Automakers may be boosting their budgets to move into the e-world of direct marketing, but traditional printed brochures and direct-mail items aren't ready to join the ranks of eight-track tapes and vinyl albums.
'What we've found is that consumers still love brochures and catalogs; they are not ready to give them up and just download information off the Internet,' says Steve McGuire, Chevrolet's Internet marketing manager.
GM's European luxury brand also isn't giving up on direct mail.
'At Saab, our direct-mail budget this year is 30 percent greater than last year's budget,' says Al Fontova, direct marketing manager for Saab Cars USA Inc. 'Consumers are still requesting brochures and direct mail.'
As various surveys show, consumers prefer the convenience of the Internet and see it as an ideal resource tool. And there's little argument that a consumer campaign on the Internet can be effective and cost a great deal less than traditional direct mail.
Web is cheaper
'Direct-mail campaigns can cost anywhere between 50 cents and $20 to $50 per prospect,' McGuire says. 'By comparison, an e-mail campaign's cost will be measured in the pennies per prospect.'
But Fontova says the reason car companies are not putting all of their eggs in the Internet basket has to do with brand awareness.
'Digital media still isn't there in terms of branding,' Fontova believes. Bill Waldman, ad manager for Chevrolet trucks, agrees.
'When you look at media numbers, television is still the number one medium in terms of creating brand awareness,' Waldman says, adding that the Internet has only been effective for Chevrolet trucks when trying to reach the youth market or when working with a small budget.
'Take our S10 Crew Cab, for example,' Waldman says. 'It's a youth-oriented brand, and it's not the heaviest supported in terms of budget. So last year we launched the Crew Cab solely on the Internet.'
Waldman says other reasons for the exclusive Internet launch include the limited regional distribution (the vehicle was launched in eight Western states and Alaska) and the Internet's ability to target customers precisely in terms of demographics and psychographics.
Too early to tell
The bottom line is consumer brochures and direct-mail campaigns are here to stay because they enable automakers to build brand awareness through a tested method. But as technology advances and consumers become more accustomed to the Web, we may see an evolution toward more online campaigns. One important reason is that auto marketers are finding that people who take the time to go online for product information are more serious about their buying decision.
'Out of the number of cars sold to hand-raisers, 60 percent of these sales come from online inquiries,' Fontova says.
Meanwhile, the Internet will be a valuable supplement to more traditional means of communicating with customers and prospects.