How the power of data transformed Volvo’s digital marketing

Olesya Moosman, Marcus San Pedro / August 2020

The customer path to purchase is a complex one, but none more so than in the automotive industry. And understandably so — with a big-ticket item such as a car, consumers take their time in the research phase before committing to a purchase.

But what if automotive companies could harness their own research to better understand their customer’s journey? That’s exactly what inspired Per Carleö, marketing director of Volvo Car Sweden, to engage media agency Mindshare, powered by Business Science, in creating a bespoke marketing mix model (MMM) to capture the unique journey of a Volvo customer.

“As a marketer, you believe the brand is doing work on a long-term basis,” he says, “but by measuring it, we could see much more. We could see brand preference levels being a strong contributor all the way down to the customer ordering the car. Seeing this having such an impact, even on a short term basis, that was my aha moment.”

But what are the secrets to building, interpreting, and implementing the results of a successful MMM, and has it helped Volvo during the pandemic?

The importance of being involved in the initial study design

Measurement is key for achieving business goals and improving digital marketing maturity — something Carleö and his team agree with. They made some hypotheses as to what drives Volvo’s success, and included them in the MMM.

“I would say we're becoming more digitally mature but are still very much in the midst of a transformation,” Carleö explains. “As with most companies in the automotive space, we don't own our stores. That means we have to tackle challenges from a perspective other brands do not need to consider.”

“We felt it was really important to be around from the start of the study to ensure that it was as relevant as possible for our business. Perhaps, if we weren’t so involved, we might think that certain data wasn't relevant to what we were trying to discover, so we’d skip it and move on. But it might be crucial, and by being so engaged, we were able to spot what is interesting and, more than that, explain why.”

Get a full view of your campaigns: A 4-step measurement plan

The media model analysed media campaign data at the creative, ad format, and targeting level for seven of Volvo’s top passenger cars. Lisa Gröning, project manager with Business Science, explains: “We went with a customised approach as part of which we, in addition to standard MMM, designed a deep dive analysis. We first measured the long-term effects, because that's so important in the automotive category. This allowed us to quantify the value of having a strong brand.”

Secondly, they needed to fuse the MMM learnings with other efficiency measurements such as brand lift studies to try and understand the success of all Volvo’s campaigns, while the third element was to identify and define the different touch points of the consumer journey.

Lastly, the team had to compare the data from the MMM with the attribution models Volvo already used to understand how and why the results were differing between everything.

Don’t treat all insights as equal

Unlike its neighbours, Sweden did not go into lockdown, meaning customers could still visit showrooms. So when coronavirus struck, the study, which was conducted pre-pandemic, allowed Volvo to focus their media budget where they knew it would have the greatest impact. The wealth of data it produced also confirmed that certain media channels, such as Google Search, are a strong short-term performance driver for Volvo. Expanding paid search to include more generic keywords greatly improved search efficiency, for example. But channels such as social, TV, and display worked best to increase brand preference. In addition, the study revealed that YouTube campaigns with strong recall can deliver a better return on investment.

When coronavirus struck, the study, which was conducted pre-pandemic, allowed Volvo to focus their media budget where they knew it would have the greatest impact.

While each of these findings will inform future decisions, the teams at both Volvo and Mindshare were most excited about the results from Store Visits. This records if a user visits a physical store within 30 days of visiting your website.

“We had some indicative results that the store visit signal is really interesting for automotive brands,” says Gröning. It’s a view Carleö shares: “With Store Visits, the correlation between the traffic we saw and the visits was so much stronger than we thought. That was a great finding, and really made us instantly add it as a measurement to our daily analysis.”

Action results as soon as possible

Balancing media budgets to drive short-term profitability and long-term sales is something that is on many marketers' minds. Volvo and Mindshare have figured out a way to do that by dedicating resources to marketing effectiveness measurement, establishing a test-and-learn mentality, and connecting data sources, media platforms, and complementary methodologies.

As a result of the study's success, Volvo are implementing many of the findings and have already changed budget allocations and optimised media spend. But that’s not all.

“I would say the biggest change to come from this is that we're trusting data and using it on a cross-functional basis,” says Carleö. “It's not only the marketing department that benefits from this data, it also helps the finance department, as well as the CEO and the management team. Everyone can use this data as a basis for their work. There's definitely a new dawn for the use of MMM in Volvo.”

Everyone can use this data as a basis for their work. There's definitely a new dawn for the use of MMM in Volvo.

3 tips to improve your company's measurement strategy

  • Assign an owner within your organisation who can take full ownership of the measurement process, including the granularity of data and interpretation of results.
  • Decide on the main KPI that you want to understand and ensure that you are looking at both long and short term effects on that KPI.
  • Keep an eye out for unforeseeable results as these can prove just as valuable to your organisation as expected one.
How to unlock the power of first-party data