In its latest attempt to drive qualified traffic to the newly relaunched GMBuyPower.com, General Motors Corp. is running a series of banners on auto Web sites targeted to different audiences depending on where they are in their shopping process.
The automaker also is running a sweepstakes for a GM car on Internet service provider NetZero and its Juno arm. Called “Prepared,” the campaign is the first of its kind by longtime BuyPower agency MRM Partners Worldwide's Zentropy Partners, Los Angeles.
“The strategy is to get people to use BuyPower,” said Steve Woolford, executive vice president and worldwide managing director at Zentropy. “We happen to have the highest completion rates in the industry when people visit BuyPower. What we find is that if we can get people into BuyPower, they love it.”
Snaring consumer attention is top priority for all automakers stuck in a domestic automotive industry with flat sales and deep discounts. GM's effort is the latest manifestation to exploit online advertising as far as technology will allow.
“In the past we've been able to drive people from the advertising to the site's front door,” said Steve Fromwiller, marketing manager at the GM Customer Network in Detroit. “We've not been able to tailor advertising and essentially deep-link consumers to various sections on the site.”
Zentropy's Flash-enabled banners — skyscrapers, horizontals, large rectangles and standard formats in different sizes and 120 creative executions — copy the funnel purchase model in the auto industry.
The auto business recognizes the four stages consumers go through when in the market for a car — awareness, consideration, shopping and buying. The banners capture those emotions, linking to BuyPower, where consumers can research, use tools and contact GM dealers.
For example, if someone is jumping around Kelley Blue Book's site, it is clear he has no awareness of which car to shop or buy. This is when a BuyPower banner with an awareness message pops up, asking the visitor to click through to the site.
If that consumer is looking at different products on the same Kelley site, he is served a consideration banner. If the navigation pattern shows the visitor comparing different GM models on the site, a shopping banner pulls up.
“What we've been able to do with this advertising is segment them on the basis of their behavior,” Woolford said. “We try to contextualize the advertising.
“The beauty of this advertising is that it links up that part of the BuyPower site that most people are interested in. If someone's not considering a GM vehicle, it's silly to give them the tool to shop. If they're not aware, we must make them aware. If someone's not considering, we must make them.”
Banners began last week and will run as an ongoing effort on sites including Yahoo Autos, MSN Autos, Autobytel, Cars.com, AOL and Kelley Blue Book.
Equally critical to GM's plan is the sweepstakes with NetZero, Westlake Village, CA, called “Start Dreaming Your Dream Vehicle.” It runs Aug. 18 to Sept. 22. NetZero will send 1.5 million rich-media e-mails to its opt-in database talking about the GM portfolio and advantages of BuyPower.
The winner gets a GM car of his choice configured on BuyPower from dealer inventory.
“The intent here is to pool people into using the configurations and tools on BuyPower so they can experience just how easy it is to shop for a GM vehicle online,” Woolford said.
BuyPower gets further marketing support through Web and non-Web kiosks, mail, e-mail, DVD distribution and events nationwide.
The world's largest automaker, GM has seven major brands in 400 models, plus Saturn and an import, Saab. The BuyPower portfolio comprises Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick, Oldsmobile, GMC, Pontiac and Hummer. Each brand has its own site. Consumers also can access BuyPower through GM.com.
“One of the major advantages of GM is that it has more models, options and features than any other manufacturer,” Woolford said. “The biggest weakness is the same, because it can be very different for a customer to sift through these permutations. And that's where the GMBuyPower version 5 will allow a customer to easily sift through this and find their vehicle.”
BuyPower is GM's most powerful online marketing tool and dealer-lead generator, taking consumers through the auto funnel as practiced offline.
“We know that the majority of consumers research their vehicle online before making a purchase, so it's very important for GM to be where the consumers are,” said Leo Drew, general director of strategy, integration and operations at the GM Customer Network.
In its fifth year, BuyPower in 2002 sent nearly 1 million leads to GM dealers, helping them sell an estimated 200,000 vehicles. The same internal data show the site monthly averages more than 1.5 million visitors and 3.5 million dealer inventory searches.
Zentropy recently upgraded this site. Navigation is simpler. A new personalized “MyBuyPower” feature saves configured and located vehicles. The vehicle configurator comparison tool is improved. Coverage of OnStar and XM Satellite Radio is available.
Furthermore, there is integration with the GM service and parts divisions as well as the ability to e-mail selected pages to others. The ability to cross-shop the GM range by vehicle segment has become easier. And communications capability is bolstered with a BuyPower manager.
Particular attention has been paid to the BuyPower manager. GM ensures that dealers who participate in the online effort have a certified BuyPower manager on the premises. This manager is trained extensively on what consumers expect when they graduate from the site to the dealer.
In essence, the manager is considered an extra customer service. GM research has shown that consumers like the idea of a specific person to contact at the dealer who understands where they are in the shopping and buying process in a seamless integration of the online and offline.
Like all automakers, GM is prohibited by law to make direct sales. So all online marketing, from GM's BuyPower to Ford Motor Co.'s FordDirect.com, aims to send foot traffic to authorized dealerships.
Forrester Research has found that dealer personnel are the most influential information source for new car buyers. Online, the automaker's Web site has the coveted role, ranking higher than advice from friends, vehicle brochures and editorial coverage in auto magazines.
GM soon will extend the behavior-based funnel marketing approach to direct response television ads. Again, the intent is to use relevant messages to drive traffic into the appropriate areas on BuyPower's site and ultimately to dealers.
“We're delivering qualified leads to their dealers, so the challenge is putting supply and demand together,” Woolford said. “There are still quite a few people that buy new cars, but there's so many different ways they can do that. Our intent is to match very specific demand and to get the relationship with the dealership started.”