One-to-one marketing may be a useful catch-all phrase to describe
the principles behind direct marketing, but most would agree that the
concept is little more than fantasy at its purest level. One-to-some is
probably a more realistic description of the efforts of companies to
understand and respond to the needs of each individual.
But one company that can claim to have mastered the one-to-one technique
is Bentley Motor Cars. Why? Because with each car costing a smooth
£150,000 at the very least, this is one of the few firms that can
afford to target prospects at a genuinely individual level. Put another
way, with a prospecting pool of the very rich to target and only 500
cars sold a year, it simply can't afford to miss the mark in any of its
efforts to engage the very, very wealthy.
Bentley's first concerted direct mail push was in January last year,
following the appointment of a new UK marketing manager Martin
Corlett-Moss. This pulled in a 2.4 per cent response rate using a
variety of different data sources. "Although the response was pretty
good - we got new people and they bought cars - it was clear we needed
something more specific. Data quality was a real issue," says
Corlett-Moss. "Our cars are bespoke, they're hand built. So on that
basis, why can't we do bespoke, hand-built marketing?"
This thought process lead to the creation of Knowledge Bank, developed
by Leeds-based agency Fine, part of McCann-Erickson. Having identified a
financially viable prospect (be that a celebrity, sports personality or
business person), a dossier is created over a six-week period. A
research team scans national and regional newspapers, magazines,
business publications, as well as tuning into the radio and television,
to build up a profile of the individual in question. From this, the
creative team devises a totally personal mailing which is hand delivered
and includes a card inviting the recipient to call a named contact for a
The very first 'intervention' (as each mailing is called) to Alan
Shearer in September last year is a good example of the strategy in
action. Shearer was one goal away from scoring his 100th goal for
Newcastle United - a piece of information that Ian Gibbons, managing
director of Fine, says was "in the public domain but only known by
certain people". An enormous black and white '100' cake was ready in
waiting and delivered to his house on the day he scored the final goal.
"The timing was wonderful. It was also the same day United went to the
top of the Premier League and exactly two years to the day that his wife
gave birth to their son," adds Gibbons.
The delivery man was invited into the house for a glass of champagne and
Shearer called the 0845 number three hours later. The idea may be smart
and the response swift, but did it deliver? Did Shearer pick up the
phone just to say thank you or did he go on to buy a Bentley? While
Corlett-Moss is cagey about whether Shearer's response was converted
into a sale, he's slightly more forthcoming about average response
rates. "We're incredibly analytical about what we're doing," he says.
"At the end of each weekly meeting I go back and analyse the activity on
a cost effectiveness basis. There's a danger that you get wrapped up in
your own cleverness. You have to keep asking: is it working?"
Evidence of success
Well, there's no shortage of evidence that this approach is working.
Just under three-quarters of all recipients responded either directly or
after outbound follow-up calls. Current test drive rates stand at 36 per
cent but most impressively of all, one in four people who test drive a
Bentley are classed by Corlett-Moss as those with an 'intention to
Often prospects who have stated they are interested in buying the
product introduce some sort of caveat such as 'when my firm floats'. At
this point, Bentley simply restarts the process.
It may be a slow and often tortuous process to finally clinch the deal
but, as Corlett-Moss admits, the decision to buy a Bentley isn't one
that's made quickly. "You have to go through a lot of mental processes,"
"From never having thought of owning a Bentley or being interested in
one to buying takes between 12 and 18 months. There's someone we've been
working on for nine months. He's chosen the colour and spec, but hasn't
As with any product requiring this sort of financial outlay, long-term
relationship building is key. For this reason Elizabeth Bradley, the
named contact on the card included with the mailing, is essential to the
smooth running of the programme. She answers all calls, initiates the
out-bound follow-up calls and organises the test drive, as well as any
further relationship building exercises such as the offer of a visit to
the factory in Crewe.
"Going to the factory is an important way of understanding the value of
the product," explains Gibbons.
The success of Knowledge Bank has seen Fine increase the number of
mailings it sends out each week from just a handful to 50. More than
half of these are to business people - an audience Corlett-Smith says
tend to be more responsive than the celebrities.
"The rich and famous are used to being approached. But for business
people it's more of a business proposition - I'll try it; I'll like it
or not; if I like it, I'll have it," he says.
But finding that nugget of information which will provide the
inspiration for a mailing is much harder in the business arena, admits
Gibbons. "It's fairly easy to find out what Mariella Frostrup likes for
breakfast but not necessarily the son of multi-millionaire business
man," he says. None the less, Hans Snook of Orange was the proud
recipient of a "the most expensive fish tank in the world" after
researchers identified his love of tropical fish, while Karan Bilimoria,
the Indian beer entrepreneur, received a crate of re-branded Bentley
The future of Knowledge Bank looks secure. In 2003, thanks to Bentley's
new owner VW, a new car will be unveiled, pitched at a slightly lower
audience. This, says Corlett-Moss, will dramatically change Bentley's
volumes and prospecting activity. However, he's committed to the
Knowledge Bank model: "The method we've got now is the most
cost-effective one for getting somebody to drive the car. With the new
car we're likely to adapt it to higher volumes."
So if you aspire to be on Bentley's Knowledge Bank database, your time
might just have come.