May 28, 2014
Case Study

Content Marketing: How Freightliner Trucks' community site engages more than 18,000 members

SUMMARY: Chartering a community website can position your brand as the Beyoncé among your consumers and the Einstein within your industry. The undertaking of an entire community, along with fresh, well-managed and engaging content is enormous, and it takes more than a few blog posts to establish both a fan base and thought leadership.

Freightliner created a community website, stocked with hot content, and served it up just the way its audience wanted. Keep your foot on the gas to see the steps that were essential to driving more than 18,000 members to join the Team Run Smart community.
by Allison Banko, Reporter


When you hit the open road, there's a good chance you're sharing it with Freightliner Trucks. As the largest division of Daimler Trucks North America, Freightliner manufactures everything from those familiar 18-wheelers you zoom by on the highway to dump trucks, cranes and ambulances.

But it was under the hood of the semi-truck market segment that the Freightliner team saw the most opportunity to further a relationship with. Those truck drivers are what the industry refers to as "owner-operators," explained Mike McHorse, On-Highway Product Marketing Manager, Freightliner Trucks.

"They may have come out of a job previously as a truck driver — an employee of one of these major fleet customers — and are now moving on; on their own, owning their own equipment, their own truck," he said. "They now not only have to be truck drivers, but they have to become business owners."

On top of that, McHorse described trucking as a challenging industry, full of rules and regulations around items such as how often operators can drive and health levels that they must maintain in order to keep their commercial driver's license.

These owner-operators are a segment starving for information, and Freightliner wanted to be the source to feed them. The team had tried to do this through a website before, but without much success. It merely housed basic information on the trucking community where others could post.

"It really didn't have a purpose to help educate these individuals on becoming better at the business of trucking," McHorse explained.

Freightliner still wanted to fill the void, but this effort would be all about providing a plethora of valuable, relevant information while connecting to these owner operators in a modern way.


Freightliner partnered with American Truck Business Services (ATBS) and a marketing agency to create Team Run Smart — a Web-based social community for owner-operators and small fleet management.

The name "Team Run Smart" sprouted from Freightliner's own tagline — "Run Smart" is etched beneath the Freightliner logo, and the team felt carrying that branding over to the community would help establish brand identity.

"We know that our segment is about running smart," McHorse said. "We were able to take that and build this into a community — or a 'team' is what we wanted to call it — and minimize the amount of Freightliner branding because we want to welcome everybody, no matter what they drive, into the community."

Team Run Smart would serve as a channel where owner-operators could communicate with their peers and find industry information on how to better perform in trucking. The site would also be equipped with access to Freightliner and other industry professionals who could help manage challenges prevalent within trucking.

However, there was a small bump in the road to get Team Run Smart going. McHorse wanted to launch the site at a major trade show — the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas — which was only three months away.

"I looked at that as a great opportunity to be able to launch the site to the public, in a venue that we could have people interacting with the website at our booth and so forth," he said. "We really challenged the team, saying, 'This is when we want to launch it. Can we make that date?'"

With that, the effort to build Team Run Smart hit the road.

Step #1. Collect audience research

Freightliner partnered with ATBS to build Team Run Smart due to the fact that ATBS is "100% involved in the industry all of the time," explained Mary Aufdemberg, Director of Product Marketing, Freightliner Trucks.

For years, ATBS has distributed monthly surveys to truck drivers to discover items such as how truckers use devices and interact with the Internet. So when Freightliner got moving on the project, ATBS already had loads of information on its audience.

Because the team was on such a tight cycle of development to build Team Run Smart, they needed to quickly ensure that the community would meet the market need. In addition to pulling from existing research, ATBS reached out to several thousand truckers with a 50-question survey containing questions about how they like to consume and interact with content.

The team recognized that the average age of their audience was more than 50 years old and because these owner-operators are running an extremely mobile business out of their trucks, Team Run Smart's content had to be made available in a mobile format.

"In the general population, that age group is not the [set] who adapts to this mobile technology very quickly, but we found just the opposite in this industry," McHorse explained. "Because these folks are gone away from their families for so long, they really don't have any way to connect with them other than through these mobile devices."

The research showed that not only did owner-operators desire to consume content on a mobile device, but they wanted to be reminded that it was even out there. Weekly newsletters and other offers would help drivers remember to look at the content.

Findings from the survey also illustrated that drivers like to not only read articles, but have the ability to interact with the content and its editor itself, such as comment sections. These folks also expressed they enjoy video content as a way to get their information.

Step #2. Develop content pillars to shape site structure

Because ATBS’ core business encompasses bookkeeping and tax preparation services for the owner-operators set, this company's expertise helped shape the categories of content that Team Run Smart would provide.

"They actually have contact with the pulse of the market every day on why these individuals fail in the business," McHorse explained. "They were able to help us identify the core areas of information we needed to provide these drivers in order to be successful."

From this, the team developed four pillars that would categorize Team Run Smart's content.

Pillar #1. Truck Smart

Truck Smart content emphasizes how owner-operators can better maintain their trucks and equipment. McHorse explained that one of the worst things that can happen for these folks is a truck service issue.

"It goes out of service and they might not be able to haul a load for a day or two," he said. "That just in and of itself could turn into a major financial situation that would affect their business. So we give tips in that area."

Examples of content in Truck Smart include "Preparing Your Truck for Summer Driving" and "Things to Consider When Buying Batteries."

Pillar #2. Fuel Smart

When fueling up at the gas pump, most of us are quick to move past the most expensive nozzle. However, truckers have no choice but to punch the diesel button. According to McHorse, truck drivers pay 30% more for gas and with gas guzzlers that get around five miles per gallon, they accumulate an annual $75,000 in fueling costs.

Fuel Smart is all about educating owner-operators on proper driving tips to improve their fuel economy whether it involves adding features to their existing trucks or tips on future more fuel-efficient truck options.

Pillar #3. Business Smart

Now that these owner-operators aren't just company truck drivers anymore, they have to learn how to run their own businesses.

"They have to know all these things about bookkeeping, tax preparation, regulations and all of those things that they really don't have a good feel for or know where to get the information," McHorse explained.

But on Team Run Smart, they can now access this information under the Business Smart pillar. Recent content includes "Maximizing the Travel Deduction," "Traits of a Successful Business Owner" and "Owner-Operator Incorporation Webinar."

Pillar #4. Health Smart

Trucking is a challenging industry given that drivers have to be seated 10-12 hours daily, only broken up by truck stops that are usually swimming in unhealthy food. For truckers, it's a constant challenge to live a healthy life.

"You can maintain your truck and keep it on the road, but you have to maintain your body, too," McHorse said. "Because if you have a sick day, or a couple of sick days, and you can't generate revenue, that might be just enough to cause you to be out of business."

The Health Smart pillar houses content on how owner-operators can live more healthily including recent headlines such as "Get Your Back in Gear," "Top 8 Truck Driver Get-Healthy Apps" and "Grape Juice Made in the Truck."

Step #3. Source content creators

Team Run Smart needed to find contributors to construct the foundation of those content pillars. While ATBS heads the management of the community's content, Freightliner reached out to contributors in different industries to source specific areas of information. For example, Michelin Tires contributes articles related to tire wear and maintenance.

The community also boasts Team Run Smart Pros — "real drivers with real advice."

McHorse explained that choosing the five Pros was an extremely selective process. The team wanted to ensure that the Pros:
  • Were already successful in the business

  • Had good communications skills

  • Had the ability to post blogs at a level that resonated with the audience

  • Would be comfortable interacting with the audience

The team posted an application and received about 100 submissions from around the country. After sifting through those, the team reached back out to applicants for résumés and sample blogs.

The team whittled down the applicants to 20 and conducted Skype interviews. From there, Team Run Smart elected its final five Pros. Team Run Smart Pros regularly blog on industry topics focused on the good and bad parts of driver life.

Step #4. Launch and market Team Run Smart

Team Run Smart was up and running for the target deadline of the Great American Truck Show. To market to the community, the team advertised via trade shows, trade publications and email blasts.

The community also hosted the Run Smart Rewards program, which helps foster interaction and engagement. When members read, post and interact with articles, they are awarded with “mileage.” As they accumulate these virtual miles, they can redeem them for merchandise including hats, mud flaps, lunch bags and fleece blankets.

Examples of how to rack up miles include:
  • Completing your driving profile

  • Registering your truck

  • Subscribing to the newsletter

  • Registering for text messages

  • Sharing content

  • Commenting on a forum post

"It is giving those individuals a motivation to not only go in and read the content, but to contribute and get more active in it," McHorse explained.


Since Team Run Smart's rubber hit the road in August 2012, the community has attracted more than 18,000 members and the site averages about 10,000 visits and 20,000 page views per month. Team Run Smart also has more than 14,000 newsletter subscribers with a 19% email open rate.

For others looking to build an online community like Team Run Smart, the team advised to truly realize the commitment it takes to making it work.

There's plenty of people behind the scenes helping grease the gears of the site to create content, coordinate with the community and respond to readers.

Something like Team Run Smart takes major content planning and isn't simply a 15-minutes-a-day project. But above all, you must ensure you're in tune with your audience and that you're meeting the needs of the community.

The team explained that Freightliner saw a natural brand connection to what its market needed. The industry is experiencing reduced incomes stemming from regulatory challenges, cost pressures, fuel and maintenance issues. Plus, drivers are often away from home so they lose the connectivity to find the answers.

"We said, 'There is this market need and we provide business solutions. How can we connect?'" Aufdemberg explained. "And the community became a really natural place for us to make this connection for folks who need a connection and who need a team while they are on the road."

Because Freightliner and ATBS had the resources in the industry and knew who could provide content to help, the team pulled all of it together in Team Run Smart, serving as a single source that could be shared with everybody, McHorse explained.

While Team Run Smart is soft-branded with the Freightliner Trucks name, the team maintained that the community is all about assisting the industry — even if community members don’t drive a Freightliner.

However, the next time an owner-operator has to purchase a vehicle, the team hopes that they'll consider buying a Freightliner, inspired by what the community has done for the industry.

"It's the Team Run Smart site that is about helping customers be more profitable on the road," Aufdemberg said. "That means that they can be a member, whether they are driving a Freightliner or not — and that's really what was important to us is recognizing that we are an industry thought leader, and we are a part of the conversation more than anything."

Creative Samples


  2. Truck Smart

  3. Fuel Smart

  4. Business Smart

  5. Health Smart

  6. Team Run Smart Pros

  7. Run Smart Rewards

Campaign Team

Freightliner Trucks (A division of Daimler Trucks North America)
Mike McHorse, Marketing Segment Manager, On-Highway Product Marketing
Mary Aufdemberg, Director of Product Marketing

Matt Amen, Vice President
Amy Nack, Director of Marketing
Heather Dunn, Digital Marketing Manager

Burns Marketing
Rob Bean, Vice President of New Media

Thom Robbins, Chief Evangelist

Related Resources

Team Run Smart

Content Marketing: IBM creates dynamic website, lifts social referral traffic 291% in one year

Content Marketing: Come in with an idea, leave with a blog post

Content Marketing: Tips from your peers on making use of internal resources

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