Car and Driver/Road and Track Learn New Driving Skills

by , Aug 11, 2006, 4:00 PM
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Ad inventory for the automotive sector is getting harder and harder to come by, and so sites are drilling deeper to make everything they have more valuable. Venerable auto brands CarandDriver.com and RoadandTrack.com start deploying behavioral targeting solutions in the coming weeks, hoping to serve original equipment manufacturers who are hungry for ever more targeted inventory. Robert Ames, vice president--online marketing for Hachette Filipacchi Media, U.S., says that his sites may be relatively small compared to auto info hubs Kelley Blue Book (http://www.kbb.com) and Edmunds.com, but he is getting buyers at just the point when a brand message can get an OEM into their consideration set.

Behavioral Insider: Explain the scope of this BT deployment. Are you simply part of a behavioral network, or are you working mainly within your own site?

Ames:  We're trying to focus on behaviors within our Web sites, like if someone comes to CarandDriver.com and reads an article about a mini-van, and then they perhaps leave and come back again or read a second article about a different mini-van. This, in our opinion, is someone most likely in-market to buy a mini-van. Well today, we sell advertising to manufacturers on product pages that are specifically about a particular make and model. So Honda buys from us inventory on their mini-van page, as do other OEMs. What we're not selling as much of, or are selling at lower pricing, are other areas of our Web site. Up to this point we haven't been able to tie those pages to particular behaviors. That same mini-van reader might stop reading the article and go to our news section or go in our forums area. We believe that they are still very much in-market and very much shopping for min-vans. They are just looking for information in other areas.

But we believe BT will allows us to identify behaviors of visitors to our site and then track those visitors in other areas and price advertising at a more premium CPM. We might even be able to change pricing according to intensity of behaviors. Someone who reads four articles on mini-vans versus two articles might be worth more because we might consider them a more serious shopper,.

BI: Have you been experiencing requests for BT from agencies or clients?

Ames: We have had direct requests from the OEM manufacturers to offer them new ways of reaching in-market consumers. The auto community of sites is largely sold-out when it comes to articles related to any individual makes and models. We're looking for ways to expand our inventory One of the things that we're doing that is different from others using BT is, [it's] on a much smaller scale. But we think it's a much more concentrated and focused effort that will result in much higher response rates.

BI: What sort of campaigns are you envisioning?

Ames: We think we can use BT to deliver something of value to marketing partners. This is going to allow them to reach people that perhaps they haven't been reaching with as targeted a message as they now may be able to deliver. Instead of running a generic ad that a manufacturer may have for min-vans, they might run a very different ad if they know someone has read three or four articles about min-vans. They know that person has done more research, and they might want to tailor their communication to a more personal level.

BI: Do you think they will? Are the advertisers really ready to invest in that kind of granular creative?

Ames: We are starting to see that sort of investment. If you were to interview all the major OEMs' agencies, you would see them ramping up, because I believe they are finding that if they have their message [that well targeted], their cost of acquisition goes way down and their effectiveness goes way up. I think they will become granular.

BI: Do you foresee scenarios where clients are buying across run-of-site, contextual and behavioral?

Ames: They will definitely buy two or all three depending on their objectives. If you have an article that is related to a manufacturer's product, it is in the manufacturer's best interest to have the message on the same page. If there is an article in the same category of product as the manufacturers; I think it is effective for them to conquest within the category. If you are on an article that is not product-specific, like forums, news, insurance information, but you know the behaviors [of that reader] it may still make a lot of sense to give them a product-specific ad.

BI: Do you know where readers are in the purchase funnel by the kinds of content they consume on the site?

Ames: The research we have today is at a very general level. We can make assumptions, but I think we're going to find from our behavioral information that those assumptions may be incorrect. For instance, manufacturers often say today that the forums are only for enthusiasts, and they are not the ones buying their cars today. We may find that is completely false, that people go to the forums to hear what other people are saying about given product categories. I think it is great tool for us.

BI: Where in the funnel are car buyers when they come to your sites, vs. the general auto information destinations?

Ames: They are in a very different place Seventy percent say they are in-market to buy a car in the next six months and the majority in the next 60 days. They say they are just beginning the process and learning what is available in the market.

We think that puts us in a unique position, because we get consumers before they have narrowed down their consideration lists, before they have determined what they will go out to test drive. That makes then very receptive to branding campaigns to end up on consideration lists. When we ask why they go to competitor sites, they say they will go to Kelley's to get their trade-in value. They go to Edmunds for pricing information. We believe they got to those places at the end of the funnel, after they've made their purchase decision.

BI: What granularity of segments becomes possible when you apply BT to a site where the users are already prequalified in a category?

Ames: Categories of vehicles: mini-vans, sport cars, domestic, imports. People who have read multiple articles about the same manufacturer. Someone who may be very Honda-centric or Saab-centric. Particular models, somebody who has read multiple articles about a Corvette. People who exhibited behavior within specified time periods, who read article within a week or month or six months. This is so new for us that I don't know how it will really play out

BI: Auto marketers are so sophisticated. Do you find that they need less education when it comes to BT?

Ames: Yes and no. Our endemic advertisers, the auto OEMs, have more knowledge and invest more time in understanding their product and categories than just about everyone else I have ever seen. That said, I think their experience with BT is more network-oriented. We will have more of an education project in having them see the advantage of doing something on a much smaller scale on an individual Web site.

BI: Do you think you have the inventory to support BT segmentation so that the slices are worth reaching?

Ames: It is relatively small in comparison to all the other in-market auto sites. I think there is tremendous value in someone who takes action. If you ask the OEMs what they spend in total marketing per car sold, it's huge. If you can get someone early on in the process and convert them--even if it's a small number at relatively low cost--you will buy as many as you can get.





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