Mercedes Expands Web Presence

NEW YORK Mercedes-Benz USA, six months after launching a new password-protected Web site for interacting with Generation Y consumers, is planning a second site next year to reach an older group of Mercedes owners.

In fact, vice president of marketing Steve Cannon has found the Gen Y site, www.generationbenz.com, so efficient and useful that he can envision it replacing some types of focus groups, particularly those that delve into broader issues, such as “green washing.”

Mercedes uses Generation Benz to get feedback on product designs and advertising concepts and more generally gauge the mind-set of the 19- to 32-year-old crowd. Through questionnaires, polls and live chats, the company seeks to better understand what makes Gen Y tick.

“In marketing, you have to stay relevant. And certainly some brands are more challenged than others in staying relevant and vital to this new audience,” Cannon said. “We do head-to-head comparisons, asking them questions about us versus our key competitors. We poll them on a regular basis. And we ask them about their media choices.

“It’s one of the projects that I’m most excited about because it’s finally a technology that’s allowing us to gather data and get to know our customers in a deeper and richer way,” Cannon added.

The site currently has about 800 members, each of whom was invited by Mercedes. Nearly half of them have visited in the past 60 days, and of those, a few hundred are “very regular users,” Cannon said. About a third of the members are Mercedes owners; the rest are generally interested in the brand and may become owners in the future.

Mercedes homed in on Gen Y initially because it’s a “big and important” group that’s comfortable with technology and represents great potential buying power, Cannon said. So, what has he learned thus far?

“They’re optimistic like you wouldn’t believe. They think they’re going to take on the world and make changes. They’re not going to settle,” Cannon said. “These guys are very brand conscious. They are very comfortable with brands like Mercedes-Benz. Previous generations, like Gen X, they wanted to do things that were the opposite of their parents. . . . Here we have a generation that actually likes their parents and would definitely drive what their parents drove.”

The site was developed by Passenger, a Los Angeles-based shop that also works for Coca-Cola and Chrysler. It took about four weeks to create and every six weeks or so Passenger updates it, said Justin Cooper, co-founder of the shop.

Mercedes also tries to maintain the interest level of its members by offering them a chance to participate in a driving event, attend a press conference at an automobile show or take part in clinics on the development of new products.

“You have to keep it rich and interesting for them,” Cannon said. “They need to feel like they’re getting value in interacting with us and vice versa.”

This story corrects an earlier item, noting that Passenger, not Proximity, created the site.