How Data Drives Business for Chevy, Nissan

Big Automakers Use Numbers To Pick Out Key Consumer Insights

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When Chevrolet launches its 2014 Corvette Stingray this fall, it will rely as much on data as a big creative idea to reach its target audience of affluent sports-car owners.

Instead of widely blanketing the country with expensive national TV and print ads, Chevy is microtargeting owners of the Porsche 911 and other premium two-seaters.

Chevy is targeting Porsche.
Chevy is targeting Porsche.

Chevy is working with big publishing companies such as Hearst and Condé Nast to compile lists of Porsche and other sports-car owners. Then Corvette urges them to take a test-drive at their local dealer or -- get a race-car experience by driving a Stingray at pro race tracks around the U.S.

"It's going to be very targeted. We don't really expect to do a lot of above-the-line TV advertising," said Tim Mahoney, global CMO for Chevrolet.

At Nissan North America, Dave Mazur, VP-market intelligence, says the automaker uses data to "pick out really key" consumer insights that can be quickly turned around and used as best practices. One of the biggest customer complaints, he said, are "difficult to use" items. They're the features many customers have trouble with.

Nissan surveys dealerships around the country to find out which ones are doing the best, and the worst, job of teaching new owners how to navigate DTUs. Once the factory gets that critical info, "It's easy for us to shore it up at the dealer level," said Mr. Mazur. Nissan measures not only their most frequent problems but also the severity of those problems, said Mr. Mazur.

"It may be fairly low frequency. But the severity of the problem is such that it's really annoying to the consumer. So if you look at the combination of severity and frequency, it's pretty easy to find out what problems to work on."

Collecting and analyzing everything from consumer-satisfaction surveys to vehicle-registration lists has become a big segment of automotive marketing/research budgets, said Tom Libby, senior forecasting analyst for auto consultancy Polk.

Automakers, for example, buy demographic data, registration data (who bought what brand and model) and transactional data (or which incentives are most effective in closing a sale).

"We purchase new-and-used vehicle registration data from the state DMVs. We then do various manipulations with the data and sell it, with software, to the manufacturers. And they all buy it," Mr. Libby said.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misattributed the last quote to Nissan's Dave Mazur.

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