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HR Owen: Email, events and enticing the 21st-century customer

In 2011, Joe Doyle took over from Andy Duncan, who had lasted just 13 months in the chief executive position. Doyle set about steadying the ship and his management team adopted a strategy that focused on bringing staff, customers and manufacturer brands together, supported by the latest technology at every step.

A strategy paper from 2011 refers to this mix: HR Owen would “offer the best luxury car experience in the world for its clients”; “experience is everything” and customers would love dealing with the company “almost as much as their cars”.

HR Owen would help manufacturers develop their brands and their understanding of how best to service their customers and “provide access to the global elite through the world’s leading capital, London”.


Embracing the cutting edge of digital communication

In 2011, the group said it would “invest in world-class, leading edge internet capability as a basis for direct sales and revenue-generating activity, excellence in customer relationship management and outstanding brand-building and customer communications capability”.

HR Owen marketing director Chris Harris shared the tactics and technology employed in ensuring those objectives were fulfilled, and said the company had emerged stronger from the recession.

Harris is supported by Sarah Keyes, who ran British Airways’ Executive Club, Toni Madge, who ran events for the Oasis Centre charity, and Alex Brown, who launched at Harper Collins.

None has motor experience, but they are supported by six marketing managers who have it “in spades”.

Harris firstly rejects suggestions that HR Owen, with its rich entrepreneurial customer base, was immune to the financial crises. “Our customers, tuned into the economy, knew what was coming and guarded their cash. Sales rapidly tailed off, probably more quickly for us than in the wider market,” he said. “We had to fix HR Owen as London fixed itself.”

Customer communication has been critical to this. Harris oversees a consistent group-wide approach, which is measured as much on the tone of communications as it is on click rates.

HR Owen has a core customer base of about 10,000 people. In 2013, it sent out 177 email campaigns – about 170,000 emails. The average open rate was an impressive 47% (an all-industry figure of 25% is considered good).

Harris said this level of engagement was down to some simple factors.


‘Email is still the single most powerful marketing tool’

“Despite being in an age when we’re all supposed to be on Facebook and Twitter, broadcasting our thoughts to an audience, email is still the single most powerful marketing tool. And while it’s free to send, it needs considerable time and effort to make it work properly,” said Harris.

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