Directing the online traffic

Since Kia Motors embraced online marketing, brand interest and sales have rocketed, and it’s so successful the company is now thinking the unthinkable – dropping TV campaigns altogether, discovers Nicola Smith.


Even in the four years I have been here, there has been a massive shift in the number of brochures ordered online. The figure now stands at about 98%,” says John Bache, database and digital marketing manager of Kia Motors UK. “The call centre is not dealing with anywhere near as many brochure requests as they were before, because people are comfortable going online to get information.”

Bache’s experience supports the evidence that almost 90% of consumers use the internet to research vehicle purchases (source: Capgemini October, 2009) and Kia has responded to this trend wholeheartedly, announcing in 2009 that it would increase its digital spend by 50%. At about the same time, it promoted Bache from a customer database role to assume responsibility for the company’s digital strategy.

He heads a three-man team within the car manufacturer’s marketing communications department. With a relatively small, 130-strong staff, Kia UK (owned by Hyundai) feels it is small enough to take a fairly informal approach to digital throughout the organisation. “I can see the PR team from here and when I turn around I can see the customer service team,” Bache says. “We are not like a Ford or Vauxhall, where you have to climb three flights of stairs to get to see these people.” This allows Bache and his team to work closely with other departments and the team’s aim – to drive customers and prospective customers online – is reaping results.

After switching roles – and with a significantly increased budget – Bache’s first major task was to overhaul the company’s website, which had seen a 33% increase in visitors between 2008 and 2009, in line with Kia’s steadily growing presence in the UK car market.

He recalls: “The increasing traffic we were getting meant we needed to keep bolting on additional functionality and microsites. It got to the point where there were so many bolt-ons that it wasn’t as efficient and easy to use as it should have been.”

Following the relaunch, web traffic grew by 72% during 2010, thanks in part to the launch of a pioneering seven-year Kia warranty in January of that year. “It led to record levels of traffic on the website, and the press and interest it generated actually caused a few performance issues on the site for those few days,” says Bache. The number of dealer searches also increased in 2010, up 59% on 2009, topping 60,000. “Primarily, we need to drive footfall to dealerships, so one thing we measure is the number of dealer searches,” Bache adds.

The new site has empowered dealers as well as consumers, incorporating a standalone “used car locator” powered by a company called 2nd Byte, which allows dealers to upload details of vehicles they have for sale both on to their own sites and the company’s national site.

Dealers are a critical link in the sales channel for car manufacturers, and giving them the tools to market themselves digitally is an important part of Kia’s strategy. The company provides each of its 170-plus dealers with a scaled-down version of the main site, pulling key information such as the latest specs and prices from the central hub, but also allowing dealers to personalise their own sites.

People say you wouldn’t launch a new car without going on TV. But it is possible that we might decide to do that this year

John Bache, Kia Motors UK

“That was another key reason for the [relaunch],” Bache says. “We wanted all of our dealers to enhance their digital footprint. Some are adopting it more than others, but we know that in the very near future they will all be investing more time in it.”

Having a large network of dealers at different stages of digital know-how is one of the key focuses for the company as it steps up its online activity. Car buying behaviour has changed with the advance of the internet, which means manufacturers increasingly have to ensure that their web presence – and that of their dealers – is sophisticated.

“Whereas people used to spend their Sundays driving around dealerships looking at seven different vehicles, they’re now looking at seven different websites and going to two different dealers,” Bache says. It means the website has to work as hard to get people through the door.

This month, the company is working on a project with 17 dealerships in one region to get to know their specific digital needs and better understand the challenges.

Kia has also ploughed more of its budget into search engine optimisation, pay-per-click and display ads. “Search engine optimisation is the key for us,” says Bache. “We think it’s the most effective way to increase traffic.

“As Kia has evolved as a brand and become more popular, more people are searching for the particular terms that we want to bid around, so it’s self-fulfilling. If people are talking about you and searching for you, you’ll spend more.”

He adds that Kia is seeing good results with pay-per-click advertising, typically running between 10 and 14 campaigns simultaneously. Pay-per-click works in tandem with Kia’s display advertising, which includes “big bang” homepage takeovers as well as mid-page units and skyscraper formats.

Bache says: “Looking at the [display advertising] results in isolation, you probably wouldn’t think it was the most cost-effective way of spending money. But when you consider that people who have been exposed to our display ads convert at a higher rate on pay-per-click ads than those who haven’t, as our analysis shows, it makes it seem a lot more worthwhile.”

Social media is also playing a growing role within Kia’s digital strategy. Last summer, the company launched a YouTube channel, and the number of views the company’s videos are generating has surpassed expectations.

“It was a toe in the water to see how YouTube could work for us,” says Bache. The new Kia Sportage ’walk-around’ video was uploaded at the end of November 2010 and clocked up more than 40,700 views within two months.

“People want to consume that level of information about our vehicles,” says Bache. “We know they’re genuinely interested because the content is purely factual, not ’entertaining’. Video is something we are embracing heavily.”

The company also embeds video on a YouTube player on the Kia site, allowing people to view the content without leaving. Other aspects of social media have proved more challenging. The Kia Motors UK Facebook page currently has just over 3,300 ’likes’.

“The Facebook page is probably not as successful as we would have hoped, but we aren’t going to give up on it,” says Bache. The digital team has learned some key lessons from this, chiefly concerning the frequency and content of postings.


“One thing we have noticed is that if we ask people to watch a video, or try to push product-related messages to them, interaction with those posts is a lot less than if we ask for user-generated content, such as ’where did you take your Kia this weekend?’,” says Bache.

The company is currently working on a new welcome tab in an effort to make the Facebook page more engaging and Bache says the social network will play a role in its three new car launches in 2011. “We will be looking to drip-feed information via Facebook to our brand advocates, perhaps the day before it goes into the public domain,” he says.

Of course television and other traditional media still have their place in Kia’s marketing and, to ensure synergy, the same organisation – MPG Media Contacts – puts its TV schedule together and plans its online display campaigns. Aligning online and offline, however, can pose difficulties, particularly when it comes to print.

Says Bache: “We always try to mirror the above-the-line creative, which causes timing issues sometimes, because digital is a medium that people expect to be up and running straightaway. If we are taking the lead from print, sometimes we have to wait until that is signed off before we can go into production for the digital creative.”

He says: “We have decided now that it doesn’t matter where the idea is generated from but it needs to be consistent across all channels. So, if our digital agency comes up with a brilliant idea, we’ll run with that and the press and the outdoor can follow that creative,” says Bache.

The company works with three main agencies: lead digital agency E3 Media; media placement consultancy MPG Media Contacts; and above-the-line creatives Innocean. Kia seems to have mastered the knack of working with different agencies for both online and offline marketing. The trick? Communication, of course.

“We are happy for them to speak to each other and formalise and agree direction on what they are working on, so we can come together, either with individual responses to briefs or combined all-agency responses to briefs. It is key that they all get along,” says Bache.

Direct mail, traditionally a mainstay of automotive companies’ marketing, is also still part of the mix, although its role has changed. Three times a year, Kia produces Eureka, a magazine that is mailed out to existing owners for the lifetime of the warranty.

Says Bache: “We want to drive people online, – it’s a more cost-efficient way of doing things, so we often feature our social media channels, or direct people online for more information.”

One of the ongoing challenges is the collection of data, something that is close to Bache’s heart. With the vast majority of new brochure requests generated online, the company has a healthy database of email addresses for prospects, but often lacks this information on owners.

“When dealers are registering vehicles, capturing an email address is not always the first thing on their mind, so it is a lot easier for us to communicate with prospects online than it is to communicate with customers, and that is something we are trying to change,” says Bache. “We are trying to get customers to sign up for email newsletters.”

Mobile too, has arrived on Kia’s radar as consumers increasingly adopt smartphones. In January 2011, figures showed that 5% of all web traffic was coming to Kia via mobile devices. Bache says the current smartphone experience could be improved: “We need to do something about it. I would be as confident to say that in Q1 or Q2 2011 – certainly by Q3 – we will have a fully-optimised mobile website.”

There may still be challenges for Kia UK, but its increased focus on digital since 2009 is showing results. Sales have increased by 11% year-on-year, giving a market share of 2.8% in 2010, up from 2.5% in 2009 (source: SMMT), and Bache is certain that digital has played its part in that increase. This year will perhaps mark how far the company has come in the digital arena.

Bache says: “People say you wouldn’t launch a new car without going on TV. But it is possible that we might decide to do that this year, because now you can reach as many consumers in a targeted environment online.”


Kia UK Sportage campaign 2011

Kia UK’s Q1 promotion of the Sportage started with pay-per-click activity, and since then additional elements have been added to the media mix including display activity, promoted videos on YouTube, and a video-on-demand campaign…

Since the start of 2011, the Sportage search terms have generated 38,500 clicks and 6,628 leads (at a cost-per-action of only £1.60). The phrase ’Kia Sportage’ itself has generated 69% of the click activity, highlighting an awareness of the Kia brand and in particular the Sportage model.

Promoted YouTube videos
The new ’Grandmaster’ Sportage ad has been live on the Kia YouTube Brand Channel since 6 February, 2011. All Sportage-related search keywords on YouTube, as well as generic and brand keywords, have been directed to the new video. To date, the campaign has generated just under 30,000 clicks, at a click-through rate of 0.34%.


YouTube masthead
On 20 February, 2011, the company ran a YouTube masthead showcasing its new TV ad, driving 60,000 views on the video in Kia UK’s branded channel and generating 40,000 clicks to the website.

Display campaign
The Sportage campaign has delivered more than 74 million impressions since launch on 7 January, 2011, generating 90,389 clicks (at a click-through rate of 0.12%). The MSN 24-hour homepage takeover drove the lions’ share of impressions and clicks – 27,860,430 and 43,559 respectively. This activity alone has delivered more than 11,000 leads.

The video-on-demand campaign was launched on Sunday 6 February on Channel 4, ITV and Sky. The YouTube activity followed, with the masthead placement takeover on 20 February, and ongoing pre-roll activity. To date the campaign has generated 48,509 clicks at a click-through rate of 0.34%. Pre-roll click-through rates range from 0.8% to 2.2%.

90% – of consumers use the internet to research vehicle purchases

98% – of Kia product brochures are now ordered online

48,509 – number of clicks from the Sportage YouTube video since 6 February

key points

  • Kia UK announced in February 2009 that it would increase its digital spend by 50%. This followed a 33% increase in visitors to its website between 2008 and 2009. Following the site relaunch in 2009, web traffic has grown by 72%, and the number of dealer searches has increased by 59%, topping 60,000.
  • Kia UK is seeing great success with its YouTube channel. The new Kia Sportage ’walk-around’ video has received more than 40,700 views within two months.
  • Kia UK provides each of its 170-plus dealer network with a scaled-down version of the main website, pulling key information from the central hub, but also allowing dealers to personalise their own sites.
  • In January 2011, 5% of all Kia’s web traffic was coming via mobile devices. The company plans to launch an optimised mobile site in 2011.



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