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Kia Looks to Engage further with the Web Community

By: NMK Created on: May 26th, 2009
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With car buyers increasingly turning to the Web for their research, today’s customers are extraordinarily well informed. For John Bache, database & digital marketing manager at KiaMotors (UK) Ltd. this means the role of the manufacturer’s website is changing. Car companies must move beyond standard brochure-ware and catalogues and start provisioning original content that increases customer engagement and helps to inspire people to visit their local dealer.

For Kia, as with most other car manufacturers, discovering how the website can make a positive impact on business is still very much a work in progress. The latest iteration of the Kia site represents our first steps towards evolving our approach from traditional strongly branded messaging to adopting a more listening stance. The current process started when we asked the web design and development teams at E3 (their site) to help us get the public to reassess their ideas about the Kia brand. We are trying to move people away from the historic perception of Kia as a value choice and help them appreciate that our cars are now up there with the best in terms of design and quality.

The core commercial objective for the website remains, as ever, to drive sales opportunities to our dealers. But we have evolved the site in three key areas. First, the inclusion of more visually appealing, informative content. Second, the underlying technology allows us to update easily and in real time and third, the level of integration with our existing back end systems is much deeper.

Content is changing subtly to provide people with a fresh and engaging experience as possible. This can be video taken from TV commercials, for example, or footage of concept cars.

Not Just Bells and Whistles

Of course it is important to ensure this enhanced content is aligned with the overall goals of the website. Above all else it has to remain as easy to navigate as possible. One of the first changes we introduced was a new panoramic home page. The homepage scrollscape allows us to create and display a huge variety of content which can be changed anytime to support current campaigns and model launches. Short cuts to popular areas of interest now allow visitors to jump to the exact story or part of the site that they want.

kia

We constantly measure activity levels to understand which areas of the site get the most attention. Our homepage menu changes regularly to point to useful information that people might not find anywhere else. For example, we were one of first car manufacturer sites to provide information about how the £2,000 trade-in car scrappage scheme will work in practice. We were able to track a tremendous jump in traffic to our site as a result of this along with a proportional increase in dealer enquiries.

From a technology standpoint, our site has always been based on the Microsoft .Net platform. In 2008 we had reached a point where we had stretched our existing content management system to its limits. We needed something that was at home in a .Net environment but was flexible and fluid enough to allow us to develop the site in the direction we wanted. So for this, our fourth site iteration, E3 introduced us to a Web Content Management System (CMS) called Sitecore CMS, an off-the-shelf Web CMS which is also a strong development platform. The system allows us to administer content very quickly and easily. There is virtually no limit to what we can do.

Results in Real Time

Within weeks of launch, the website, which is integrated with other marketing activity such as search engine optimisation (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, was delivering real business benefits. Users spent far longer on the site engaging with the cars and calls to dealers originating from the site are up by 35%. An increase in visitors to dealer showrooms was supported by a 50% rise in dealer searches - topping 55,000 in the first month. The UK automotive market has seen sales fall by 30% in 2009, yet Kia’s sales are holding firm at 2008 levels meaning market share has risen. A lot of this is due to the launch of new models, but the new site is also playing its part.

Looking ahead we want to have more user-generated content on the site. We expect to take our first steps in this direction this calendar year. However, we also think that there’s a limit to the amount of social networking a manufacturer’s site should try to achieve. We believe that people will expect to read reviews on independent sites such as What Car?. We will link visitors to those reviews when they visit us but that is quite different to hosting the reviews ourselves. Currently only around 10 percent of our Web community is active in providing feedback. There’s a lot of useful customer comment already out there in the form of blogs, Twitter ‘tweets’ and so on. We plan to incorporate more Web 2.0 features into the site so that we can package this content to make it readily accessible to our visitors. So the aim is to give them a balanced mix of ‘word of mouth’ comment and independent professional reviews.

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