Every January GM Goodwrench used to mail its 7,000 dealerships a big thick binder that was packed with more than 500 pages of instructions and sample "slicks" on how to create ads for newspapers, radio, TV, and customer mailings.
If dealers followed instructions carefully, and made sure their ads matched approved GM branding and format, they were reimbursed for ads via co-op ad dollars.
Leafing through a massive binder to figure this stuff out was not easy, especially when many dealers did not have a full-time marketer on staff. Plus, as Heather Brant, Associate Advertising Manager, explains, "It was only useful for about two weeks, then it became obsolete."
Although GM sent out updated pages throughout the year, dealers often either continued to use the old binder or just got fed up and created their own ads.
While GM could control their brand message at the national level, in local advertising the brand was all over the map.CAMPAIGN
GM decided to try offering dealers the binder information online via an extranet Web site called, Co-Op Connection. Dealers are notoriously non-computer oriented, so rather than building a giant perfect site and demanding everyone use it, GM tested and launched site sections in careful stages.
The sections so far have included:
Section 1: Downloads
This replicated the binder, only online. Still it had tremendous value because when dealers downloaded whatever document they needed, it was always the most recent, GM-approved one.
Section 2: AdWizard
With AdWizard dealers, and their ad agencies, could actually create approved-ads online and email them to their newspaper, printer or other media outlet easily. You pick the ad you want, insert your own data such as hours of operation and dealership name, and are done. (Link below to view this section.)
Section 3: Co-Op Accounting
Dealers can check the status of their co-op account (how much they have left, what is approved, checks mailed), submit reimbursement claims online, and, view fascinating aggregate trend reports on what types of ads other dealers in their region were spending co-op money on. (Sorry this section not available for public viewing.)
Section 4: Online Yellow Pages Listings
Printed Yellow Pages listings for auto parts and auto service are the third and fourth most-referenced by consumers respectively. Now that these eyeballs are migrating online, GM decided to make it easier for dealers to get listed in all the relevant Web Yellow Pages by adding a tool to the extranet.
The tool also includes the ability to create a landing page on a dealer's site (many have sites that just talk about car sales, not service or parts).
Section 5: Branded merchandise store
This section is under construction and will launch in early 2003. Dealers will be able to purchase branded merchandise in bulk at reasonable prices online whenever they want to run a promotional offer giving away something like a mini-toolkit for bringing a car in for servicing.
It is one thing to build a great extranet, it is another to get people to actually use it. Here are the five steps GM went through to get the most dealers possible involved:
-> Step 1: Pre-launch beta test
Although GM was pretty sure the first version of the extranet was fairly clean and easy-to-use, you never know until you run it past some users. They asked dealers in parts of New York and Florida to beta test it for them.
These dealers were chosen because they were in regions where GM had field support reps who were particularly psyched about the program and who had volunteered to visit the dealerships to walk them through the site for the first time.
-> Step 2: Pre-launch promotional build-up
Every Friday GM mails out a box of information for dealers (memos from various departments, new specs, etc.). The co-op advertising team devised a series of four promos that would go in the box each of the four weeks leading to launch date. These included:
- A flyer saying "The dealer Web site is coming soon - watch for it!"
- A set of fun temporary tattoos with the name and URL of the Web site (yes, dealers loved them)
- A "static cling out" clear sticker with the URL that dealers could put in the corner of their computer screens (similar to the stickers they put on customer's windshields about servicing).
-> Step 3: Training packet
The co-op ad team deliberately designed the training packet for the Web site to be as *unlike* the binder as possible. Instead of being thick and intimidating, it was only about 30-pages long.
Unlike most computer manuals, it was written in clear, friendly language. They also included a CD ROM tour of the site plus a toll free phone number to call with questions.
-> Step 4: Personal help from field reps and telephone reps
While educating GM field support reps about how to use the site so they in turn could walk dealers trough it personally, the co-op team focused on one simple dealer-benefit message:
"Make sure you get 100% co-op ad dollar reimbursements, and ultimately increase your sales."
The pitch was not about how wonderful the Web is, it was about the bottom line.
Field reps can not be everywhere at once, so GM also ran a promotional campaign to encourage dealers to call a toll-free phone number for help with the site.
Brant says, "We ran a series of contests for dealers - if they called the hotline to get a logon ID and password they were entered into a drawing to earn extra co-op reserves. We didn't offer any major amount of money or anything."
-> Step 5: Upgrades based on dealer feedback
GM continued to solicit dealer feedback about the site and make changes on a routine basis. Being flexible was built into the budget and project plans.
Approximately 86% of GM's dealers currently actively actively use the Co-Op Connection extranet site to create their advertising campaigns. This has made a profound difference in building and sustaining Goodwrench brand consistency and brand equity nationally because now the vast majority of local ads obey branding rules.
Also, the AdWizard section has made a big difference to the bottom line. Brant says, "Since we launched that tool in July 2001, we have doubled the percentage of co-op dollars spent on newspaper advertising."
She continues, "Newspapers really hadn't been traditionally something our dealers used except for new car advertising. Parts and service managers relied on mailed customer reminders such as coupons for oil changes. The site cut their newspaper creative costs in half, and made it so much easier for them to do, that it was worth placing an ad."
Since the online Yellow Pages section launched about six weeks ago, more than 100 dealers have already signed up for the program which is a high degree of quick acceptance.
Dealers have loved the fact that they could have input into the site and how they could use it. GM learned that dealers wanted the ability to use more of their own artwork on certain ads, and wanted ads in sizes that HQ had not predicted.
GM also learned no matter how clear and obvious you think your site navigation is, users will have questions that lead you to making it even better. Beta testing is a must.
Brant notes that you can not ever start a project like this with the goal of 100% conversion. "Some dealers feel it limits them and they don't want to have to go out with our brand architecture. We work with those to try to find a compromise."
However, GM no longer spends resources producing those 500+ page binders every year. If a dealer wants art or specs, they can either register for the extranet or call the hotline for help. This saves tens of thousands of dollars annually.
Brant's advice for other companies building a branding extranet, "If the field force engages in it and understands what the benefits are for the dealer, you will be successful."
Co-Op Connection site: MarketingSherpa readers may view the sections of this site that are publicly available if you register yourself as an agency. (Brant says you do not actually need to be an agency, just use the form to register to get into the site.)
BrandWizard who make AdWizard possible:
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