DANA POINT, CA: MINI, the auto marque, has been able to maximise the impact of a comparatively limited marketing budget by tapping directly into "brand love" among its most passionate fans.

Lee Nadler, marketing communications manager for MINI USA – a division of BMW – discussed the brand's strategy at the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) Digital & Social Media Conference.

"About half of our owners name their car," he revealed. (For more, including details and results from MINI's "Final Test Test Drive" campaign, read Warc's exclusive report: MINI breaks the car-launch marketing rules.)

"How many of your customers would have the kind of relationship with your product or service where they would actually name it or invite it into their life in some special way?" Nadler also asked the event delegates.

Given that such loyalty is at a premium in any category, MINI is aware of its potential value. "We don't take that for granted," said Nadler.

Indeed, actively leveraging this enthusiasm on the part of its core customer base has helped MINI make a significant impact with a budget that is lower than that possessed by many rivals.

"We're outspent ten-to-one by other car brands. So we have to be really smart with our dollars. And we have to be nimble," said Nadler.

One indicator of how the brand engaged its passionate followers – who often describe themselves as "MINIacs" – came with the unveiling of the 2014 Cooper Hardtop.

"What we said is, 'Before we bring this car [to market] – before the dealers even get to drive it – we're going to ask our owners how they would want to test it.'"

The resultant competition asked MINI owners to customise designs of the Cooper Hardtop online, and to suggest novel ways in which it could be put through its paces prior to its official launch earlier this year.

Such a strategy, he reminded the conference audience, marks a considerable departure from the category norm when introducing a vehicle.

"They bring it to their dealers. They bring it to an auto show. They do a big press event. The dealers have a party and they invite people – current owners and new prospects – to the party," he said.

"But most dealers don't enjoy the brand love that MINI does."

Data sourced from Warc