions of, the smart fortwo. Research showed that the vehicle was perceived as functional, and that buying a smart fortwo would be a rational versus emotional decision, but questions of safety persisted. The results helped Stratacomm craft a targeted outreach campaign to reach media and prospective buyers with preemptive messages addressing concerns of safety and size.

Stratacomm began by helping smart break the news announcement that the company would build a fortwo model for the U.S. Following the initial press announcement, Stratacomm helped guide smartUSA up to and through its 2008 launch of the fortwo in the U.S. without using traditional advertising, focusing instead on media relations, grassroots initiatives and interactive/digital tactics to spread product messages.

In the year leading up to the vehicle sales launch, smartUSA staged a 50-city road show to introduce the brand to American consumers, letting them interact with and drive the vehicle. Stratacomm provided national and local media relations support through the entire tour in every city, as well as publicized the vehicle’s unique $99 reservation system available on the company’s website. Stratacomm also managed media relations for the vehicle’s media launch event in San Jose, Calif., and first day of sales in January 2008.

In the years following the fortwo launch, Stratacomm supported smartUSA’s product communications with fleet management, thought leadership and executive visibility, major auto shows, and other key industry events. We also worked at keeping the smartUSA story fresh and relevant with media to sustain coverage, and helped smart engage with its customers and enthusiasts through traditional and digital channels. Managing all digital communication efforts, Stratacomm also designed and launched a suite of online assets, including websites, an executive blog and a social networking website for smart fortwo owners, reservation holders and enthusiasts to stay connected to each and the brand.

In addition, Stratacomm developed a crisis communications strategy for the company and provided strategic communications counsel for smartUSA throughout the engagement.

Results

Highlights of Stratacomm’s support of smartUSA include more than 451 million media impressions of the 50-city road show; contributing to 50,716 test drives of smart fortwos and more than 30,000 vehicle reservations; and significant online visibility and missions of page views resulting from online activities.