A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.
DETROIT -- As the launch of the redesigned 2013 MKZ approaches, Lincoln is taking the unusual step of letting select groups of customers test drive preproduction models, Automotive News reports.
The test drives, which started Oct. 1 and run through November when the car arrives in showrooms, are part of Lincoln's plan to reinvent itself. The struggling brand aims to offer customers the kind of personalized luxury service they would expect in boutique luxury hotels.
The events, called Exclusive Access Tours, are being conducted in nine major luxury markets: New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, Atlanta, Houston and Dallas.
"The goal is to get people behind the wheel," said Jim Peters, manager of Lincoln communications.
In addition, Lincoln is making preproduction MKZs available for dealers in other cities to show off to customers and lure them into ordering the car. So far, 62 events are scheduled.
Lincoln's marketing team knows that the brand has fallen off the shopping lists of many customers and that extra measures are needed to get those shoppers to reconsider.
Lincoln began accepting advance orders in late July and is ramping up with the test drives. It will present customers who order the car in advance with rewards the company has devised with American Express Publishing.
"We'll contact them with the concierge service we've developed with American Express once they take delivery," Mr. Peters said.
Lincoln might host the customers for a weekend at a boutique hotel or present them with a gift, such as custom Scotch whisky.
Lincoln has a name for this new breed of customer: cultural progressives. They're younger and more affluent than Lincoln's current customers who, at average age about 65, are among the oldest of any vehicle brand.
According to an internal Lincoln marketing document, these customers see themselves standing apart from the mainstream. The document provides examples of one such person's hypothetical behavior in fanciful terms: "He famously orchestrated an officewide funeral for his assistant's old cat, even though he's more of a dog person."
That customer also is described variously as "an agile visionary" and a "magician" who's a "cultural change agent," who is "admired by a broad circle" and is "often the subject of the question, 'How does he do it?' "
Lincoln has employed several firms to help research this customer, including R.L. Polk, Experian, Time Inc. and Hearst Corp., Mr. Peters said.
Lincoln is inviting customers to these drive events using direct mail pieces featuring arty-looking black and white postcards showing shapes from nature designed to arouse curiosity. The cars feature forms from nature that inspired Lincoln interior designer Soo Kang and her team as they designed the MKZ. Among the images are a manta ray and a calla lily.
Lincoln is building its marketing campaign around the theme "Reimagined," according to the marketing document, sent to media planners Aug. 28. National advertising will roll out in late November with a musical event tied to the start of the Los Angeles Auto Show, according to the plan.
Lincoln planners know how important it is to get the message right.
According to the marketing document: "We only get to introduce our new brand to the Cultural Progressive once, so it is key that we are doing it in the right way. It has to stand out, be different, thought-provoking, smart, unexpected, unorthodox, clear and engaging."
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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story and its subhead mischaracterized Lincoln's partnership with American Express. Lincoln is teaming with American Express Publishing Corp. in its rewards venture. Lincoln has no relationship with the American Express Centurion Card.