IQ News: INSIDER – Revving Up Olds

Debbie Craig has heard what her colleagues say about her. “Unconventional. Rebel.
They’ll call me just about anything around here,” the 35-year-old interactive marketing manager for Oldsmobile says with a muted sense of pride.
Actually, Craig revels in her role as renegade marketer. After all, her top task is to use the Internet to build brand loyalty for undoubtedly the most staid American car brand. And, getting retirees, Olds’ primary market, to kick some tires online requires a good deal of unconventional wisdom.
As the carmaker’s first interactive marketing executive, Craig and interactive agency Giant Step, Chicago, essentially turned what Oldsmobile considered a part-time endeavor (the content of an Oldsmobile CD-ROM from the fall of 1995 served as the guts of the first Olds site) into a blueprint for selling cars.
So far, Craig seems to have figured out how to use HTML to sell cars to a generation that can barely program their VCRs. “The Internet is the most effective lead management channel that we have at Oldsmobile. More than auto shows, direct mail or 800-numbers,” Craig states.
Craig attributes the early results in part to Olds’ decision to introduce seven individual sites, one for each car model, over the past year. “There is a correlation between people who check out our brochures online and buying a car. I don’t know if they’ve been influenced by other media. But it’s a lot more measurable online,” says Craig, a self-described numbers junkie.
Armed with a degree in economics, a master’s in management and more than a dozen years experience as an engineer, the 16-year GM veteran is fond of cost-benefit analysis models. “You can’t tell me I sold 10 more cars because I advertised on the last episode of Seinfeld,” she reasons. “But if I spent that much interactively I can tell you how many cars I’ve sold.”
Maybe it’s her zeal for charting new waters or perhaps it’s her background as an engineer working on new technologies, such as hydrophobic windshields, that has made Craig such an ardent proponent of online marketing. “I think [the Internet] absolutely will turn upside down any traditional model for sales, service and marketing,” she predicts. Imagine doing your car shopping at home–from pricing an in-dash CD player to choosing between a black onyx and arctic white exterior–and never setting foot in a dealership, says Craig, quickly adding that the dealer’s role won’t be eliminated. “It’s reinventing the way we do business.”