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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.


“We often refer to as our largest showroom because it has about 2.8 million unique visitors per month. It’s a significant traffic driver,” says Patrick McKenna, manager, marketing communications and consumer events for BMW. “You can access financial services, enter contests for tickets to events and build any one of 54 different models right on the site. It’s a content-rich site and there’s a lot of complexity, but this is our No. 1 priority because, first and foremost, our site is a shopping tool.”

McKenna refers to BMW’s site as “80 percent for shopping purposes, 20 percent for existing loyalists,” and says customers can request to be contacted by a dealer, search for pre-owned vehicles, browse brochures and build virtual BMWs.

“There are a lot of action items or lead generators on our site,” McKenna says. “We’re very careful to separate a hand-raiser or someone who is simply requesting more information from someone who wants to be contacted and interacted with. We want to be mindful of that.”

BMW, whose site, at No. 9, ranked far above the industry’s average determined by J.D. Power and Associates’ study, has also used its Web site as a research tool, carefully tracking what terms are searched most by visitors. For example, BMW more seriously focused on diesel products after seeing increased user interest.

“(Diesel) was already in the pipeline from a product standpoint, but (seeing it show up in our search function) ramped up the urgency to get that content on the Web site for customers. That’s a great example of the consumers driving what our content is,” McKenna says.

While BMW’s main Web site remains dedicated to rich content, the company also uses it to drive traffic to social media, a channel the manufacturer has embraced as an outlet to have fun with its brand loyalists. Users can send virtual BMWs they have designed to dealers as a way to facilitate sales more easily, and can also post their designs on Facebook and share them with friends.

BMW’s foray into social media marketing has not gone unnoticed. Forbes magazine recently ranked the company’s Graffiti Car Contest — a Facebook art competition as part of the 1 Series Coupe initiative — one of the “Best Ever Social Media Campaigns.” Users were invited to submit artwork using the social networking site’s graffiti application, and the campaign solicited more than 9,000 submissions and 500,000 votes.

Right Place at the Right Time

Mazda, which jumped to No. 3 in J.D. Power and Associates’ study after being ranked sixth last year, says it aims to provide a branded experience that conveys the enthusiasm of the car company while keeping site performance at optimal standards.

“Our tool sets are very strong, thorough and intuitive,” says David Harris, group manager, digital and alternative marketing at Mazda. “We’re constantly concerned with usability, speed, functionality and information, and it’s with a concentrated effort that we focus on a balance of all those elements. We strive to make sure things are right where they should be for consumers online.”

Mazda offers online visitors a baseline set of experiences, including comparison-shopping tools, the ability to request a quote and the option to compare in a third-party independent manner, according to Harris. Key DR elements of the site include creative tools such as interactive videos of showrooms and visuals of what it’s like to drive on various roads in Mazda vehicles.

Harris touts Mazda’s ability to integrate its online activity well as its biggest success in digital marketing. The auto manufacturer is focused on building a foundation in various channels and strengthening its DR efforts on social sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Consumers are responding in great numbers, Harris says.

“Our Facebook fans are a great group, and they’re great brand enthusiasts. They’re excited about the product, and we’ve done a good job of getting them to talk amongst themselves,” he says. “The level of conversation is outstanding, and the quality is outstanding as well.”

As the online experience for consumers continues to increasingly revolve around videos, images, music and games, Mazda is making a conscious effort to target those communication tools on the Internet, Harris says. Flickr especially has been a great opportunity for Mazda to provide information to customers in a visually appealing manner, and give them the opportunity to share their own passion for the brand.

“You get a feel for the passion our customers have through the artists that take pictures of their Mazdas,” Harris says. “They’re celebrating and romanticizing the car right there — we want consumers to have and use that outlet.”

Balancing Facts with Functionality

Most auto manufacturers agree that their No. 1 priority — as well as challenge — in the digital space is balancing rich content with functionality to meet consumers’ expectations. Auto manufacturers’ Web sites should perform just as efficiently as the cars themselves do, McKenna of BMW says.

“We have a lot of rich content and our challenge is to use technology to keep the speed of the site up without sacrificing information,” he says. “You need a balance between the speed and the richness behind the content. We have a lot of stories to tell, so the speed element is really essential to making sure it’s still a good consumer experience.”

While improving technology has its perks, marketers need to make sure they are staying up-to-date if they want to succeed in the digital space. As long as the consumer is pursuing a new online experience, so should the auto marketer, says Schoonover of Kia.

“That’s the craziness of digital marketing: it seems like every year or month there is a new communication platform. So we have to make sure that wherever the customer goes, we’re there, whether it’s in mobile, social media or a shopping site. We try and be everywhere a customer might be looking for us,” he says. “The challenge lies with technologies being mashed up. That has to change to your marketing strategy, as well.”

For the auto industry, reinforcing the consumer’s purchase decisions has always been another challenge key to successful business. It was that mentality that led Buick GMC to expand its digital presence beyond its own site and onto www.moment
, a one-stop source for customers to browse anything that has been said or written about the brand.

“We think the car is that good, that the buzz on the car is that good,” says Craig Bierley, director of Buick GMC advertising sales and promotion. “We think there’s a real value in having that kind of transparency, and that’s something the digital sector can provide.”

Bierley says that the more automakers embrace DR styles of marketing to engage customers, the more successful they will be online.

“Carmakers in general are like a really bad dinner guest when it comes to media space, always talking only about themselves,” he says. “We’re trying to promote conversation and use social media for its power to fuel and promote a brand, versus just telling people about the brand itself.”

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