GM Shifts Gears With Consolidated Global Search Plan

With Google as Main Partner, Eyes Consistent Metrics, More Efficient Digital Marketing

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- General Motors Corp. started to centralize its global search strategy late last year, and the auto giant expects to roll it out in 42 countries by the end of 2008.
Levick: Together, GM and Google created relevant global marketing messages.
Levick: Together, GM and Google created relevant global marketing messages.

GM's main partner is Google, although buys are made regionally after being consolidated at Publicis Groupe's SMG Search, said Scott McLaren, director-global digital marketing and CRM at the automaker. "Google set up a team that interacts with my team," he said.

In aggregate share of searches Google is the clear global leader, although other search engines have the lead in specific countries -- for instance, Yahoo is the top search engine in Japan, and Baidu is China's leader. The Google partnership is nonexclusive, and GM will have partnerships with other search engines as well.

Google's Jeff Levick, director-marketing and strategy in North America, called GM an innovator in digital marketing. "Working together, we have been able to create global marketing campaigns that deliver more relevant messages to consumers and drive improved marketing ROI for GM."

Eliminating digital redundancies
Before GM shifted gears, marketers in each country handled their own search strategies and buys via various agencies. But that process translated to lots of different approaches, along with many redundant trials and errors.

Mr. McLaren, who is based at GM's world headquarters in Detroit, said the marketer's main goal is to steer buyers from other brands, as all the regions now share knowledge and metrics.

That hasn't just brought cost efficiencies. Early results show GM has increased click-through rates by more than 20% in some countries. The marketer cited better packaging of search terms and building more areas of consumer relevance on improved GM sites that move visitors quicker to the information they seek.

When asked how many search words GM buys worldwide, Mr. McLaren would only say, "Around the globe we are more active in search marketing." He also declined to reveal search-term spending.

GM buys tens of thousands of search words every year worldwide, said Brian Schrader, search product manager at Jumpstart Automotive Media, an online rep firm to the industry. "Google will give you their best people and share best practices with GM and Starcom," which would help improve click-throughs, he said.

'Very intelligent approach'
Dillon McDonald, chief operating officer of Jumpstart, estimated GM spends between $50 million and $70 million on search annually in the U.S. alone. Mr. McDonald said GM is taking a "very intelligent approach" to global search. "One big key is consistent metrics, consistent methodologies and sharing across groups."

But he cautioned that there is a risk, saying it could fall apart with local executions. "You need smart people to execute it," he said. The other challenges for marketers looking to create global search strategies are organizational ones. Often a marketer will have different search agencies in different regions of the world, and some marketers lack centralized control.

The move is another example of how GM is increasing its presence in the digital world as well as an example of its continued communization of best practices. The automaker has moved almost 20% of its U.S. media spending into digital in the past three years, GM's Mark LaNeve, VP-vehicle sales, service and marketing for North America, told Advertising Age. That includes search, online ads, home-page takeovers, sites for dealers and customer relationship management.

GM used $197 million of its total U.S. measured media spending of $2 billion for online ads (excluding search) last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence.
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