Dealerships' test drives build social media buzz
Loaners for bloggers are keys to group's marketing strategy
Dan Boismier has turned a customer's complaint about a warranty repair into an effective marketing tool.
Published in Automotive News, July 30, 2012
Charlie Wollborg had had enough.
Wollborg had spent days wrangling with Suburban Subaru of Troy, Mich., over a warranty repair. Frustrated after much back-and-forth with the store's service manager, Wollborg took to Twitter to vent.
The trouble was, as chief executive of Curve Detroit, a marketing and design firm, Wollborg had more than 10,000 Twitter followers.
Dan Boismier, Internet director for the Suburban Collection, the dealership group near Detroit that owns Suburban Subaru, was quickly on the case, personally responding to Wollborg's tweet. Soon the two were talking on the phone.
Wollborg said they resolved the warranty issue, which was the result of a communication breakdown. The two were soon talking shop, specifically about ways to build buzz on social media for the Suburban Collection, ranked by Automotive News as the 15th largest dealership group in the nation with 22,900 new-vehicle retail sales and 32 stores in 2011.
Boismier recalled that the group at the time was looking to replicate on a smaller scale Ford's Fiesta Movement campaign, in which Ford gave Fiesta subcompacts to 100 people to drive across the country and chronicle their journey via social media.
It turned out that Wollborg, and his wife, Elena, were the perfect candidates to get the Suburban Collection's Social Test Drive program started, Boismier said.
Suburban Cadillac-Buick in Troy lent the couple a Cadillac SRX for a weekend retreat in northern Michigan. The Wollborgs tweeted about their time in the Caddy during the test drive, mentioning the Suburban Collection's Twitter handle, @SubCollection, in the tweets.
Elena Wollborg, a high school teacher, wrote a review of the SRX in mommyisintimeout.com, her parenting blog. She also has 2,000 followers on Twitter.
"From the moment I picked it up, I fell in love," Wollborg wrote in her review. "An associate from Suburban Cadillac Buick gave me a thorough tour of the car, showing me all of the extensive features."
She also uploaded photos taken of the car to Instagram, the online photo-sharing service.
Boismier said the experiment gave the Suburban Collection brand exposure to thousands of local consumers who are connected to the Wollborgs on social media. The cost? A few hundred miles and a tank of gasoline, Boismier said.
"We figured out that there were 55,000 to 60,000 branding impressions of our brand to her friends, between the amount of contacts they had and the number of tweets, Instagram photos, Facebook posts and blog posts," Boismier said.
The Suburban Collection did not pay Wollborg for his assistance on the test drive. But the dealership group later hired his firm to develop a separate digital marketing program.
The Suburban Collection has parlayed the idea of giving weekend loaners to local bloggers into what it calls the Social Test Drive. Now, almost a year later, with more than 20 Social Test Drives completed, it's a core part of the group's marketing strategy.
The bloggers are so-called influencers, folks with large followings for their blogs or on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The group has done more than 20 Social Test Drives since last August and currently does at least one a weekend.
The Suburban Collection dealership that lends the car performs a full vehicle delivery and walk-around, exposing the influencers to the group's staff and methods in hopes of getting a plug when the bloggers share their experience online.
The influencers share their experiences on their blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, the photo-sharing service Instagram or whatever online social media they use. In return, the Suburban Collection asks that they use the #socialtestdrive hash tag when sharing anything about the test drive online. Hash tags are used to link together online conversations about the same topic. The bloggers can say whatever they please.
A few examples:
n "Shopped & loaded in record time at #Ikea - plenty of trunk space!" tweeted Emily Hay during her weekend test of a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Hay writes a blog about how small businesses can effectively use social media.
n "Accelerating in this car seemed like a chore. There were many times where I'd need to step on it, like highway merging or needing to get around another car, and feeling like the car was lazy on accelerating," wrote John Phillips, a user interface designer, on his blog. He tested a new Volkswagen Passat S. The V-6 Passat he initially wanted had been sold, so his tester had a four-cylinder.
The Suburban Collection's Boismier said the effort is a cost-effective way to expose thousands of local consumers to the group's brand and dealerships.
Helping businesses use social media is a specialty of Wollborg's firm. He says this type of a campaign is effective because the readers are being exposed to the Suburban Collection brand by someone they trust.
"From a marketing standpoint, it's great for Suburban because now you have all these social media champions saying, 'Check out my video, check out this dealership,'" Wollborg said. "Suburban doesn't have to do anything as far as tooting their horn. Everyone else is talking about it."
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