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Driving Success Digitally

18 Oct, 2010 By: Jackie Jones Response

It doesn’t take a trip to the dealership for consumers to test out a new car anymore — a fact manufacturers are keenly aware of. By embracing direct response, auto marketers are engaging more consumers through the digital space and seeing the results in-store.

Auto marketing is no longer limited to catchy TV spots or print ads, but now includes the need to interact with consumers on the Internet. A successful Web site is crucial to more sales on the lot, according to J.D. Power and Associates, which evaluates auto manufacturers’ sites twice yearly.

“Consumers shopping for cars want to easily find information, they want Web sites to be intuitive in their navigation and they need to get to information quickly enough,” says Arianne Walker, director of marketing and research at J.D. Power and Associates. “It’s all about effectively driving consumers to the key information.”

J.D. Power and Associates recently released its 11th annual Manufacturer Web Site Evaluation Study for 2010. According to Walker, consumers who begin their car shopping online are consistently looking for four key things: informative content, functional navigation, clean appearance and speed. Auto manufacturers that are finding the most success are the ones using online tools to engage with customers.

“It’s not just about listing the features of the car on a site or having brochures up online,” Walker said. “It’s about using the technology we have with the Internet to demonstrate as much as possible. It’s giving the consumers a way to give the tires a kick as much as you can online before ever stepping foot into the dealership.”

Reflecting Brand Passion

Kia Motors, ranked No. 2 in J.D. Power and Associates’ study, says the execution of its Web site strives to emulate the passion behind its products’ designs.

“Our Web site has to reflect the same promise that is reflected by the excellent products we have in the marketplace and the great response we’re getting from consumers,” says David Schoonover, national manager, CRM and digital, of Kia Motors America. “All that translates to for us is that we have to have a really high standard for what we do on the Web.”

Kia’s main focus online is to present consumers with the content they are looking for in a clear, manageable and interactive format.

“If someone is on our Web site, the primary information they’re looking for is information to better understand the specifics and features of our vehicles,” he says. “We use computer-generated imagery that provides the consumer with a look into the interior and exterior on every level, from a full 360-degree experience.”

Navigation of Kia’s site is important to the company’s digital marketing team, and appearance remains relevant from a brand standpoint, according to Schoonover, who adds that too often auto manufacturers spend time pushing a product rather than recognizing what a customer may be trying to accomplish online.

“At Kia, we want to make sure our message is available and let the customer know who we are and what we do, when they want it,” he says.

Thirty-nine percent of Kia’s customers research the company first on the Internet before buying a car and 13 percent of sales are coming from an online lead channel, according to Schoonover, a key reason direct response and customer engagement has become a critical aspect of the company’s marketing efforts.

“It’s extremely important to us to interact with our customers, and especially through digital channels,” Schoonover says. “They are interested in getting to know us as a brand, so for those people we want to have relationships with them and let them get to know us.”

Kia has also found digital success in its multi-channel advertising, Schoonover says.

“It was rare for a consumer to experience a TV ad one time and all of a sudden have their entire life changed. It’s no different with the Internet now,” Schoonover says. “They have to experience you as a brand over time. Consumers see us on a site like, then once on a mobile app and once on their iPad, but the important thing is for these experiences to tie together. Instead of just giving customers little bits of an experience here or there, you’ve now tied those together to create an exponential result.”

Schoonover cites its Big Game Effort campaign in combination with its social media push as a great example of Kia’s foray into DR across multiple channels. After the Sorento campaign aired during the Super Bowl, activity on Kia’s traditional site as well as Facebook and Twitter pages increased by four to five times. Kia maintained an active presence on all platforms afterward to encourage continued conversation between the brand and its customer base.

“What was great about it was that the customers were not only talking about liking the Sorento specifically, but also about liking the brand,” Schoonover says. “There was a very positive and passionate response to our brand, and it could be seen across various channels on the Internet.”

The ‘Largest Showroom’

BMW’s marketing team frequently takes a task-based approach to its Web site, but has recently embraced the real-time benefits of online DR advertising. Its most notable DR efforts include utilizing the Web site as a place for consumers to voice their interests and interact with the brand.

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