Edmunds.com Turns To Mobile To Make Car Buying A Consistent, Easy Experience

Get To Know: Edmunds.com CMO Michelle Denogean

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With more than fifteen years worth of online marketing experience, Michelle Denogean serves as the CMO for Edmunds.com, leading brand strategy, social media, PR and B2B communications for the automotive website.

This year, Denogean says her brand is focused on mobile, investing heavily in mobile app development to help solve pain points within the car buying process – for both shoppers and dealers – while on the go or at point of sale.

“Most of our efforts are focused on driving awareness of these mobile tools as they become available,” says Denogean, “Our ultimate goal is to make car buying a consistent, easy experience that makes shoppers feel confident in their purchase.”

[pullquote]Our ultimate goal is to make car buying a consistent, easy experience that makes shoppers feel confident in their purchase.[/pullquote]

To help push its mobile marketing efforts, Edmunds.com has launched a robust social media influencer program, as well as its continued investments in traditional media.

“Original, unpaid endorsements on social media are akin to digital word of mouth and we’re aiming to get our influencers engaged to drive Edmunds.com mobile tools to the masses,” say Denogean.

Joining the company in 2006, Denogean was the driving force behind Edmunds.com’s “Car Week” event last year, a multifaceted marketing and public relations campaign focused on its New York City and Los Angeles markets. Offering new car buyers a no-haggle price based on the average transaction cost for the vehicle, the program resulted in a huge spike in brand awareness along with hundreds of millions of media impressions and a 40% boost in leads across the two key markets.

“The events created a moment-in-time opportunity to feature Edmunds and effectively demonstrate the ease of its ‘Price Promise’ program,” says Denogean.

Denogean received her MBA from Pepperdine University after earning a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from the University of California, San Diego. Prior to joining Edmunds.com, she led both customer acquisition and retention programs at eHarmony. She has been recognized by Broads Circle as one of its “Top Women of Influence” in LA.

Today, Denogean gives us a look under the hood to see what it’s like driving marketing efforts for one of the world’s most well known brands within the automotive industry.

Get To Know:

Michelle Denogean

CMO @ Edmunds.com

  • Age: 40
  • HQ: Santa Monica, CA
  • First Job: Cashier at Hallmark
  • Apple or Android? Apple
  • First Car: 1989 Honda Accord LX
  • Hobby: Spending time with kids

What mobile device can you not live without?

My iPhone; it allows me to stay connected with all areas of my life throughout the day. Some see it as a distraction for the non-work aspects of life, but I see it as an advantage in that it allows me to be productive no matter the situation.

To provide further context, Edmunds.com embraced the concept of ROWE (Results Only Work Environment), which allows teams to work when and where they need to as long as results are met.

This type of work environment/culture really gives me the freedom to decide when to “turn on” and “turn off,” but having my phone allows me to address things quickly so I can get back to enjoying the simple things in life, like my family.

Can we take a peek at your phone’s home screen?

Denogean phone Screenshot

Which apps do you use most often for work?

Google Drive is by far the most used app on my iPhone. We use shared documents to stay connected across the company and with our agency partners.

Not only can I access my documents seamlessly from desktop to phone or tablet, but also our team can co-create and comment in ways that make collaboration easy.

What social media network or website do you frequent most when you’re not working?

Probably Facebook,  I use it to check in on how my friends and family members are doing, often as a wind-down mechanism in the evening. I try to dabble in all of the various social media sites on a personal level so that I can maintain a strong understanding of their usage and audience.

I have a teenage niece who keeps me up to speed on all of the latest and greatest. I don’t think I go a few weeks without hearing about something new from her.

What’s the first thing you check on your phone in the morning?

My email, it is actually the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning each day.

After I review our daily revenue dashboard and catch up on industry facing news, I seek out new stories coming in from car shoppers and dealers on their every day pain points.

With our Live Help line available to car shoppers free of charge, we collect and circulate rich information on what the experience is like for all customer segments. We also engage in social listening and hands on ethnography that feeds into our listening pipes.

Take me through your typical workday.

Each day brings new opportunities and challenges. Some days are dedicated to diving deep into the metrics that drive our business and algorithms that optimize our budget. Other days are filled with creative ideation sessions focused on building our brand and our service offerings.

I also spend a lot of time out in the field with our customers and partners.

At the end of the day, we have a very strong “get your boots on” culture, and I try to walk the walk as much as possible. It’s really about total immersion. If we do not have deep empathy for all parties in the industry we serve, how can we create a brand that is loved by all?

What does your desk look like?

At Edmunds.com, we work in a very open, flexible work environment. Everyone, including the CEO, sits in a big open space. We have a heavy focus on collaboration, so you will see a lot of furniture in various locations throughout the office intended for group huddles and smaller meetings.

I often find that I carry my “office” with me throughout the day versus staying in one place; however, I do have a few sentimental things on my desk, including my wedding photo, photos of my two beautiful children, and a few tchotchkes that I have collected over the years.

We are in the car business, so I also have several toy cars at my desk that my kids love to play with when they visit. And there’s the bottle of champagne: it was a gift that I originally forgot to take home, but now it’s just waiting to be popped for the right celebration.

Edmunds desktop

What has been your most exciting work development during the past year?

Edmunds.com has been on a journey to transition from an information resource to a car buying platform. To accomplish this as a brand, we have to really understand our customers deeply – not just their needs, but the emotions they experience throughout the process.

This has led to a complete rethink of our brand promise and new creative briefs that will spur fresh creative and onsite messaging in the upcoming calendar year.

One of the most exciting campaigns we launched at Edmunds.com was the first-ever Car Week. It was big, ambitious and unprecedented in the industry. We received so much positive feedback from our dealers and customers alike that we’re investigating how to make it even bigger next year.

How many miles have you traveled in the last 12 months?

I have traveled about 30 to 40-thousand miles over the past 12 months, visiting a wide area of the country, and even Cannes, France. Still, one of the most powerful trips from the last year had to be the first time Edmunds.com was physically present at the dealer lot to help shoppers through the car buying process. It was our first-ever Price Promise takeover event.

We partnered with Stevens Creek Lexus in Northern California during one of the big sales events to provide an Edmunds.com Live Help station, modeled after Apple’s Genius bar. Edmunds.com staff was on hand to answer any questions potential customers had about the cars, financing and much more.

Along with Price Promise, the aim was to show customers that Edmunds.com made for a better, more painless car shopping experience. Up until that point, we didn’t know how customers would react or engage with the Edmunds.com team within the showroom

It was surreal to see a customer’s demeanor change after they spoke with our friendly, helpful staff. That’s when I knew we were really onto something.

Not only were customers able to get answers to questions while on the lot, but also dealership sales personnel were bringing customers to us as an extra confidence boost for the deal they were writing. We also experienced what it is like to use our service while on the lot, which led to further enhancements.

We have done about a dozen takeover events since this initial one, and during each, we learn something new about the retail experience and how we can further help both shoppers and dealers.

What work challenge keeps you up at night?

Ensuring that all of our efforts move the business.

We are heavily investing in brand marketing and making Edmunds.com known as a car buying service, not just a research site. It is about constantly producing small wins that show the organization’s long-term potential.

At the same time, these investments are about changing consumer perception to show consumers how powerful the Edmunds.com experience really is. Moving the needle with our established customers and engaging new customers so they understand Edmunds.com as a brand has certainly been a test in patience and creativity.

Can you tell us about a campaign or work project you’d like to do over?

I believe that every campaign and project is a learning experience, so I wouldn’t wave a magic wand like that. The important thing is that we do learn and grow.

When we fail, we fail fast and move on – it’s part of the Lean Startup principles we implement at Edmunds.com.

The key is not allowing failure to change your level of risk taking or creativity; instead, pull the learnings from it and create something even better the next time.

Tell me about the people who have been most influential in your career.

The most influential person early in my career has to be my father. He taught me to always be honest and speak my mind, regardless of the consequences. Some may see this as a fault (I always have something to say), but the curiosity and transparency that he bred in me is a big part of my success, particularly at Edmunds.com.

The senior leaders here embody these values themselves. For example, I find our President, Seth Berkowitz, often surprises me with his open, candid nature, which motivates and inspires me every day.

I also had another important mentor during my time at Move.com – the CMO. He really saw my potential early in my career and fostered my skills as a marketer by exposing me to new projects that were completely different from my previous experiences. This investment in my future made a huge impact that continues to affect me today: it, in part, is responsible for who I am as a person and as a leader.

I am forever grateful to have such an excellent mentor, and aim to pay that investment forward, looking for new talent to develop and providing opportunities for growth, much like he did.

What traits does a person need to succeed in your position?

Be vocal. Challenge the status quo. Understand what drives the business and be as analytical as you are creative.

Can you tell us something about yourself that your team would be surprised to know?

My family and I are avid outdoor motor sports junkies – dirt bikes, quads, off-road racing trucks, you name it. Every year we go to the desert with the kids and have a blast getting dusty.

Why did you get into marketing?

I have always been interested in advertising. From a very young age I used to come up with commercials for products around the house and present them to my family.

I recently completed a personality profile that talked about what I value. Apparently, a lot of things make me happy, but it also means that I am hard to please. I think marketing speaks to these values in that it provides a creative outlet while allowing me to tap into my analytical composition.

What other career would you like to try and why?

One of the things on my bucket list is to write a novel, so I would have to say author.

What’s the last business book you read & what did you think of it?

Our chairman is an avid reader and new books are circulated through our organization, often on a weekly basis. One of my favorites from the past several months is called The Mobile Mindshift by Ted Schadler, Josh Bernoff, and Julie Ask.

The book talks about the shift in consumer expectations caused by the mobile revolution. Consumers now realize they can get what they want, anytime they want, from their mobile device. I encourage every marketer to think about the mobile moments that matter in their business – the moment when customers pull out their phone to get what they want immediately and in context.

So many companies are still “squeezing” their desktop site into a mobile experience. Those that innovate toward the specific moments of need and are there to answer will win brand loyalty in the end.

Outside of your company’s efforts, what ad campaign or video caught your eye recently?

There are so many. Probably one that we talk about a lot at Edmunds.com is the latest TripAdvisor campaign.

Not only are they clearly communicating the emotional experience of booking through them, but also cleverly driving search engine activity for their brand by showing a keyword search for TripAdvisor Hawaii.

(Photo credit: Edmunds.com)

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Amy Gesenhues
Amy Gesenhues was a senior editor for Third Door Media, covering the latest news and updates for Marketing Land, Search Engine Land and MarTech Today. From 2009 to 2012, she was an award-winning syndicated columnist for a number of daily newspapers from New York to Texas. With more than ten years of marketing management experience, she has contributed to a variety of traditional and online publications, including MarketingProfs, SoftwareCEO, and Sales and Marketing Management Magazine. Read more of Amy's articles.

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