Virtual Tours for Saab 2002 Models Promise Showroom Experience

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Saab Cars USA Inc. plans to launch an interactive tour for the 2002 Saab 9-5 Sedan and SportWagon on Nov. 15 that simulates a dealership demonstration.


Called episodic marketing by Saab interactive shop Agency.com, the tour will use Flash-based technology to deliver images, voice-overs, music and content based on user requests.


"They wanted to do something a little bit different," said Patricia Camden, senior director of business development at Agency.com, Atlanta. "They didn't want to have the typical 360-degree view around the car that showcases the different features and benefits.


"What they wanted to do is give the experience to a consumer as though they are in the Saab showroom in the U.S. and really try to drive those buyers to the showroom," she said.


This effort follows a direct mail push to offload 2001 models of the Saab sedan and wagon. They are priced at $34,000 and $34,700, respectively, with the 2002 models slightly higher. The mailer offers a $50 gift certificate for a test drive at a dealership and $5,000 off for a car purchased.


Saab could not have taken a more proactive approach for its latest piece of marketing. Navigation through saabusa.com will be based on the visitor's response to this question: "What interests you most?" The choices are safety, handling, design and performance. Clicking on one of those options serves up the desired content in Flash format.


"This is actually a real different approach," Camden said. "If you log onto many manufacturers' sites, you'll see that many of them have walk-around tours of vehicles, but in terms of having an episode, this is the first time we've seen it done."


Robert Henry, manager of e-commerce and CRM solutions at Saab Cars USA, Norcross, GA, agreed.


"We're really trying to customize a customer's experience into what they're looking for," he said. "We've not been good in the past about personalization on the Web."


Underlying such efforts is an attempt to simulate as well as complement the dealership experience.


Take the planned features. The site will show how to load cargo into a vehicle -- difficult to repeat in a showroom. Zoom-ins, 360-degree views, dashboard close-ups and safety details are part of a personalized tour of the newly redesigned Saab 9-5 vehicle.


"We wanted to be sure that we in no way communicated to Saab's dealer network that we were trying to replace the dealer," Camden said. "That was really very important to Saab, and we're really trying to be sure that we were helping our dealers."


Nudging the online visitor toward a test drive of the new Saab is critical. An opt-in customer information area allows requests for additional information plus scheduling of a test drive. This way, Saab takes care not to convey the impression that it is trying to eliminate the dealer from the buying experience. Based on the visitor's site behavior and requests, information will be compiled and sent to the dealer.


"As a person navigates the site, we collect information on that user from their navigation paths through the site to the way that they respond to the questions," Camden said. "Then, we package that up, and that is delivered to the dealer along with the person's request to test drive.


"So what we've done is, we really have left the dealers very prepared, so that when the prospect walks in, they have a lot of information about what area that specific user was interested in," she said.


It also helps that delivering such intelligence is an indicator of the consumer's mood.


"We're trying to identify what stage the consumer is in and sharing that with the dealer," Henry said.


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