October 12, 2011, 9:01 AM

Mobile Commerce Forum Report: FordDirect uses texts to drive leads

The automaker uses the popular mobile tool to obtain four key pieces of information.

Bill Siwicki

Managing Editor, Mobile Commerce

Lead Photo

Susan Blue

A Dallas Ford dealership decided to ride the popularity of text messaging by launching a text-to-win contest. Dallas Cowboys fans texted a keyword to a short code for a chance to win upgraded seats at the stadium. The contest resulted in 5,000 phone numbers, leads for the dealership.

But were they leads? The devil is in the details, said Susan Blue, director of product strategy, FordDirect, and a featured speaker at the Internet Retailer Mobile Commerce Forum today in Houston.

“Having a list of 5,000 cell phone numbers might show you these consumers wanted upgraded seats, but it doesn’t say if they are in the market for a car or truck,” Blue said. “Just because you can use a technology, that technology should not be your strategy. You need to keep the technology in line with what you’re doing in your overall business strategy. Ours is to drive in-market consumers to Ford dealers to sell more cars and trucks.”

And that’s what FordDirect did when it launched its text messaging initiative. It placed a short code in Ford advertisements, asking consumers to text the name of the vehicle in which they were interested. FordDirect then texted back asking for the consumer’s ZIP code so it could send a local offer. Finally Ford asked if the consumer wanted to talk with a dealership, and, if so, to text his name.

“At this point through the text technology we have their name, vehicle, ZIP code and phone number—these four pieces of information were given to us through the consumer, in the market for a vehicle,” Blue said. “Those four pieces of information together are a lead, and we used our back-end lead system to pass that information to a local dealer and then have that local dealer talk with the consumer via phone or text.”

To conclude the text conversation, FordDirect sent a thank-you text, adding that a dealer would be in touch soon. It included an option for consumers who did not want to wait, linking them to a mobile-optimized Ford web site where they could continue shopping.

The conversion rate from text message leads was 18%, far above the 7% conversion rate for other leads, Blue said.

FordDirect subsequently worked with Ford’s advertising agency to place 10 short code keywords on commercials airing on 10 cable TV channels. Viewers could send a text asking for more information. This enabled the agency to track which channels were most conducive to Ford advertisements.

“With all of the money Ford is spending in TV marketing, knowing where their consumers are will help them optimize their media spends,” Blue explained. “In addition, we offered the ability for consumers to link to mobile-optimized sites. So through this we also drove traffic to mobile sites so consumers understand we do have mobile sites, so it’s easy to get directions and look at local inventory.”

Making these mobile tools available is important, she added, because an increasing number of consumers are turning to mobile technology.

“Mobile drives our business forward,” she said. “It might not necessarily be in buying a car from your phone, but as comparison shopping by phone increases it is very important we provide the tools consumers need to help them during their shopping process.”

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