8. März 2022

Content Intel—episode 12: how Mazda has optimized its new suite of websites

It’s a full house on Content Intel as we sit down with Matt Simpson, Managing Director of Candyspace, Simon Culley, Omnichannel Retail Manager at Mazda, and our own Joey Moore, Optimizely’s Senior Director of Product, to discuss how Mazda is meeting its customers’ purchasing demands in the digital space with its new ecosystem of dealer websites. Click below for more.


Laura Dolan (00:00):

Hello everyone and welcome to this very special episode of Content Intel, brought to you by Optimizely. I am your host, Laura Dolan, and today we have a packed house here on our podcast. I'd like to welcome Matt Simpson, he's the managing director of Candyspace, Simon Culley, he's the omnichannel retail manager at Mazda, and our own Joey Moore, Optimizely's senior director of product. Welcome gentlemen, thank you all so much for being here today. How's everyone doing?

Matt Simpson (00:27):

Great, thanks for having us.

Simon Culley (00:28):

Yeah, really good thank you.

Joey Moore (00:30):

Very well.

Laura Dolan (00:31):

Well, thank you all so much for being here today. So let's jump right in, let's talk some cars, we have a lot to unpack. Matt, let's start with you. What are the trends you're seeing in the automotive sector around the digital experience?

Matt Simpson (00:42):

Yeah, I mean, automated is a fascinating sector to be in at the moment, because it's going through huge and rapid change, with electrification, new mobility as a service, subscription models, autonomous cars, the changing relationship between manufacturers and dealers, flying cars, I don't know, the sheer volume of data that cars produce now, and what you do with it. So the sector as a whole is really rapidly trying to define how digital technologies can both improve systems and processes, but more importantly, to be better at meeting the changing customer needs. So it really is at the top of the agenda in automotive boardrooms all around the world, and that ability to demonstrate clear impact and effectiveness with digital products and technology is what's on everyone's lips and is of huge value at the moment to automated businesses.

Laura Dolan (01:43):

And how do you think that's affecting customer expectations around actually purchasing vehicles?

Matt Simpson (01:48):

I mean, that's also fascinating. So consumers are increasingly desiring the ability to complete many of the steps in buying a vehicle online, and there's all sorts of research around this. Actually, the pandemic and the lockdown accelerated these trends. A recent survey, 64% of car buyers want to handle more of their purchase online, compared to the last time they purchased a vehicle. And in 2021, 25% of consumers stated they wanted to complete the whole purchase online. The challenge is that's really, really difficult, because buying a car's a complex process. For most customers, it's probably the most expensive thing they'll ever buy outside property. The journey towards buying a car has multiple steps, from consideration to purchase and beyond. What's the right car for me, what brand, what model, what features do I want? How do I finance it? How do I trade in my current vehicle? What insurance do I need? How can I test drive it? How's the car delivered?

Matt Simpson (03:00):

It's really challenging to be able to deliver all of that online in a seamless and effective way. And actually, making it even more difficult is the friction on the supply side. Different parts of the journey are owned by different parties. Manufacturers, dealers, financiers, publishers. So actually delivering the seamless, frictionless end-to-end experience that customers are demanding is really, really hard. Automotive businesses are struggling to adapt, at the moment, to the pace at which they need to do that. We'll talk about it when you come on to Simon, but there's been some really great advances, and Mazda's definitely leading the way in this, in being able to do that. But yeah, I think all of the sector recognizes it's a real challenge.

Laura Dolan (03:52):

Yeah. Simon, let's turn it over to you. How is Mazda meeting those customer demands?

Simon Culley (03:58):

It's been a challenge, massively, for us, because, as Matt highlighted, all the various complexities we're having to deal with, or have had to deal with over the last 18 months, two years, it's had to really allow us to adapt the way that we try and connect with our customers. Because if we take a journey back two years to when we first went into lockdown, when the world was a different place, we had to adopt what we would class as a digital only strategy, because we couldn't connect in a physical way with customers, because non-essential retail, which automotive fell into, was closed. So our dealers had to forcibly adapt their businesses very quickly into a more omnichannel type experience, in terms of providing click and collect, trying to work around government regulations, as much as the complexities of trying to sell a car in a virtual world.

Simon Culley (04:47):

For us, that really challenged us of how we supported our dealers in that. Because certainly, as we've moved away from pandemic, and dealers have naturally had to adjust, and us trying to support it, our ability to surface some digital solutions to meet that haven't been quick enough in many respects, but we've managed to fulfill that space quite quickly, in terms of how we provide our users and our customers with a blended, omnichannel journey.

Simon Culley (05:13):

I think what we've found has been quite useful, that we've learned that we had to go from a digital only approach to more of an approach now, which is digital first, but not digital only, now that the physical facilities are open. And for us, what we found, certainly with our own audience, and the insight that we've conducted with our customers and prospects, is customers adapted that they could only do things digitally, and whilst they haven't totally gone back to a digital only approach, it's certainly landed a more digital priority in the way in which they want to use our dealerships in a slightly different way.

Simon Culley (05:49):

Our insight shows, which is quite positive, that customers are still very much wedded to a physical experience, but that physical experience is now coming at a completely different part in their buying journey than it did before. A lot of the pre-validation is more digitally orientated, and then the handoff into a physical environment is just happening at a much later stage in the buying process. Because with the work that we've managed to do with our own platforms, and some of the technology that we've adopted, and worked with Candyspace on, is allowing customers to connect quicker with our dealers, with digital tools that allow them then to connect and conduct a physical environment for our audience, which they want to.

Simon Culley (06:26):

So for us, it's been a big challenge to try and strike that right balance between what physical tools do we provide, and what digital tools do we allow, to have that full blended journey, to allow users to dip in and dip out of the tools and the processes they want to at the most appropriate time?

Laura Dolan (06:41):

Awesome. That perfectly segues into my next question, and that is Mazda's relationship with Optimizely, and how Optimizely has helped to accelerate some of those digital endeavors that you were talking about. Can you talk about some of the services that our DXP helps provide for you?

Simon Culley (07:00):

Certainly. I might need, perhaps, get Matt's involvement here. We work very closely with Matt and his team, and his team's probably much closer to that to probably give a bit more of a rounded answer to that. So Matt, sorry to thrust that more in your direction.

Matt Simpson (07:15):

No, that's all right. So yeah, Mazda's been working with Optimizely, I think, since 2019. So, migrated the pan-European website to Optimizely. It's also used in other territories around the world, I think the US, Canada, New Zealand. Essentially, it enables us to be highly attuned to the needs of customers.

Matt Simpson (07:39):

To give you a good example, during the many lockdowns over 2020 and 2021, dealers were shut, and it meant one of the key points in the car buying journey, the test drive, just wasn't able to happen, it wasn't able to be fulfilled by the dealers. Through the flexibility and adaptability of the Optimizely platform, we were able to very quickly refocus the Mazda web platform, which really did become the central way in which Mazda were able to communicate their customers to reflect the change in need. What that meant was we were able to focus on pushing customers towards finance calculators and lining them up with the right dealers, so that when the dealerships were open again, they were able to fulfill those test drives.

Matt Simpson (08:34):

The other thing we've done is consolidated what was 81 separate dealer websites into a single ecosystem that sits under the mazda.co.uk domain. So that really is enabling us to deliver the consistent, streamlined customer journeys that our customers now expect. That means now dealers have their own individual pages that they can customize with their own offers, their after sale services, their contact, but actually, it all resides in the umbrella of the Mazda ecosystem, so they're getting a really consistent experience. It also, through the Optimizely platform, gives us much, much more improved data and analytics that sit behind it. So from a Mazda perspective, it's now much, much more optimized to drive leads, to optimize conversions, and to, again, create those journeys for customers across the whole digital platform.

Joey Moore (09:35):

I think that's absolutely key, it's around that speed to adaptability. I think that one of the numbers that Microsoft talked about was that two years of digital transformation accelerated into two months at the very beginning of the pandemic. And lots of organizations had to look at how they can adapt to those new customer expectations, and do so very quickly. Car buying is an emotional process, so how do you replicate that expertise, that emotional resonance to customers? To be able to do that digitally means you need the right tools and the right capabilities, have the right understanding of data, to be able to do that. So, it's been super important for Mazda.

Laura Dolan (10:15):

Yeah. I could actually say that I'm one of those people. My husband and I actually bought a car during the pandemic, we bought a Tesla in 2020. And yeah, everything was done online. We basically customized the vehicle, and we were communicating on the website, and basically, we had to go pick up the car that was delivered to our local dealership. It was just all done digitally, it was such a different experience. It was actually really cool how streamlined it was, considering it was just the first time we've ever had to do it, and they made it very simple. How do you feel this type of technology improves relationship with customers? Have you observed anything along those lines, of how you think customers receive this type of technology?

Matt Simpson (10:59):

I mean, it's interesting you use the example of Tesla, and they're certainly leading the way in delivering a fully online experience. What we're seeing in the UK, actually, is that most customers still want the physical, tangible experience at some point in that journey, of actually sitting in the car, of feeling what it's like. Mazda, actually, have got some pretty nifty AR and VR tools that helped them launch the CX-50, but at the moment, it's difficult to replace that physical experience.

Matt Simpson (11:33):

One of the really innovative things that Mazda are doing, I think, and Simon alluded to this earlier, is being able to bring test drives and that physical experience into that omnichannel journey. Mazdas Your Way essentially involves remote consultation and product presentation, and flexible test drives, so the car's delivered to you, whether that's at your home, or your work, or wherever you're located, at the duration that's suitable for you. That's a really nice example of the tools working together to deliver and extend a frictionless experience, beyond the digital world, into the physical world and back again. So that's where we are seeing customers really value the advantage of that combination of digital and physical.

Simon Culley (12:28):

Yeah. To help reinforce that, I think we did a lot of insight work over the last 18 months to understand buying preferences and changing buying preferences. Joey made mention to Microsoft insight, regarding the swing towards digital has doubled in massively in a very short period of time, in terms of digital transformation. We wanted to understand, from our own buyers, about their adoption of digital on the purchase they have made, as an owner, and their future intentions.

Simon Culley (12:56):

So we did a lot of survey work last year, where we surveyed people that bought pre-pandemic, so they had the ability to have a more physical, in-dealership experience, and those that bought in the pandemic, where they had to rely very heavily on digitization of that sales process. It was really to understand, when you're next considering, what steps of the process will you take physically or digitally? And what we saw across all audience profiles and all age groups, was what we saw a move to the center ground, a more blended experience, where there's some people that just want end to end digital, there's some that will do more stages at the dealership... Sorry, less stages at the dealership and more at home. But the dealership still had a place within all profiles that we researched. So it showed us that the digitization was important, because people were going to be looking to do that, in terms of their consideration next time, but we needed to make sure it was at the right steps at the right time to reinforce that physical process.

Simon Culley (13:51):

I think, for us, and Matt mentioned it, we launched a program in the pandemic, which was Mazda Your Way, which is a whole series of convenient solutions that sit under that umbrella that connect the physical and digital worlds to the consumers, to make that whole process of buying a car much more convenient to them. The intention we had behind that was based off some pilot work we did in the metropolitan area within London, that really showed, if you do offer convenience, customers will use it at various points of their process.

Simon Culley (14:23):

So we launched it in the pandemic and we actually signed up our entire dealer network to it, with some standards of entry point, and expectations on delivery of both physical and digital. What we've found since we've done that, it's allowed us to introduce the digital tools and the more seamless journey that we can add into that since [inaudible 00:14:44] that. And we're staying true to that principle, because we didn't launch it as a sticking plaster approach to COVID, it was very much let's get it to land, and let's not use it as an excuse to connect, let's use that as a basis of convenience as we move forward. So for us, that's an integral strategic program that we will use to support our umbrella, omnichannel approach to customers, because we can continually add convenience to it as we bring wider functionality and tools to ease that process.

Joey Moore (15:11):

I was going to say, I mean, I think that is super important. That's really critical research, because obviously, we talked around the new normal back in the day, and now that's kind of the new, new normal.

Laura Dolan (15:22):


Joey Moore (15:22):

Well, how have those expectations shifted, and what is it that customers just take for granted now, that that's the way they'll be able to do things? It's going to be very different this year, as it is next year, as it was two years ago. So using data to actually understand what those preferences are, how you can provide a more seamless and convenient experience for consumers, it's absolutely critical at the moment.

Matt Simpson (15:44):

And why what Simon talked about is so important is because, in that drive to create a frictionless journey, the handoff between dealer and manufacturer and back again is one of the greatest points of friction. If you're a customer, you don't really care, you want to buy a car that's right for you, and actually, that handoff is not particularly helpful. So bringing the dealers on side, again using the Optimizely platform to bring a whole disparate set of independent businesses under the umbrella of Mazda, so that from a customer perspective, again, that experience is as seamless as possible for them, is really critical to delivering on the promise of those frictionless journeys for customers.

Laura Dolan (16:29):

Yeah, I'm sure there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes there, like you said, between the manufacturers and the dealerships, that customers don't see, customers have no idea. And the less they know the better, because for them, all they care about is getting their car. I know that dealerships, they play a very essential role in maintaining that personalized journey for customers. So I would imagine that's one of the challenges right now, transitioning over to a digital space, that dealerships are still trying to maintain a lot of that personalization with customers. Are there any other challenges around that that dealerships are trying to overcome?

Simon Culley (17:05):

I think, from our perspective, it's key that we take dealers on this journey, that they don't see what we are doing as an approach for us to replace them with a direct way of selling to customers. And [inaudible 00:17:18] one of the things that we've worked quite heavily on over, ever since we've integrated the new dealer website platforms into our national platform, is that dealers don't feel that we are trying to own their journey. We're trying to make it a more seamless journey for customers, that make it easier for them to connect with dealers in a physical. And whether they want to go down a pure digital route with a dealer, or whether they want to go through a blended, omnichannel route, trying to get our dealers to understand the benefits of what we're doing. So I think the key challenge for us is telling dealers why we're doing what we're doing, getting their buy-in, so they see the benefits of that.

Simon Culley (17:55):

We've gradually got our dealers into that head space, where we've had some resistance in some of the decisions that we've reached, we've gone through some pain points, but as it's a start of a more longer term journey, I think we've gradually started to move the needle in a much more positive direction with them, where they're starting to see the benefits. We're seeing our dealers have more leads that are going to them, they're converting better. We've got much better journeys in-platform, and as we are using the platform as a base to build and put more functionality in, the dealers are joining that journey with us, which I think is really quite positive.

Simon Culley (18:28):

Dealers are very cultured individuals, some of them don't like change. And the way in which people have been able to buy cars has been so traditional that we've had to, not drag dealers in a positive direction, some were going into that space already, but to try to get that unified, complete franchise approach to it. I think we're in a real positive direction there with our dealers, because they're seeing the benefits of what we're trying to do, is to connect customers to them in the most seamless way we possibly can.

Joey Moore (18:54):

Simon, did you find that the pandemic actually helped illuminate the possibility and opportunity of digital for those dealers? That they'd maybe previously been slightly reticent to join that, whereas suddenly it became a critical need, and therefore they could actually understand the weight and possibility that the brand can actually bring to their businesses as well.

Simon Culley (19:16):

I think it totally did that, Joey. I think dealers, it was adapt or die, effectively, during pandemic. They either had to adopt a different way of doing things, through click and collect, or at home type convenience services, to allow their businesses to function. In the first lockdown, I think the dealers only had the ability to do essential servicing work. The ability to do physical sales was just something that they couldn't do. They couldn't even open their showroom doors.

Simon Culley (19:43):

So it was a case of dealers had to maintain some level of business normality, and I think it helped us drag them in a positive direction, that we were going to be going in anyway, but the pandemic has aided the dealers' understanding more as the why. Because people have engaged with digital tools, they've engaged with the ways and the systems and the processes they've had to adapt to, and that is definitely sticking. I think that's really been a positive, to have that paradigm shift from dealers very much welded to a more traditional showroom environment, into a much wider way, that they need to realize there's got to be a multi-channel approach to customers, than ever before.

Joey Moore (20:21):

For me, it was definitely that bit about adaptability, and the speed at which you're able to do it, along with the Candyspace team, and having the right platform in place, means you can use data to identify where the gaps are in the journey today, or what were suddenly presented to customers, and then be able to adapt and shift quite quickly and move on that. So, kudos there.

Matt Simpson (20:39):

Again, the new ecosystem, we think, is of real value for the dealers, because it means that when a customer comes to the new site, their preferred dealer is stored and logged, which means when they visit other parts of the mazda.co.uk website, things start to become personalized for them. Forms are auto completed, in the future we're going to have personalized calls to actions and copy that are reflective of the specific dealer that they're associated with. So it helps the experience for the customer, but we think it also helps the individual dealers.

Laura Dolan (21:16):

In addition to the new ecosystem, what does the future hold for Mazda?

Simon Culley (21:20):

I think we're looking forward very positively, that we would like a slightly normal year, but what's normal? I think, certainly when we're looking at supporting ecosystem, is to constantly provide intuitive tools that engage users, and provide... It comes back to what I said, it comes back to easier and seamless ways that they can connect and transact. So our platforms are going to become a far more important role in that. And I think the way in which we maintain our platforms has a much more frequent hygiene factor than perhaps we'd ever realized. Not because they're wrong, but it's constantly looking at data, looking at journeys, looking at insights, and making very intuitive decisions to support that.

Simon Culley (22:05):

Since I've came to my role, I probably moved more from a day to day type role of management, far more into an analytical approach to my role, in terms of what have we seen, what's it doing, and what else can we do? And I think it's been so useful working with Matt and his team, using their tools, our tools and insights, to really try and optimize as much as we possibly can.

Simon Culley (22:31):

With us going into next year, our challenge is twofold. We want to throw more people into the top of the funnel, but we've got to make sure they stick on that journey as they go through digital platforms and convert, in a way that we can sell cars. Ultimately, what we want to do is we want to sell product, we want to be profitable, but we'll start taking steps back within the funnel to do that. Just got to make sure that every point within that funnel allows customers to stick, and to connect to our dealers, so that we can sell product.

Laura Dolan (22:59):

Well, I commend you on how fast you've had to pivot during this time, Simon. I can't imagine it was easy. It's just interesting to hear how different industries have had to get creative during the pandemic, and you are no exception, so I fully respect what Mazda had to do. Is there anything we didn't cover that any of you guys would like to speak on before we wrap up?

Matt Simpson (23:20):

Yeah. I mean, I talked at the start about the massive and rapid change the automated sector's going through. And it is, I think Simon mentioned, a sector that until recently hasn't had to change the way it's operated for a long time. It's really exciting to see that. It doesn't just require a change in operating models, or the way experiences are delivered to customers, I think there's a big mindset shift going on. There are long held norms in the automotive sector around a culture of one and done sales, but I think it's moving very quickly to a new mindset of continuous customer interaction. A focus on delivering value to a customer all the way from when they start thinking about buying a car, to post purchase and the full lifecycle value. And yeah, I know that's something Mazda's very focused on, that relentless focus on customer value. I think we're going to see more and more of that across the sector, and consequently, more and more value to customers, right through their experience with manufacturers like Mazda.

Joey Moore (24:31):

I think, for me, what the most exciting thing is, how it's enabled the brand to get closer to customers, through the use of data, and understanding customer journeys, understanding those pain points, but understanding those separate consideration phases, the many that exist in the car buyer journey. And then be able to get the brand closer to [inaudible 00:24:51] they can better understand them, not only leads to that initial sale, that one and done, but it's also about loyalty, it's about creating customers for life, that have that ongoing engagement, have that ongoing value, so that, when that next consideration period comes up, the first choice is going to be Mazda, it's going to be the brand that really helped them do that experience so seamlessly the first time round.

Simon Culley (25:14):

I think, for us, with that, we face every year like every other automotive, or any other organization, where when you plan your budgets, you obviously want to maximize your share of voice as best as you can. But there's certain elements you can't control in your budgets, is one, what your competitors are spending, and also media inflation, which is always something we have to battle with. So for us, it's so important, from a value of customer, is getting them in, getting them sticking and making them buy again. So it reinforces the need to have, once you get the customer, you've got data, you've got to manage it very carefully, nurture the customer, and also maintain that customer in the services and the customer experience.

Simon Culley (25:55):

We've always had a mantra with our dealers about the customer experience is key, but the challenge, I think, they felt, certainly with pandemic, was they had to rely on their customers so much more than they could on prospects, because that's the value they needed to drive into their business. I think we certainly found, in terms of driving value to customers, I think our customers have had better experiences through lockdown, because the dealers have had to value them far more than ever before.

Simon Culley (26:22):

The focus as we build next year is we need to build our business of prospects. That becomes a bigger challenge for us, but it's good that, I think, we've got our platforms aligned now that really allow us to do that. So for us, on a growth plan, back to perhaps a normal year, we are going to need to lean far more heavily on our platform performance to drive as much as we can into dealers. And hopefully, they can do the same job that they've been doing with their own customers, let's convert them and delight them. But I think that whole value chain of retention is so much more important now than ever before.

Laura Dolan (26:54):

Fantastic. Well, here's to adapting and relying on our new, new normal. See where these new digital spaces are going to take us, this is a very exciting time. And Joey will, I'm sure, agree with me, when I say it's all about experimentation, and just seeing what we put out there and what the customers respond to.

Laura Dolan (27:12):

Well, Joey, Matt, Simon, I can't thank you gentlemen enough for your time today. This was a great discussion, so thank you all so much for being here and participating, and thank you all for tuning into this episode of Content Intel. I am Laura Dolan, and I will see you next time.

Laura Dolan (27:29):

Thank you for listening to this episode of Content Intel. If you'd like to check out more episodes or learn more about how we can take your business to the next level by using our content, commerce, or optimization tools, please visit our website at optimizely.com, or you can contact us directly using the link at the bottom of this podcast blog to hear more about how our products will help you unlock your digital potential.