How Mazda balances customer experience and better business with smart technology

This content is produced by a member of The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

Scattergun marketing fuelled by big spend is easy; but it’s also ineffective for your customers, and a waste of resources. In the automotive industry, we’re surrounded by larger advertisers who saturate their strategy with a spray-and-pray approach. But in the Dutch market, we’re growing fast - and we’re ambitious with the way we grow. Mazda's annual car sales in the Netherlands have grown by record double-digits in the last few years. We want to do things differently for our customers to smarten and strengthen our position, and for us that has meant combining a test-and-learn team culture, with the agile technology to keep up with our experiments.

Here I’ll describe three crucial lessons I’ve learned along the way to smarten, and scale our successes.

Set-up for success: surround yourself with customer-driven technology, and people

Our curious team wanted a way to prove or disprove their hypotheses about customer experience and behaviour. But since customer experience is the sum of each prospect and Mazda-owner’s interactions with us, along their respective customer journeys, we needed a way to keep up with them. We did this through flexible technology which would connect each customer touch point regardless of channel, automate smaller journey phases, and make them into agile, scalable experiments we could build into and onto - starting simple and adding complexity over time.

We chose the Relay42 data management platform (DMP) to deliver these customer journeys, because this solution above others allowed us to start quickly by creating a flexible two-way street for data using the existing channels and marketing technologies we needed, meaning we could hold accurate conversations with customers on an individual basis, at the right moment. With the ability to automate our customer-centric experiments in this way, we could make better use of our time by focusing on creating the right pathways for people, based on their behaviours - and delivering on their preferences in real-time.

Always-on experiments: start small, to deliver incremental results and create business buy-in

But being completely ‘customer-centric’, making all these well-polished buzzwords a reality, and being scalable with it, sounds like a lot to take on. And it is. We didn’t want to wait to start testing, learning and improving what we were doing. There’s a lot of talk about big data, but what we really found valuable in was the ability to start leveraging what we had; and even by securely cross-pollinating customer data between our core channels like CRM, website, and display, we could become explorers of whole new territories within the world of marketing.

By starting with a simple statement like ‘not everyone who visits our website wants to buy a car’, we could dive into our hypothesis, using technology to help us differentiate between existing Mazda owners, prospects and suspects. With the DMP, this meant we could smarten our approach to pushing outreach and pulling back subsequent insights across platforms to inform the stepping stones of the next journey - and see the results of our smart, agile approach almost immediately.

Firstly, we managed to reduce significant waste in our marketing budget by making our messaging and channel-mix more relevant to the people who were interacting with us, and capping any needless targeting. But this was just a useful byproduct. Building on this foundation of business value, we then doubled the effectiveness of ads. We created a scoring model to gauge customer interest in a more granular way, smartening personalisation across channels to the point where we increased information requests by 90%, and referred nearly 20% more dealer leads from parties interested in buying a Mazda.

Share and scale: connecting online and offline interactions, to reach new people

At Mazda, we want to do things differently. Never settling for a situation where we’re simply following the automotive crowd, our team wanted direct knowledge of what we were doing - and its impact. With practical support from our agency, we steered our customer journeys and the technologies we needed to orchestrate them, with a full understanding of what we were doing as a team and the impact it had. We tested, failed fast, learned, and now we continue to create far-reaching customer journeys which extend across the digital landscape - and which we are confident will reach beyond online in the future.

Our approach means starting fast with an agile DMP, not trying to do everything at once, staying true to our focus on our customers, and embracing the flexibility to move with every one of them regardless of our exponential growth.

Imagine translating our connected customer experience to show-rooms and point of sale, taking the special feeling of buying a car and transposing that between the online and offline world with ease, grace and a personal touch. We believe working in a way where the future is well within sight, and with the help of technology and an ambition to deliver for customers, it’s in our reach.

Robert Vonk is manager of online marketing and data at Mazda.