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DaimlerChrysler's Bonita Stewart

Nancy Wong Bryan
DaimlerChrysler's Bonita Stewart Nancy Wong Bryan

As director of interactive communications at DaimlerChrysler, Bonita Stewart leads interactive branding efforts for Jeep, Dodge and Chrysler. This role also requires her to manage the company's dealer Web sites as well. iMedia Connection caught up with Stewart—who spoke at the iMedia Brand Summit in Bonita Springs, Fla., this week—to talk about how interactive marketing plays a part in branding Jeep, Dodge and Chrysler, and what challenges lurk ahead in the industry.

iMedia Connection: What are the most significant roles online plays in building your brand?

Stewart: For us it creates a brand experience. Additionally, we have tools that allow and ease the shopping for the automotive consumer so they can build and price the vehicle, they can get a quote for their vehicle, they can experience a virtual tour. For example, we're launching our new Caravan and Town and Country minivans and we have this unique stow-and-go seating, so it allows us to show the consumer early on any unique features we may have. On our truck side, we actually have a comprehensive towing guide that allows the consumer to go in and—based upon their own personal requirements—they can select the most appropriate truck for them. We also use the Web as a promotional tool, so if in fact we have incentives on vehicles or if there's an incentive that's regionalized for a particular market, we utilize the Web through our zip code feature to personalize incentives for the consumer.

iMedia Connection: How does that localization work? Is that new to your site?

Stewart: That's something we've been doing and will continue to enhance. The whole notion where we are currently and as we look forward is to continue to personalize information as much as we can to meet the consumers' requirements.

iMedia Connection: Are there any online challenges that are specific to the auto industry?

Stewart: What's specific to the auto industry is our retail network. Unlike an etailer, we take it all the way up to get-a-quote, where users can select a dealer within our Web site and for a dealer to contact them. However, the actual purchase takes place in a dealership.

iMedia Connection: How does online fit in with the rest of your marketing efforts—is it standalone or integrated?

Stewart: We absolutely consider it to be part of an integrated marketing plan. In fact, the Dodge commercial on the Super Bowl was an introductory commercial for the new Dodge Magnum. While that was a major media buy, we also integrated that with an AOL online buy, and the results of that were quite astonishing online. So we were actually able to increase the get-a-quotes up to 1,500 percent. Super Bowl Sunday for Dodge, the traffic (as compared to a regular Sunday) was up 215 percent, which shows a major integration between online and offline. That, again, fits in with our whole notion of looking at the brand and building a marketing plan that is completely integrated whether it's print, TV, online, event, etc.

iMedia Connection: Do you foresee online playing a larger role in the mix?

Stewart: I'd say if you look at the mix it's the role it will play within the marketing process or within the consumer shopping process. An event can provide a branding experience, mass media can provide awareness of a product, but the online offers a unique opportunity to initiate a two-way dialog with the consumer, and that's what' so fascinating about the medium. It gives you the sight, sound and motion, but at the same time the creativity of the medium allows us to do many things.

iMedia Connection: What can or can't online do, despite what everyone would like to believe?

Stewart: Well, it's not going to replace the 30-second commercial. It can actually enhance, and that's what we saw with the Dodge Magnum example. While it was a major media buy, it actually drove get-a-quotes within our environment, which ultimately drove leads to the dealerships. So it augments a mass media plan. It works what we call "the bottom of the funnel." Once someone has seen the brand and the inner Jeep.com, Chrysler.com or Dodge.com—once they enter our site we know that we're on the consideration list, and that's when it's up to us within the site to provide all the tools and appropriate brand experience to move them all the way through and ultimately to the dealer to secure the auto sale.

iMedia Connection: Will online play a bigger role in coordinating with your dealerships, say five years from now?

Stewart: Absolutely. I think if we look at the current number of shoppers, and depending upon the age, close to 70 percent of all automotive shoppers are using the Internet. We only anticipate that will continue to grow and probably have the same penetration as a TV in every home. We assume that the majority of consumers will be using the Internet five years out. If we look at the other technologies that are emerging, such as broadband, we see the capability of offering rich media to the majority of consumers will be a non-issue. I also think that with the growth of the DVRs (digital video recorders) it will be important to have a very strong presence in the interactive media. When I think five years from now, it seems like cable companies and everyone is taking a look at that particular technology and are seeking to capitalize on it.

iMedia Connection: What has been your biggest online success thus far?

Stewart: I'd say it's been the Super Bowl and the Magnum. That's been terrific for us. Obviously there have been others. For Jeep there was an interactive tie-in. If you think about branded entertainment, we developed a Tomb Raider Wrangler that was in the movie and was featured in a special Yahoo! online promotion that was quite successful—again, that's an integrated approach we've used for Jeep.

iMedia Connection: What is the biggest online frustration or challenge you have?

Stewart: I'd say it's keeping up with the consumer, because the consumer is so empowered right now. The access to information or quest for information will continue to grow—it's having instantaneous response time. I think the expectations for consumers will be: "I asked a question, I wanted the answer yesterday" in terms of the information. That will be the biggest challenge: coming up with the right technologies and processes and marketing tools to stay in touch with the consumer at the rapid rate that they're adopting the technology.

iMedia Connection: Which technology do you think will be one of those major touch points?

Stewart: I think another interesting one will be wireless—the notion of not being physically connected anywhere. It provides a greater degree of freedom, and I think that between wireless, broadband and DVR, there will be a change in overall marketing to the consumer, and there will be higher expectations from the consumer because of that.

iMedia Connection: When you say there will be a change in marketing overall, what kind of culture change do you see happening?

Stewart: The culture change is now talking to the consumer. It's the level of e-dialog the marketer will be able to obtain with the consumer. I think that will be up to each and every marketer to improve their e-dialog. That dialog crosses all areas; what's traditionally called the customer call center over time will be more of an e-dialog center. On the Web site, the opportunity to engage at that point—we have this today—but it's engaging a dealer as part of getting a quote or requesting additional information. Just to give you an idea, we recently put all our brochures online as a downloadable PDF. Consumers have access to instant information. Again, it starts the dialog with the consumer. The beauty of the Internet is that you can continue it.

iMedia Connection: What do you have to spend time convincing management that online can or can't do?

Stewart: Part of it is just believing the numbers. The Internet is completely accountable. All transactions are immediately measurable. As soon as we came off the Super Bowl we were able to see a spike on the site; we were able to measure immediately the impact on leads for Magnum. I think the proliferation in terms of the number of consumers who are utilizing the Internet, that's what's astounding people.

iMedia Connection: Have you had to do more or less internal training than last year?

Stewart: Our online media buying is up 30 percent, and the training and the interest in interactive within our organization has been ongoing. Within my department, we are taking a proactive approach in terms of educating our colleagues on the value of online. We are also using Web analytics to assist our brand managers because we are the first point of contact in a sense for consumer behavior. So there's a number of things from a predictive standpoint that we can do. With a new product, we can predict mix. We know what the consumer is building and pricing at any point in time. So I'd say it's an ongoing effort in terms of disseminating information with the marketing group, sales, as well as other cross-functional areas. We take that task each and every month in terms of sending out appropriate information for them to utilize.

iMedia Connection: What is one thing you would like agencies to better understand about your needs and your business? What would make that relationship better?

Stewart: I would say in the past there have been marketing silos—like the event silo, with event agencies, or traditional agencies that are focused on print, TV, radio. Then you have your interactive agency. I think the most important aspect of this is understanding the power of an integrated marketing plan. It's having those agencies that are just in lock step on the consumers' movement within the shopping process. It is increased communication that is required to develop an integrated plan. And that's why we in fact now have all our communications under one singular entity to increase the integrated marketing approach.

iMedia Connection: What is the next big thing online? How will you use it?

Stewart: If you think of the message that's being communicated, when the Internet started it was banner advertising. Then the next thing was rich media. We're not quite there yet, but I think there's an e-commercial in the works, and it will combine sight, sound and motion in a very creative way that engages the consumer to initiate that e-dialog. Not only initiate it, but continue it.

iMedia Connection: Unicast recently came out with video commercials.

Stewart: Yes, and I was very intrigued by that because I think that gets us closer to the whole notion of an e-commercial. But it's when you start developing for the medium, and not just taking a current 30-second commercial and reducing it to 10 or 15 seconds, but really incorporating it and building an e-commercial that takes the techniques of the Internet in terms of creating a dialog and measurability. I think there's another level of e-commercial that's coming, and companies such as Unicast and Eyewonder who are bringing these emerging technologies will allow the creative agencies to take the banner to the next level.

Age targeting on social networks is like sitting in a room with the lights out and everyone telling you who they are. You can determine some things, but the truth is often something else. So what do you do?

First, let's get one thing straight. Right now, when you talk about social network advertising, you are talking about MySpace. (eMarketer estimates that more than 64 percent of social network advertising in 2006 -- about $180 Million -- will have been done on MySpace.) Not all social networking sites are created equal, and the audiences on each of them are notoriously fickle and jaded to advertising. Their ad formats, and ways of reaching their audiences, all have to be leveraged somewhat differently.

That's the problem, and that's why I call bull$#@! on it. The industry has sprung up so fast with so many variants and so much funding that calling your site a social networking site has become the Web 2.0 version of the Web 1.0 "We're a portal."

I was speaking to someone at an industry event not too long ago. They had just gotten into the industry, and they were going on and on about their advertising on MySpace. "It's so great. I can do age targeting!" Ah, such youthful enthusiasm. I was jealous in a way.
I paused and asked. "So, how is the age data gathered? Is it user-supplied data? Individuals who are inputting their own age? If so... how many are 16-year-olds saying they are 21? Boys between the ages of 12 and 16 that have their age set to 69? 35-year-olds saying they are 28? Get the idea?
That type of obfuscation is germane to the internet, but you can infer something from it. By age targeting a specific demo, are we ignoring those who are more tech-savvy and influential, not wanting to reveal their age, and setting it to 99? Or can we construct a program for targeting everyone who says they are 69 with a product that appeals to adolescent boys? Think. How can you adapt your marketing to take advantage of how consumers are gaming the systems, and therefore make your message more meaningful?

The internet is the haven for subterfuge. It is not the sites' faults; but if you are going to be advertising on these sites, pay attention. Step back; question. See how people actually use these sites to figure how you can incorporate yourself. Just speaking "at" this audience with display advertising will not engage them.

What's your MySpace age?
Can you speak to their alternate self-- who they aspire to be instead of who they are? What is the social connecting point between them, the site and their friends? Is your product relevant to that experience, or is there a way you can make it be? Those questions are not just nice things to ask, they are crucial, for they determine how, and if, you can engage someone in your brand.

A new friend
"X-Men 3" was an example of that success on MySpace. The profile ended up with more than three million friends, and more than 7,000 user postings on the "X-Men" profile page. Almost 20 percent of those attending the film had indicated that they heard about it through MySpace. It didn't matter that the film was a typical third-sequel disaster.

Media view entrenchment within social networks
I spoke last year about what I believe is a serious societal issue that we are contributing to. Because the internet is not based on geography, we are all not forced to listen to opposing viewpoints. People are naturally gravitate to social situations, finding those pockets of like mindedness that make them feel comfortable. It’s a natural flocking instinct, but now, unbound from the normal physical constraints, it is causing people to live in media isolation bubbles that prevent their understanding those with opposing viewpoints. Everyone they know is like this, so why would you think that?

The smaller the niche, the more tightly bound that group is. Never has this been more evident than with social networking sites, where within the sites, micro-communities and clichés further splinter and become more entrenched.

This creates problems for advertisers and marketers in the age of mass reach. Often, the mass message is no longer appropriate. Merely smoothing over aspects that could offend certain groups may cause a cascade effect. In other words, by making your ad appeal to everyone, it appeals to no one. Be cognizant when going social, and do not seek to appeal to everyone.

Do not point to other people's campaign successes on those sites, copy them, and then question why yours failed. Look to your product, your brand and your consumer. What does your brand aspire to be, and will they believe it?

Be accessible
There's something inescapably cool about regular people asking the CEO of Ford Motor Company questions on the internet. But if the conversation were in a Ford-sponsored chatroom or run through a traditional online publisher, a lot of people would likely doubt the veracity of the event, speculating that Ford had somehow made certain that all questions were pre-approved. But when Ford CEO Alan Mulally jumped on the company's Twitter account, Ford followers got genuine access to a man in a position to answer their questions about the brand, says Scott Monty, who oversees the car company's Twitter profile, which spreads across several accounts.

When asked about the best thing that has come from Ford's numerous Twitter accounts, Monty cited access above all else.

"People have seen that they have direct access to executives within Ford," Monty explains. "[When] I asked Alan Mulally to take some questions on Twitter during a media day, he happily participated and answered five questions in quick succession. People were thrilled that they got to have direct access to the CEO and were impressed with his candid answers."

One of those people was Jessica Gottlieb, a Los Angeles woman, who says she now thinks more of the brand because she's been able to hear from the company's executives directly. And while Gottlieb may not run out and buy a Ford car tomorrow, she says she will look at Ford (something she hasn't done for past purchases) because both Mulally and Monty took the time to engage on behalf of the brand.

Talk, listen, or both?
Ecommerce retailer Zappos has reached legendary proportions on Twitter. But for Zappos, it's not about tweeting a branded message endlessly. In fact, more often than not, it's about hearing what hundreds of thousands of people have to say about the brand.  

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, one of the first major CEOs to tweet, is noted for engaging with followers, but Brian Kalma, who manages the day-to-day Twitter activities for the company, says customer feedback has been the No. 1 benefit for the brand.

"[Twitter has] become a massive feedback mechanism where we can hear peoples' thoughts on site improvements, what we are doing well, what we are not doing well enough," Kalma says. "We can aggregate the feedback and turn it into actionable items for improvements."

Kalma cautions, however, that feedback is only the result of genuine engagement, because if the brand can't have a real conversation with its followers, the followers aren't likely to tell the brand what they think. 

Of course, what people think might not always be positive. Take this recent example from TDS Telecommunications, which used Twitter to address a serious service outage.

When a TDS phone exchange went down in Milwaukee, Wis., the company used its Twitter account to update customers on the situation.

According to DeAnne Boegli, national public relations manager for TDS, the outage may not have pleased customers, but they "loved" the company's response, which garnered the brand 100 additional followers the next day.


But don't be so serious all the time
But where some interactions are serious, others trend toward silly.

Consider Dunkn' Dave, who helms the Dunkin' Donuts Twitter account.

While a donut outage may be cause for alarm (especially in the Northeast), that eventuality (thankfully) has yet to occur. So what does Dunkn' Dave tweet about with the company's 10,000 followers?

Donuts. It's just that simple.

"[Using Twitter] we've found what we've always known to be true: our customers are extremely passionate about the brand and love Dunkin' Donuts," says Michelle King, director of global public relations for Dunkin' Brands. "We love the real-time feedback. Recently, Dunkin' Dave, sent out a tweet asking our followers about their favorite donuts. We got a lot of responses, and watching them flood in was exciting. When Dave has some time, he's going to sort through the answers and announce Twitter's favorite Dunkin' Donut."

While that announcement will likely boost sales, that's not the real point of the account. King says the primary goal of the account is to acknowledge the customers for their contribution to the brand.

For DEI Worldwide, the agency that handles Kraft's Twitter initiatives for its Philadelphia Cream Cheese, the customer's passion for the brand is critical, but equally important is the fact that the brand is able to engage the customer on their own terms.

According to Tyler Starrine, VP of campaign development at DEI Worldwide, Kraft's presence on Twitter serves a multitude of functions, from advertising, to customer service, to PR. But at their core, each function is about letting people connect to the brand, and each other, through a network that is essentially for, and promulgated by, people who love cream cheese.

Of course, with donuts and cream cheese, it's kind of hard to have a dissatisfied customer, which is why brands like Texas Instruments are using Twitter to give customers an extra level of support that wouldn't be possible through a standard call center.

According to a company spokeswoman, Texas Instruments has begun letting various members of its engineering team field questions from the general public via Twitter, and in many cases, that has led to product support from people who actually designed the device in question.

The result has been a kind of two-way street. For customers using Texas Instruments' more complicated products, the customer service has been greatly improved. But for the company’s engineering team, Twitter exchanges have led to insights into how people use the products they make.

Be helpful
If there's a common denominator to any successful brand profile on Twitter it's this: helpfulness. While helpfulness can take on different forms, the key component is answering specific questions or concerns posed by the larger community about your brand.

That's something that Jennifer Cisney, Kodak's chief blogger, does everyday. According to Cisney, each day of twittering features the usual dose of disseminating cool photography sites, highlighting interesting pictures online (hopefully shot on Kodak equipment), and talking generally about photography. But it's that last one, talking, that Cisney sees as the most important, because she's doubtless being followed by avid photographers (professional and amateur) and all of them love to talk shop.

For Cisney, that passion is an opening that allows her to position Kodak's brand into conversations about photography at a time when the industry is changing so quickly because of digital cameras.

"It amazes me that I am in contact everyday with people that use, or are curious about, our products," Cisney explains. "One huge example is the conversation about the Kodak Zi6 HD Video camera that occurs on Twitter. So many people were asking the Twitterverse questions about the Zi6, and I am able to give them the lowdown. I have lost count how many people decided to go with the Zi6 after that."

But that wasn't a sale pitch, Cisney says. In fact, she doesn't advise any brand to tweet in a sale-oriented way. Instead, Cisney says, "Be real and be yourself. Just write like you would talk with a next-door neighbor. You don't want to be pushy or salesy. Be helpful and honest. That's the best policy."

So does that make Twitter the ultimate conversational marketing tool? Perhaps. But like any tool, it's only as good as the user, and the brands that are making the most out of Twitter are the ones that have designated a person or team to engage with users in a casual and frank way. That's what makes the conversation happen.

Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.

9. Encourage your fans to share content
Fans' sharing content with their friends is a great way to gain new fans. But it's also a way to strengthen your relationship with existing fans. By asking fans to share content, you make them a partner in your Facebook fan community. This partnership increases loyalty. Only a small percentage of your fans will share without some form of an incentive. However, for pages with hundreds of thousands of fans, a small percentage of sharing can equal a sizeable volume of awareness and increased loyalty. Incent when you can, but encourage fans to share regardless.
10. Stay on top of the competition
You should "like" your competitors' Facebook pages. You should be visiting their pages weekly. Look at how they are interacting with their fans and how their fans are interacting with them. Become part of the complete fan experience so you can see exactly how to make it better for your customers. Rest assured your competitors are doing the same with your page.

11. Advertise to fans who are also fans of your competitors
Facebook's ad platform will allow you to target fans of your page, as well as of your competitors. The goal here is not to steal new fans from your competitors; it's to maintain a stronger connection with your fans than your competitors are forging. If they are fans of both pages, it's important that you stand out. Before you advertise, consider your message, CTA, and the destination that your fans will land on. Test and refine your ads to maximize the impact. The cost here is fairly minimal, especially if you are buying ads on a CPC basis.

12. Advertise to your fans on their birthday
Facebook's ad platform will also enable you to target ads to fans on their birthdays. What better way to inspire fan loyalty than wishing them a personalized message on their special day? Here also, the cost should be fairly low, as you are only advertising to those fans having a birthday on the day(s) your ad runs. With the CPC option, you only pay for those fans that click on the ad. The clicks should go to a custom landing tab or an external page with a birthday greeting.

13. Ask your fans to contribute
From product/service feedback to photo contests and more, your fans are eager to give their opinions and personally express themselves through your brand. By asking your fans for opinions and opening up the community for fan-generated content, you turn the fan into a character in your brand's story. Something as simple as asking your fans for suggestions on how to make the fan experience better for them can go a long way in creating loyalty.

14. Give fans inside access, exclusive content, and special deals
Giving your fans a VIP Facebook experience is a must, especially in highly competitive industries. Again, your competitors are vying for your fans' attention, and so it's important that they feel rewarded for being a fan of your page vs. "the other guys" Push exclusive content, breaking news, and special deals to your fans often. You will find them interacting with these exclusives at a higher rate, all the while strengthening your connection to them.

15. Use page insights to measure page traffic and interaction
While wall insights will give you a sense of the reach of your wall posts, page insights will tell you how that reach translates to engagement. In addition to the demographic information I referenced earlier, page insights will tell you what types of content are the most popular as well as provide insights into what types of interaction you are getting from your fans. You can also measure the traffic to your page and overall activity. This data is absolutely critical in your efforts to optimize overall engagement. The more engaged, the more likely that fan is to stay by your side.

Building an effective and scalable Facebook marketing channel is more than acquiring fans. It requires time, experimentation, and a focus on metrics to turn a new fan into an active and loyal one. You've likely spent a fair amount of time and money in getting your customers to "like" you. By implementing some of the strategies above, they will come to "love" you.

Scott Meldrum is chief pollin8or at Pollin8.

On Twitter? Follow Scott at @ScottMeldrum. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


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