Social media marketing is new word-of-mouth
Serious car shoppers respond to traditional issues: quality, price, reliability. Don’t give the job to a sock puppet, a consultant says.
At its core, social media marketing is an amped-up version of the oldest and most powerful form of marketing: word-of-mouth.
Social media marketers capitalize on the credibility of individuals. The goal is to stimulate people to pass along a product message. Marketers feel that their product pitches are more believable coming from a friend, even a Facebook friend you never see in person, than in a TV spot.
That’s why Scott Goebel, vice president for social strategy and enablement at Team Detroit, the Ford brand’s advertising agency, says that getting consumers to share Fusion prelaunch content is a key goal.
“So we may want 100,000 views of something, but we’re also looking at the rate at which it was shared by people,” Goebel says, referring to how quickly they pass the word along. “It tells our content story in their voice, which is very powerful for a brand.”
A good fit for autos
That tactic is particularly suitable for automotive marketing, says Brad Adgate, director of research at Horizon Media in New York. Autos were one of the first products to be shopped on the Internet, and Web shopping remains robust. Also, car buyers are strongly influenced by word-of-mouth.
“Cars have always been reliant on social media before there was social media,” Adgate says. “Cars, movies and restaurants were always three things that people talked about -- word-of-mouth.”
But, like word-of-mouth, social media’s effects are elusive. Jeff Doak, social platform director at Team Detroit, says there’s a tendency to measure what’s visible -- tweets, Facebook fans. But they just show surface activity.
“The things that matter are usually more buried,” Doak says. “I think a lot of the effects we get from social media are hard to measure, actually.”
Marketers can get some data about their Facebook audience and its level of engagement, but only for their own page. So Ford can find out about its Facebook audience, but not about Toyota’s or Chevrolet’s or Hyundai’s. That makes the kind of benchmarking that auto industry marketers routinely do -- comparing reasons for purchase, price, equipment levels, cross-shopping and the like -- difficult.
Goebel says that marketers have learned some techniques. For instance, he says, by using YouTube annotations -- links that appear in the frame of a video which allow the viewer to click through to another video or a Web site -- they can engage potential Fusion buyers more deeply.
Marketing experts emphasize that social media can play only a limited role in selling cars. The reach is limited by the slice of the population paying attention to a specific medium and with an interest in a product, says Dave Sullivan, manager of product analysis for AutoPacific in Ann Arbor, Mich. There’s also a constant need to restock with fresh content, he adds -- and then marketers must monitor online comments continually.
And buzz dissipates quickly after a campaign stops, Sullivan says, citing the Fiesta Movement: “The problem was that there was a lot of initial buzz, but as the vehicle has progressed through its life cycle, the buzz has really died off. I think it’s been kind of underwhelming in its sales performance.”
Alexander Edwards, COO of consulting firm Strategic Vision in San Diego, says social media are useful in raising awareness but must be followed by a more substantial message via traditional media. The playful, sometimes flip material used in a YouTube video, for instance, isn’t going to close the deal for a vehicle purchase.
Serious car shoppers respond to the three traditional issues that drive purchases: quality, price and reliability, he says. So a tactic like Doug, the puppet used in humorous online videos for the Focus prelaunch, can only prime an audience for a serious sales pitch.
“You don’t want to insult the customers on that side. You don’t want to be too edgy,” Alexander says. “They’re not going to spend that much money because a sock puppet told them to.”
You can reach Dave Guilford at email@example.com. -- Follow Dave on