As many of you know, I used to work for Saab Automobile. I worked in the Marketing Division with some responsibility for the company’s social media presence. I say ‘some’ responsibility because I worked with another guy in this area. He had more responsibility for what you’d call the broader social campaigns such as Facebook and Twitter. My main responsibility was content creation and the running of the Inside Saab website (which, I’m pleased to say, is still online).
I was rapt to be working for Saab and I’m sad that that ride had to come to an end. And whilst I believed in what I was doing – the Saabs United experience had proved to me the power of real fan engagement – I did sometimes wonder whether the social media experiment had enough stickability to deliver tangible results.
It’s all well and good to put stuff out there. It’s even better if it gets views and engages some people. But does it influence buyer behaviour and can that influence be measured?
Case in point: The Ford Falcon
Earlier this year, Ford introduced a 4-cylinder version of it’s large car here in Australia, the Falcon. The Ford Falcon is an icon here. Traditionally it had either a six or eight cylinder engine. Ford Falcon V8s are still raced today in Australia’s most popular racing series, the V8 Supercars.
The 4-cylinder Falcon features a turbocharged Ecoboost engine and sprints from 0-100km/h in the same time as the traditional six cylinder. It’s a large car, reasonably well equipped (less equipment in the 4-cyl version) and seats 5 adults in comfort.
By all reports, it’s a good car to drive and the power comparisons with the 6-cyl model speak for themselves.
The trouble: no-one’s buying it.
The Ford Falcon used to be one of the top selling vehicles in the country. Now it’s not even in the top 20 and the significantly more economical 4-cylinder version has done nothing to arrest the sales slide from large family cars to either small cars or SUV’s.
In a story on the Falcon yesterday, Ford Australia’s Neil McDonald talked about the advertising campaign, including the following Youtube clip, being a success.
He measured the success in terms of the video having had 380,000 views on Youtube.
Unfortunately, that ‘success’ hasn’t translated into customer interest. The 4-cylinder Falcon has only found 53 private buyers here in Australia. In contrast, 159 of them have been sold to Ford Aus employees.
General Motors and Facebook
Earlier this year, General Motors announced that they were stopping their spend on Facebook advertising. Here’s what I wrote back then:
I’ve never been a huge fan of Facebook in general. I understand and agree that it’s a valuable tool that companies can use to reach their customers, however I’ve always questioned the depth of that contact.
Social Media practitioners love to talk about their success. They’ll produce all sorts of graphs about buzz, about likes, about comments, and there’ll be trends and comparisons to back it all up. That’s all well and good, but what does it mean in terms of actual customer relationship?
I worked in social media at Saab but I’m not convinced of the value in social media for companies producing long-term durable goods such as automobiles. These goods take a long time for people to buy and most of those people tend to own them for a long time.
Social media works great for small-value impulse purchases. Skittles, M&M’s, bookstores and all sorts of other low-cost product makers can have a good impact on sales because their customers aren’t thinking for a long time about their purchases.
There’s a relatively old saying when it comes to web publishing – content is king. Yeah, the videos are great and you can do a campaign that gets people talking around the water cooler on a Monday morning. But what counts in a high-value purchase such as cars is relationship.
If you want to build relationship with your customers, you’ve got to offer them more meat, and less ‘fluff’. If you want to connect with them in a long-term sense – which is the only sense worthwhile in the car business – you’ve got to treat them as adults. Respect their intelligence and have a conversation that’s worth having.
You’ve got to include all your brand values in that social space, not just shorts that pop into someone’s inbox but do little else.
Porsche, Alfa Romeo
Two companies that I tend to follow are Porsche and Alfa Romeo. Both are brands I admire and aspire to own (one of them, an Alfa GTV6, is already in my garage).
One of them is doing a great job with social and one of them isn’t.
Porsche have spent a lot of money on the social space and are reaping rewards from it. They have an army of Facebook followers but more impressive, to me, is the Porsche Youtube presence. Porsche produce a phenomenal amount of video content and the impressive thing about that is that it’s not all new-product oriented. They produce video about subjects their fan base are interested in, especially racing. The Porsche Youtube channel has 580 videos and has had 24 million views and because they vary the content between new products and Porsche culture, I see it as a brand success for them. Porsche’s range, and sales, continue to grow, too, even through the GFC of the last few years.
Porsche’s social strategy is centralised, focused and promotes what is already a powerful, aspirational brand in a professional way to all corners of the globe.
Alfa Romeo, on the other hand, seem quite haphazard in their social organisation. They have an official Facebook presence, but there are also Facebook pages for Alfa Romeo UK, the Alfa 4C, the Alfa 159 and others.
Go to Youtube and it’s even more confusing. There’s Alfa Romeo Japan, Alfa Romeo UK, Alfa Giulietta, Alfa Mitoblog. The actual official Alfa Romeo Youtube Channel hasn’t had a video loaded to it for five years.
It’s a dog’s breakfast and as an owner and massive fan of the brand, it’s very sad to say that the haphazard nature of Alfa’s social presence seems to reflect the haphazard state of the brand itself at the moment.
So does social media help?
I think social media can help car companies but right now, there aren’t many of them using it the right way.
The internet is a great way to reach out to customers but it has to be meaningful. You’re selling a product that is bought for many different reasons. Some of those reasons, for some people, are quite mundane. For others, automotive brands are a passionate issue and in order to reach those people you have to a) be easy to find, and b) give people a reason to maintain contact by providing them with real, meaningful content.
You can’t just do a viral video with two frogs and expect to draw people in. By the time the laugh is over, they’ve moved on and it’s quite possible they’re conversing with your competitor because over there, they’ve got a channel to have a conversation and direction that makes it meaningful.
Car companies should take a long-term view of social media and use it not as a hook to catch new customers, but as a lure to engage their interest over a prolonged period of time.