Why a 100-Year-Old Automotive Brand is Taking Cues from Warby Parker

“We are trying to savor our heritage but turn people toward the new.” The words of Mitsubishi Motors CMO Kimberley Gardiner (spoken onstage at a recent Brand Innovators event) reveal something about brands that have more history than currency.

“We are trying to savor our heritage but turn people toward the new.” The words of Mitsubishi Motors CMO Kimberley Gardiner (spoken onstage at a recent Brand Innovators event) reveal something about brands that have more history than currency.

Kimberley Gardiner at Brand Innovators’ CES summit in January

Gardiner, a veteran of stints at Toyota and Kia, calls Mitsubishi a “100-year-old Challenger Brand that thinks like a startup.” But you won’t find her stealing moves from other automakers.

Instead, she’s drawn to what she calls the “small-batch marketing” of upstart direct-to-consumer brands.

“We look to other challengers outside of our industry for inspiration and ideas,” she says brightly. “Some of the brands that I look at in the direct-to-consumer category are Away, Warby Parker, Casper … Dirty Lemon is one of my personal favorites. These are brands that have taken on categories with very little brand awareness to really make a mark on industries that needed to change.

Mitsubishi has much in common with those brands, Gardiner says. “We’re small, we’re scrappy, we’re nimble.” Good qualities to have at a moment when the auto industry is changing so rapidly. “The automotive industry right now is fascinating. It is evolving in so many ways, from self-driving cars to connected vehicles to the way we market. Everything is in flux. What makes it exciting for a challenger brand is that we can hopefully create some of that history and do things in a very different way.”

If she and her team are to drive growth, Gardiner says, credibility will be key. In order to do that, Mitsubishi will become far more focused in terms of the consumers it wants to reach. “We’re going down from a larger target audience to what we call potentialists. These are folks who are open-minded, positive, optimistic and forward-thinking. And they are really willing to give a brand like ours a chance. They are excited to see what a brand like ours can do for the category and for their lives.”

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