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The creative drive behind MINI’s brand

“In our industry, if you come in 88th place, you should basically start using your LinkedIn profile to find a new job,” joked Sebastian Mackensen, SVP of Brand for MINI, during his talk at Interbrand’s Anatomy of Growth summit in London.“But when we found out we were number 88 on Interbrand’s Best Global Brands—we threw a party.”

MINI, which first joined the Best Global Brand report in 2014, was a Top Growing brand in 2016, rising 18 percent from the year before. The brand that created compact-luxury has continued to evolve over its 50-plus years in the market. But in a world in which brand-led innovation “can go terribly wrong or terribly right,” according to Mackensen, it takes creative fuel to keep growing. Mackensen’s talk reveals what is keeping MINI on the “terribly right” track going forward.

Heritage at the heart

Creativity is at the core of MINI’s story. During the 1959 oil crisis, Sir Alec Issigonis had an idea for a small car with a small footprint, so he flipped the engine sideways and built a compact vehicle that could transport 4 people—and their luggage.

But MINI didn’t become MINI until formula one designer and driver John Cooper got his hands on the vehicle, making it faster and more exciting (enter the Mini Cooper). The rational Issigonis and emotional Cooper approaches combined to make the Mini an icon, a creativity duality that is woven into MINI’s five brand pillars:

  • Inventive spirit
  • Creative use of space
  • Go-kart feeling
  • Iconic design
  • Minimal footprint (in relative terms)

Focusing in

When BMW bought MINI is 2001, it grew the business with only two vehicles, but by 2013 MINI had seven different models on the market. In 2016, MINI refocused, paring its offering down to five strong models.

It’s also honing in on a demographic with intrinsic ties to it’s the brand. An internal project team tasked with refocusing the brand and identified the audience which represented the most growth potential for MINI. “Today’s reference target group—or ‘the creative class’ as they say in the US—have a lot things that are important to them, which are part of the MINI DNA already: design, authenticity, heritage, innovation, individualistic experience, but also community.”

Expanding the brand story

Despite the rise of shared mobility solutions, especially as urbanization continues, Mackensen believes that individual mobility will persist—freedom and independence will always play a role. And MINI is well-positioned to become a leader in growing cities, with its heritage as a distinct urban brand. “The world becomes more MINI because it becomes more urban,” Mackensen says.

For MINI, the fuel for future growth is building its brand story by expanding its influence into other sectors—but it’s important to do this in a way that’s not contrived. There are three things that MINI believes a brand must be to grow:

  • Authentic (do not over promise or under promise)
  • Personally relevant (consider: “Why should I let you, brand, into my private universe)
  • Future-oriented

He outlines a few of MINI’s carefully considered forays into new worlds that resonate with its target audience:


MINI takes Sir Issigonis’ ideas around the creative use of space and translates that to living space, with initiatives like the Mini Living installation, presented during the Salone del Mobile 2016. Developed in partnership with a Japanese architectural firm, the exhibition applies brand ideals like creative use of space and intelligent, interesting design to the development of smart and beautiful co-living solutions for urban dwellers.

“This is where we add to the heritage of MINI and get in touch with new target groups,” says Mackensen. The project was featured in world-renowned design magazine, Dezeen.


“Fashion is fast, in complete contrast to auto,” notes Mackensen—which is why targeting this industry serves as a strategy for bringing MINI into the media with higher frequency. The brand recently paired with five different up-and-coming fashion labels to present MINI Fluid Fashion Capsule Collection at Pitti Uomo in Italy.

Mackensen says the key to success in the fashion world is authenticity. “You can’t do these types of activities and then put a car next to the stand and have a sales ask person for your name and address…the purpose is to enrich te brand story and the communication and the relevance of the brand for the relevant target groups


Amalgamated Drawing Office is what Issigonis called his first studio, and is now the name of a new experience space the brand is opening in Brooklyn, NY. The 23,000 square foot space will house a studio for designers, a restaurant, rentable workspaces, and incubator/accelerator experts to consult on manufacturing process and rapid prototyping initiatives, with a clear focus on design. A/D/O brings together everything the brand sands for in one collaborative space. But one thing’s notably absent.

“You will not find a MINI car in this space—that would kill the whole idea,” says Mackensen.


MINI and startup accelerator Hacks have partnered to launch Urban-X, a program offering 60k worth of seed funding to startups, which enter a ten-week development phase. “It’s a very good initiative to get close to real innovation, which we can adapt for ourselves. Also from a cultural perspective,” says Mackensen. Much of the focus is on mobility—demonstrating that the brand is thinking smart about its evolving role.

As Mackensen points out, these initiatives aren’t about promoting sales, but about growing the MINI brand in creative, but honest, ways. Meanwhile, the brand isn’t taking for granted what makes car drivers tick, as Mackensen assures in his closing remarks:

“Typically people have a smile on their face when they talk about MINI, because it’s just fun to drive them. And we will make sure that this will last, also, in the future.”

For more insights from our Anatomy of Growth summit, stay tuned. We’ll be releasing exclusive interviews and talks from leaders of world-class brands, as well as our own experts.

Read more about MINI on brandchannel:

A Design Hub Grows in Brooklyn: 5 Questions with MINI’s Esther Bahne
MINI’s Startup Accelerator: 5 Questions with Urban-X MD Micah Kotch


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