Coming off its best year ever in U.S. sales, Subaru of America Inc. is riding on the uniqueness of an all 4-wheel-drive lineup that steers clear of the truck-based SUV, industry sales of which have begun to slow. So when it launched its B9 Tribeca last year which may look like a mid-sized SUV but is based on a car platformSubaru wanted to pull out all the stops in measuring the Tribeca’s ability to generate interest among shoppers, vice president of marketing Rick Crosson says.
Subaru rolled out its “Dust in the Wind” TV commercial to push the message that the Tribeca is a new kind of SUV that leaves older models crumbling behind it. But to find out how well the commercial as well as other marketing efforts were enticing consumers, Subaru turned to the web, which has become the most important arena for quickly analyzing consumer interest in automobiles, Crosson says. “Car shoppers now are more likely to be on the web than anywhere, even a dealership,” he says.
Using such information compiled in reports by market research providers Gfk and Compete Inc., Subaru can see within two days of launching a product or marketing campaign how online shoppers are responding, Crosson says.
“Auto dealers struggle with understanding what’s happening with the shopping process on a timely basis,” Crosson says. “Historically, they’ve relied on polls and customer registrations, but that’s like looking into a rearview mirror for information. By the time you get the data, it’s too late.”
Compete, working with several ISPs, tracks thousands of anonymous online consumersmost identified by age, city and income levelfor the clickstream behavior across 25 automotive-related web sites. In cases where income levels are not provided as part of ISP registrations, Compete can often estimate income levels of monitoring the types of other sites consumers also frequent, such as investment and other financial related sites, says Lincoln Merrihew, managing director of Compete’s Automotive Practice. Gfk, a research firm based in Germany, provides more consumer shopping behavior data in greater depth but across fewer sites, Crosson says.
Using its web data, Subaru decided to extend its Tribeca TV commercial for a week, a move that helped to continue sales momentum, Crosson says. Getting a handle on consumer preferences is still more art that science, he admits, but the specific data he gets from the web increases Subaru’s confidence in managing its high-priced national TV campaigns as well as other marketing efforts. “At least now we know which way the wind is blowing,” he says.