Automotive Marketer is interviewing key Internet-marketing executives from various manufacturers. Correspondent Nick Lico caught up with Colin Price, manager of interactive marketing at Saab Cars USA Inc.
How does Saab view the Internet?
We view it as the primary research tool for our consumers. According to a J.D. Power and Associates survey, 80 percent of Saab owners are active Internet users. That places us as either first or second in the automotive industry, in the realm of active Internet users.
Is it safe to assume, then, that you place special emphasis on marketing Saab on the Internet?
Yes. In fact, we've hired an agency - Digitas, based in Boston - to concentrate solely on our Internet marketing efforts. We are in the first year of our relationship with Digitas and are very happy with the results of our first two Internet campaigns. These campaigns are proving the worth of Internet marketing. They are proving that the Internet sells cars.
Where are these campaigns running?
The ad campaigns - with associated promotions - are running strictly on those sites that prospects use to learn more about vehicles. These include Kelley Blue Book, Cars.com, etc.
Can you provide us with more details about the programs?
Our startup campaign took shape in June. When prospects started researching competitive makes, we had banner ads that took these prospects directly to specific areas of interest. In other words, instead of sending prospects to a general 9-5 site, the banners went directly to a site that discussed the 9-5's performance, safety, or what have you. The promotion was very successful at driving traffic to our dealers.
In September and October, we ran a Pacific Coast Adventure campaign. Again, our objective was to drive traffic to dealer showrooms. Those who test drove a Saab received an e-mail two days after, verifying that they had indeed test driven a Saab. The first 350 prospects to complete a survey attached to the e-mail received a $20 gift certificate to Amazon.com as a way to thank them for their time. This also gives us a better indication of participation in the promotion.
All those who test drove a Saab became eligible for the grand prize: a test drive for a week along the Pacific Coast in a Saab of their choice. During that time, the grand-prize winner and the guest will have dinner at a number of world-renowned restaurants along the coast and enjoy the view of Monterey Bay from a private Sea Kayak tour. They will also tour the Napa Valley wine region from both a hot-air balloon and a chauffeured ride. The winner has been notified, but we have not yet released her name. I can tell you, though, that she is from the Columbus (Ohio) area.
How successful were these programs?
We were very pleased with the results of both programs. We had approximately 1,600 test drives during the seven-week period, which exceeded our expectations by over 400 percent.
How many of those test drives resulted in sales?
We're in the process of comparing our databases to find that out. We expect to have those results shortly. We do recognize that the ultimate objective of any marketing program is to generate sales, so we're anxious to discover how many of the test drives resulted in actual sales.
Do you categorize Saab's Internet marketing efforts as building brand awareness or lead generation?
Our focus is lead generation, although we may use the Internet to help build our brand in the future. Currently, however, our primary concern is to drive traffic to our showrooms. Our research shows that a vast majority of those who test drive a Saab will purchase a Saab. If we can generate test drives, then we are greatly contributing to our sales totals. (Editor's note: In October, Saab sold 3,681 units in the United States, up 40.1 percent from the October 1999 total.)
Will your fourfold increase in test drives result in a similar Internet marketing budget increase for 2001?
A 400 percent budget increase would be nice. However, 15 percent is much more likely.