TPG's Christiano Discusses Data And Analytics As Toyota Addresses The Auto Intender

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TPGAutumn Christiano works as Director of Analytics for The Portal Group (TPG), a boutique consultancy. Among other companies, TPG services Toyota and Toyota Motor Sales within three main categories as it relates to website strategy: technical, project management and analytics.

Christiano spoke about her company and data-driven marketing with AdExchanger at the recent Adobe Digital Marketing Summit.

AdExchanger: In terms of the personalization that you've been trying to accomplish with the Toyota websites, what are some of the hurdles that you've encountered?

AC: One of the main things that's been a struggle for the agencies, business units, and ourselves is to answer questions such as, “How much and what types of content do we need? Are we trying to personalize every individual piece of this person's experience? What's going to make the most sense?” It has been a tricky because the variations are endless.

You're obviously not going to be able to tailor every single experience to that exact person. But for a group of people that look similar, you can do something much more easily.

For us, it's about starting out with baby steps and then working towards the larger goal.

In general, what are the objectives?

It’s about communicating with our consumer in a manner that is going to have them appreciate our brand and look at purchasing a vehicle. And then, it's about retaining them. You never stop trying to know your customer and develop that relationship with them - whether it's in our social media channels, our owner site, or on our regional offer site, BuyaToyota.com or toyota.com.

It's linking the experiences together and keeping that relationship and conversation flowing.

A question that seems to be out there is around brand metrics and what you use to understand how the brand is doing.  Have any silver bullets?

There aren't silver bullets, but it's pretty similar for most people in the marketing industry. You have to use a few different things. And now, with social media, there's sentiment.   And then, it’s exposure to the brand such as, “We have three commercials running during the Super Bowl. What kind of impact does it have?”

So, we piece it together and look at the whole thing to determine the impact from different silos where - Nielsen will tell you something, so will listening tools, your Web analytics will tell you something and so on. Unless you're looking at it holistically, it's not exactly the most useful.

How involved do you get in the marketing tactics that happen outside of the personalization of the website?

My team is frequently asked for their recommendations. Whenever we provide reporting to the business units, that's one of the things we provide. And they take those recommendations back to the agencies to continue optimizing, whether it's a campaign, or it's a page on the website, or it's a banner ad.

Do you feel like you're positively able to effect campaigns with the use of first party data? And, is third party data important?

We use third-party data as an indicator and to look at competitive data. All automotive OEMs use it - it's pretty standard. But it's not the driver. It's always your first party data that are going to be the key indicators in what you're going to use to make some decisions.

Are you ever thinking on behalf of your clients, "We need an end-to-end solution. We need a marketing stack." Or is it more about a la carte?

For smaller companies, an end-to-end solution is probably easier for them. For larger companies like TMS, a lot is already in place. And it’s not easy for them to just rip out everything and go with an end-to-end solution.

The other thing is a lot of the automotive OEMs get reluctant to put all their eggs in one basket. We use a lot of Adobe products and are happy with them. But, I don't know that we would ever use an end-to-end solution all in one company. We already have other tools in place that we use. I don't think we would be quick to just rip them out and implement something else.

The concept is good. But then, you still have the potential of… "What if I need to find something a little better over here? I can't slot it in."

What would you say is peculiar about the automotive industry as it relates to marketing or digital marketing?

It's definitely a different purchase cycle. It's a very expensive purchase and, therefore, there’s a lot of consideration. It's a long‑term consideration. That is one of the things that makes it a lot different from the retail space or anything else. It's lead generating. You're cultivating this person and get them to learn about the car, request a quote, or interact with the dealer. The entire purchase cycle for automotive is its own animal.

In that it is potentially five, six years between a car purchase, are there tools out there to help you tie that marketing program together year to year? Are there effective attribution models out there right now?

We're exploring some of them right now and not using any specific tool. We're using a few different things in some of our partner agencies, especially on the direct side, customer database and building out those models. But, since digital has gotten so huge and a big part of the experience, the way people are researching vehicles is so different than the way it was previously. Because there's so much more data!

[The consumer] is not looking at just one channel. They’re not just going to your automotive OEM website and research a car. There's so much more data available and you can even purchase cars through Overstock. Strategy has changed a lot as has retention strategy, and that's what we've been steadily working towards.

Finally, where does the agency fit today in what you do?

Things are a lot different than it used to be. Prior to working with The Portal Group, I worked at the Designery, which is an interactive agency that supported Nissan and Infiniti. They were an interactive agency of record along with Chiat-Day. Because the traditional agencies haven't fully developed the capability to support the digital space, they are very traditional and try to add things in, or hire a small team. Or they'll outsource the digital work.

The need for digital agencies is rising to the top, since marketing is shifting. A lot more is going to digital and pulling away from traditional marketing.

The agencies that have very strong digital capabilities are the ones to look out for in terms of the traditional agencies. Larger companies, like TMS, are looking for the experts in specific fields.

By John Ebbert

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