From Brand to Dealer, Car Maker Seeks Seamless Path

Three months after successfully defending DaimlerChrysler’s interactive account in a hard-fought review, Organic is immersed in a complex project that will integrate the automaker’s brand Web sites with its more than 3,000 dealer sites in North America.

The task, slated to be complete by model year 2005, is meant to ensure consumers a consistent transition from the manufacturers’ Web sites to local retailers’ sites by infusing the same navigation, color palette and interactive applications.

“When you move to the dealer site, you are moving to a more intense level of e-commerce. You’re now asking for pricing, you’re asking to look at inventory, so you’re moving down the funnel,” explained Jeff Bell, vp at Chrysler/Jeep. “Today, if you go to Jeep.com and then visit a dealer site, you will feel like you just left one place and arrived at another. … It can be a little unsettling.”

So unsettling, in fact, the automaker found 25 percent of visitors to the Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brand sites—which, according to comScore Networks, collectively had nearly 2.5 million visitors in January—bailed out when they reached a dealer site.

“They have to make the sites a decision tool that’s going to stop discouraging a significant number of people from wanting to test-drive in the first place,” said Forrester Research’s Harley Manning. He added 80 percent of consumers go to an OEM site and 82 percent to a dealer site in the month before a car purchase.

The changes go beyond cosmetic. After the overhaul, for instance, consumers will be able to transfer a configured car from the the brand site to a dealer site. Also, when users connect from Chrysler.com to a multiple-brand dealer site, they will only see Chrysler information.

“From the moment a consumer engages to hopefully the moment they request a price quote … they will get the information they need at any point during that online experience,” said Chuck Russo, vp, managing director at Omnicom Group’s Organic in Detroit, who oversees the business.

The assignment represents a vindication of sorts for Organic, which last December retained the creative Web-development account following a five-month review that included siblings Agency.com and Critical Mass, the former fully owned and the latter 50-percent owned by Omnicom. During its height at Organic in 2000, the DaimlerChrysler business accounted for more than $30 million in revenue, but that figure has dropped in recent years as back-end technology services have been reassigned to vendors such as IBM and Compuware. Today, sources said the account is worth $20 million, or nearly half of Organic’s estimated $43 million in revenue in 2003.

“There was no dissatisfaction with Organic, but we thought it would be a little hypocritical to not bid out the entire business,” for an endeavor of this magnitude, said Bell. The review also included other pieces, such as interactive applications and content management, that were awarded to Logica and the team of Interwoven and SBI and Co., respectively.

However, sources said pressure to drive down price factored into the review. DaimlerChrysler saw 2003 net income fall to $564 million from $4.9 billion in 2002.

In response, the affable Bell referenced his surname, which comes from the border between England and Scotland, saying, “Scots are notoriously cheap.” He added, “I am exceptionally focused on value for money for our shareholders. And so, yes, I am always looking at ways to reduce costs, and I will with or without an RFQ.”