Cadillac CMO Melissa Grady On Marketing Lessons Learned In Quarantine

Cadillac was teed up for an exciting 2020. The company has a fleet of new vehicles, including a new Sedan line and a new Escalade, which debuted in February as part of a campaign with the Oscars.

A few weeks later and, well, you know the story.

But Cadillac isn’t doom and gloom about its prospects.

The company has seen “pent up demand” for transportation, said Cadillac CMO Melissa Grady. The coronavirus crisis has also opened up new opportunities to engage with car owners, she said, such as people using onboard WiFi for work when they don’t have access to an office.

Automotive advertising hasn’t returned to normal, though, of course – and it maybe never will, Grady said. The role of CMOs is to study the new consumer landscape and understand where their brand fits in now.

AdExchanger caught up with Grady.

AdExchanger: What was the response like the first month or two of the pandemic?

MELISSA GRADY: We shifted our focus to how do we, as an automotive company, react to what’s going on and what levers do we have to help people in their circumstances.

For instance, one program was extending a deal for first responders to all healthcare workers. Transportation was actually very important at that moment. I thought that it was a good idea and the right kind of thing to be doing but wouldn’t necessarily be a big sales driver. It actually did very well.

By “did very well” you mean that many healthcare workers have taken advantage and bought a car?

Exactly. The umbrella campaign was “We’ve got your back.” And it was part of other things we were doing like deferring payments and working on new financing plans.

For us, it’s about how do we fit in, in this landscape, and how do we help solve problems for people. Since the pandemic, because the cars actually have pretty good WiFi, we’ve seen a lot of people working from their car, especially when people were sheltered in place, and maybe didn’t have a place to work at home.

That’s one example of many whole new kinds of behaviors we’re seeing.

How have ad budgets fluctuated?

We advertised the whole time. But we’re definitely not at the levels we were before.

Now, we’re looking at things on a market-by-market basis. You don’t want to go out and say something tone deaf, because states are opening up at different rates and there’s different messaging.

We work closely with our China team, and they were ahead of the curve in terms of seeing behaviors during lockdown and as places opened up. Consumer behaviors aren’t going back to normal, and so there will be a shift in advertising too – but that’s going to be tracking changes that are only just happening.

Have you seen a shift to ecommerce as we’ve seen with other big brand categories, such as apparel or CPG?

There is a spike in ecommerce, certainly.

We have a program called “Shop, Click, Drive,” where you configure and locate your vehicle online, and then it hands you to a dealer who can do pickup and delivery at your house. Getting the dealers trained on the new way of doing that was something we pivoted to across the brand and was a big focus early during quarantine.

We’ve seen a huge shift to online behaviors across the board.

How so?

Well, digital metrics never went down as much as we expected. And now we’re seeing a return to market behavior in terms of shopping intent and pent-up demand. That’s largely online indicators.

The typical metrics are our own site traffic, search and leads. There are also things like our partnership with Comcast’s Effectv to create a virtual showroom opportunity. We’re seeing strong early engagement on that.

We also have our own virtual showroom product, which is a live studio where we have all of our vehicles and product specialists. Someone Zooms or Facetime calls in and they can ask questions, or see how a stroller or certain things fit. That started as a project in Canada that we expanded to the United States last year.

We had some good press last year and started seeing a lot of visits to our site. Already this year we’re five times more than the visits we had last year, just from the shift in consumer behavior.

Do you think the big uptick in online lead generation and signs of intent will lead to a similar spike in online purchases?

We’re looking and listening for what consumers want. I came from performance marketing, and this is part of a transition the company was already making to be more data-driven.

But I can’t tell you how many meetings start where people say, “The shopping journey has changed. People used to do X, people used to do Y.”

But what are people doing now? Someone told me it’s like a fingerprint: Everybody’s different now. OK, well, that’s not helpful.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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