Subaru has historically been acknowledged as an industry innovator, using some of the most advanced all-wheel drive technologies in the world. It was the first Japanese manufacturer to offer front-wheel drive passenger cars back in the 60s, and the first to introduce the first four-wheel drive passenger cars in the early 70s.
In recent years, the sturdy car brand (owned by Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.) seems to have found its niche by focusing on a few lines of functional, durable designs that marry the four-door car concept with sport utility vehicles. Subaru has found considerable success in this vein, having sold more than 10 million vehicles worldwide, breaking all-time sales records in 2004 for the second consecutive year with numbers that only seem to be on the rise.
But even with such great numbers, Subaru (Japanese for the star cluster Pleiades, depicted in the logo) was greatly in need of a branding revamp. Long viewed as more of a practical rather than an aspirational car brand, Subaru recently invested in its image and message to add sex appeal and to align the cars with the higher-end Volvos and Acuras of the world. We visited Subaru.com to see if the newfangled approach seduced us online.
Cars are big-ticket, experiential purchases, and any item like this is challenged by the web’s innate lack of tactical gratification. Subaru.com works hard to overcome this by providing users with as much virtual information as possible (albeit not exact), while effectively driving traffic back to the dealership.
Perhaps it’s the user-friendly navigation or the prominent display of the shiny new 2006 car line, but at first glance, Subaru.com has the same appeal as the cars themselves. There is something innately attractive about smart functionality, while the slightly revised look and feel does rev up the sexiness quotient a touch.
Subaru.com falls directly in line with the brand, without losing touch of the principles it found its greatest success with: accessible quality. Designed to take users where they want to go quickly and easily, the site provides immediate access to All Model information right off the home page, which helps viewers quickly compare and contrast features against costs. An easy search function, “Find a dealer near you,” allows users to locate the nearest dealer by just plugging in a ZIP code.
By making a lot practical information readily available to consumers, would-be Subaru owners get a pay-off in the form of a tactical experience that allows them to evaluate the feasibility of the purchase without having to deal with the notorious pressure of car dealerships. This is true to the credo of Subaru, offering consumers both function and form.
Features like the Build Your Own page inspires visitors to choose both interior and exterior features. Users can then request a quote from an authorized dealer, set up a test drive, or plug in a ZIP code to check local inventorya smart, sales driven means to an end. Possibly the best page on the site, Financial & Shopping offers users financing and leasing information, detailing the benefits of both in an easily digestible manner.
Subaru Owners is where the value-added content lives. The Subaru World page in this section provides users with easy access to an array of practical information, such as maintenance schedules and warranty details. This section invites current owners to return regularly even if they are not in the market for a new car.
A community-based page called Outdoor Life promotes Subaru sponsored outdoor events, reinforcing its long-held position as the preferred car of outdoorsmen and women. One way to improve the site would be to offer consumers more Subaru “lifestyle” in this vein, by beefing up this section and making it a more interactive community experience.
Partnerships are big with Subaru. Subaru Rally Support and an LL Bean co-branding venture both get coverage on the site. But in a stellar example of intelligent co-branding online, Subaru leverages its partnership with Liberty Mutual Insurance, providing visitors with immediate access to car insurance quotesa shrewd move that drives business to both interested parties.
Like its automobiles, Subaru.com forges an emotional connection with the user by performing well. With some car brands, a hyper-focus on the practical in lieu of straight up seduction can cause loss of interest. But Subaru should continue nurturing its practical side, offering both style and substance.
By wisely leveraging its offline partnerships and strategic alliances online, Subaru.com acts as an efficient and, thus, effective sales tool where users are empowered with enough information to connect with the possibility of ownership. And eventual ownership is the whole point.