Magazine article Marketing

Motivating the UK's Driving Force

Magazine article Marketing

Motivating the UK's Driving Force

Article excerpt

Last week's tax cut should bring a surge of business to hard-hit car makers. Louella Miles reports on how they have sharpened up their targeting during the recession

Chancellor Norman Lamont's decision to cut the final 5% of the special tax on new cars is just the tonic that manufacturers and dealers have been looking for. The extent to which it will bring the crowds flocking into the showrooms remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: their marketing of cars has changed for ever. For while the car makers were struggling with the problems of shifting metal -- vehicle sales to the unitiated -- in the worst recession in recent memory, one industry has been cleaning up. The car manufacturers were desperate to improve their skills in identifying the most likely customers. Lifestyle data providers have been on to a winner.

The tendency is to mix and match the lists which are available. As CMT CarBank account manager, John Menhinick, who works for one of the big data providers in this area, points out, differentiating between lists is tough for clients.

"Where we help car companies is to show them who owns competitive car makes," he says. "From these, they might only be interested in people with, say, a car registered in a particular year."

There are three main database companies in this area: NDL, CMT Data Corp and ICD. All have built substantial banks of information on information supplied by millions of consumers. NDL's database, for instance, includes the car make, model and year of registration of more than eight million individuals.

It allows it to define the customer profile for each model or range being promoted and identify similar prospects in a specific catchment area around each dealership.

The information is used to overlay existing data, but not all car makers are keen to discuss the use that they make of lifestyling, and keep their direct marketing agencies on a short leash, too. Ford, for example, is exceedingly cagey.

"It is one of those competitive elements that we would rather not discuss because anything we say would be taken down and used in evidence by General Motors," says PR manager David Nash.

Nevertheless Ford, like the rest of the industry, was making a determined effort at the Birmingham Motor Show to capture as many names and addresses as possible, alongside any relevant information they could pick up. Scouts were out assessing competitive data capturing techniques.

According to some, Peugeot, BMW and Renault came out top. "They asked the most pertinent questions in the most efficient way to capture the data that would be of most use," says Arni Wookey, business group director at Brann Direct, which now handles the Peugeot account. They all had personable young women, and you could see those who'd been briefed and those who hadn't."

Such activity provides a useful counterbalance to the information coming from the profiling companies. The latter fulfill a need, but some car industry cynics would award them a score of, "Should try harder".

"None of them is trying to address core issues that affect the market itself," says Wookey. "The questions they ask are too simplistic, like 'What are you driving at the moment?'.

"That is fine, and better than what has traditionally been available. But the problem is that it deals with cars they currently own. It says nothing about the models they are likely to change to. You also get inaccurate and unwanted data mixed in with the rest, like 'what do you feed your parakeet?'."

Lifestyle information does have its uses though, as long as it is viewed in perspective. There is a very important need to identify customer types among cold prospects, so it is used as a control or profiling tool.

What it doesn't do is ask the question 'Why?', as in why a customer switches from one mark to another, or why they stick with a model one year when they have traded up every year for the past six. …

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