Young At Heart: Honda Europe’s Jones Drives New Mission

The car industry has become extremely competitive. Honda’s marketing department is working on using the collected data to its maximum potential to widen the brand’s appeal.

Young At Heart: Honda Europe's Jones Drives New Mission

Data may be an ongoing challenge for digital marketers, but one where there are significant rewards when getting it right. This is the view of marketer Jemma Jones, who is Honda’s largest budget holder in Europe, and last year featured in Management Today’s “35 Women Under 35” list.

Jones formerly worked at Kia, joining Honda in 2011, and is today championing the company’s mission to widen its appeal to a younger audience, while reinforcing the brand’s position in an increasingly competitive market. We began by asking her about her role within the organisation.

Jones: I manage the marketing team for Europe and that includes communications, media, and digital marketing. Together we manage marketing across 21 markets in Europe. The team is quite small but very lean, and that has its benefits—everyone gets really involved in a broad range of activities and there are more opportunities to experience different aspects of marketing. Data from YouGov in 2014 showed that both customer perceptions of the Honda brand and brand buzz had fallen, while sales had also dipped. What prompted this?

Jones: The dip in sales is due to a myriad of factors—some external—but we recognise the increase in pressure. The car industry is extremely competitive. We are in a squeezed middle, with increasing pressure from Korean brands, as well as pressure from luxury brands, who are creating smaller cars and competing more directly with us in that space. It means we are in a challenging position and we need to constantly strive to communicate and demonstrate our identity and the USPs of our products. How did the “year of Honda” in 2015 address this?

Jones: Last year we had six major campaigns and six major model launches, so as marketers, that was fantastic—we had a lot to say. We are on a mission to widen our appeal and attract more customers, including a slightly younger age profile (the 35 to 45 age group) to the Honda brand. We worked very hard to do that with all of our campaigns and the results are very positive in terms of brand metrics—we’ve seen an increase in brand appeal among younger consumers, but at the same time we have managed to maintain our appeal to our loyalist base, so we haven’t alienated our current customers. It’s worked very well. How have you used digital to reach younger people?

Jones: Younger customers consume a lot of digital content, so using VOD (Video on Demand) is a key strategy. VOD lengthens the tail of TV adverts and gives us greater reach over a longer period of time. It very much taps into the younger market. Typically, we see a 250% increase in traffic to our website when we run VOD adverts.

We have also done a lot with digital advertising and digital display, and we are moving towards programmatic buying, enabling us to better target specific segments. We are trying to do more with our data too—making our messages really relevant to people who have shown an interest in Honda. In addition, we have made a lot of progress in the area of optimisation—for example, how people respond to different content on the platform and how to optimise that. There is a lot of work going on in the digital sphere to widen Honda’s appeal to that younger audience. What is the biggest challenge when it comes to digital?

Jones: Data is probably our biggest ongoing challenge at Honda—chiefly around how we capture and utilise data to maximise its full potential. However, like any challenge worth undertaking, the rewards are extremely significant if we get it right. Using data in the right way provides the biggest opportunity to further advance our marketing capabilities. We have a massive amount of data—from campaigns to our customers to the website—so how we store, analyse, and deploy it across multiple campaigns and markets is no mean feat. It is a clear mission for us to get it right and we will continue to work until we do.

The ultimate aim is to use this data to grow our business and our brand. We sometimes find ourselves caught up in the detail of the numbers, but keeping our eye on that goal is critical. How are you currently using data?

Jones: A big project under way at the moment is using data to enable personalisation on our website, so that people’s website experience can be based on their previous interactions with our brand. From a campaign perspective, we also carry out A/B testing with the creative and we optimise campaigns using those that are most effective against particular audience segments.

What is really interesting is when you start to see the relationship between some of the offline content and online content, and you use that to fuel more digital content. For example, last year we produced the “Endless Road” campaign for the new Honda CR-V. It showed a red CR-V driving around a mountain road in a never-ending loop. A digital version of that was published on YouTube and became the world’s first “never-ending” YouTube ad. Ten per cent of people who went on to find the commercial again on YouTube interacted with the YouTube gadget, which used real-time weather data to match where the viewer was, from rain in Tokyo to sun in Auckland, for example. The digital experience allowed for more engagement and people spent over two minutes longer watching, so average engagement with Honda was very high. Using that data we can then put together increasing amounts of digital content, and it opens up innovative creative opportunities too. We encourage our agencies to think of innovative digital ideas as extensions to our main campaign. That is a natural part of our briefing process. Do you see digital moving from being seen as a channel, to being a marketing (and business) mindset? If so, where would you place yourselves in that transition?

Jones: For Honda, it is already a business mindset—we are committed to marketing effectively and doing business effectively in a digital world. That is our mantra. But we don’t use digital for digital’s sake.

The connected car is a good example of how digital can offer genuine value to consumers, and this is where it is exciting. We continue to look for other areas of the business where we can further enhance the customer experience through digital technology. For us, the advantage for the customer has to be clear and significant—that is critical. How is your marketing department structured, and how will that set-up change?

Jones: It is split into three separate functions—communications, media, and digital—but, practically, we all work together on a daily basis and we are very integrated—we need to be! The media and comms teams are very immersed in the digital channels we activate.

Going forward, it is not so much about changing the set-up as redefining the role of the digital team. Generally speaking, I believe digital know-how is becoming more commonplace, but there is an opportunity for digital marketers to really step up in terms of the analytics side and to take ownership of the data, and interrogate it in the right way, and drive value into the business—that is where we currently struggle a little bit. There is an opportunity to redefine it to ensure digital can add genuine consumer advantage. We have also discussed taking on a data scientist/analyst. It is definitely a consideration for us because we are not advancing as fast as we would, perhaps, like to in that area. Digital is changing quickly, how do you ensure you and your team keep up to speed, who leads that?

Jones: Most of the time, training is led by our agency partners, but we also have internal resources. For example, we have a social media manager who runs training sessions around Facebook or Twitter. Recently I also requested a training session for the whole team on Google Analytics. It’s a standard tool, but it’s important for me that the whole team has a general understanding of it, so everyone knows how to get the basic data from it. The digital team are obviously the experts, but everyone should know the type of data it contains and what we can do with it. It’s a hygiene factor for us.

I believe we should increasingly invest in skills and training internally in-house, and have the capability to navigate our way through all the ad tech and systems out there, as well as all the data we have, to find a way to answer those critical questions. Relying on agencies isn’t the way. They can support us a lot, but more and more we should build our internal resource. What is the role of mobile in your marketing, and can you share any examples of how you are using mobile?

Jones: Mobile is absolutely critical. We always operate with a “mobile first” approach from a campaign perspective. As a car brand, mobile fills that very important gap between the online and the offline world—we are constantly looking for ways to use mobile to help us close that gap and ensure a seamless customer journey. Mobile expands the Internet from every home to every pocket, so it is about finding ways where mobile can either provide something new that is valuable to the customer, or can augment the current experience.

One of the things we are looking into is enabling people to configure their new car on their mobile and save that configuration. They can then take it to a dealership, and the dealer can enter a code that pulls up that configuration. It will save time and improve efficiency, adding value to the customer.

The other way mobile can really help us is through enabling a richer, more immersive experience of a car delivered through a Virtual Reality headset, for which mobile is key. This could be the ability to configure a car, walk around it, and potentially even test drive it, so mobile is a key tool going forward. There are many more opportunities too, around geo-location data, for example, but there is a long way to go. Do you agree with the idea that brands are increasingly built by customer experience? If so, how is that affecting your approach to marketing?

Jones: Brands are not necessarily built through customer experience, they are built through a brand story. Without your brand, I don’t see how you can have a customer experience, so the two work in harmony. But you still need dedicated people absolutely obsessing over the customer—marketing can only go so far in that journey.

Customer experience is much more visible to a wider audience in today’s digital world. Brands who have got away with anything less than excellence in the past will not be in business long term now due to that increased exposure.

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