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|WSJ Interactive Edition
July 6, 1999 6:32 AM PT
Auto marketers say they are using the information to track and communicate with customers in ways they couldn't before. What is more, auto makers are discovering the respondents to their electronic giveaways become real customers at a higher rate than consumers targeted by other media.
In an industry that offers online buying and threatens to cut out dealers altogether, auto manufacturers are trying to stay ahead of the game.
In April, Buick offered an e-coupon for $500 off the purchase price of a Buick Regal. Mark Hines, brand manager for Regal, said the deal was the first of its kind and a marketing triumph. More than 25% of Regal's retail sales -- just over 3,000 cars within a three-month period -- were sold with the e-coupon. That is a much better rate of leads resulting in sales than the minuscule returns from typical direct-mail appeals.
Roger Adams, general manager of General Motors Corp.'s Buick division, said a greater percentage of its advertising money now goes toward Web projects, and Buick plans to sponsor one major Internet-driven event every month this year.
"It's really changed the way we market and promote," he said. "Now, we'd never run a promotion without an Internet aspect to it."
Some customers who requested information also received a free credit card-shaped Swiss Army knife in the mail. Chrysler's communications manager Jay Kuhnie says the gadgets were intended to demonstrate a link between the versatility of the tool and the car.
Chrysler's communication specialist Dan Gliniecki said the Web site has been "a home run" for the company. Since its launch six months ago, he said, over 20,000 people have used it to request information about the Cruiser.
Hernando Conwi, manager of new media at Nissan Motor Co., said almost 40% of leads generated during the launch period of the new Nissan Xterra came from the car's Web site. Select customers who signed up to buy the Xterra on its Web site received purchase offers for accessories such as mountain-bike racks, ski and snowboard carriers, and water-resistant seat covers.
Mr. Conwi said Internet responders convert to car sales at an extremely high rate -- much higher than other demographic groups -- and that dealers should focus as closely on their Internet site as they do on making sure their dealership is in order.
Source of Leads for Toyota
Auto-industry consultant Mark Rikess, who assists auto manufacturers in formulating Internet strategies, said most still have a long way to go in being able to use Internet information efficiently. Web sites are set up to handle a large number of hits, he said, but they are not yet adept at handling sales leads. The transition from auto manufacturers and the dealers that deliver vehicles to consumers isn't always smooth, he says.
"The dealer wants to slow down a process, and that's not what the cyberguest wants," Mr. Rikess said. "The cyberguest, as we call them, wants fast, fair, simple service."
But if automotive e-marketing is a work in progress, the pace is accelerating, and the deals are getting more aggressive.
Ford ran an Internet sweepstakes in April and May offering a free rental from Hertz Corp. From late April until June of this year, Toyota sponsored an online game called Tundra Madness in which customers raced each other on a Microsoft game site to win a new Toyota Tundra pickup truck.
GM's Oldsmobile division, which is struggling to stop a decade-long slide in sales, offers a $50 Internet gift certificate, redeemable at stores like Pier 1 Imports and Macy's, for filling out a Web survey and test-driving an Oldsmobile. Many such offers are only available on the Net.
"The Internet is the most efficient and effective means of generating interest right now," says Oldsmobile's advertising and sales director Mike Sands. "The digital world allows us to be where consumers are, so that's what we're focusing on."
Mr. Sands said Oldsmobile sees Internet marketing as a way to reinvent itself in the eyes of younger, Web-savvy customers. He said they also want to use Internet information to create a database that combines a customer's past habits with his or her current interests and then serves it up in a profile.
Some of the data gleaned from customers who bite at e-freebies isn't just used to sell new cars. Honda Motor Co.'s U.S. sales arm is using its Web site to build a database called "the Garage."
When a customer requests information about a vehicle and gives information on the company's Web site, Honda mails customers what they have requested. But based on a customer's profile in the Garage, Honda may also mail information about other Honda products, such as lawnmowers, says marketing director Andy Boyd.
"The point is not to hit them with a deluge of brochures they're not interested in," he said. "We just have to figure out what does interest them."