In November last year I spoke with Aaron Agius, Search Marketing Expert and Director of Marketing at On The Way To The Web, here is the transcript of the interview that details the challenges, tactics, implementation of social media, retail environment, SEO, marketing, boring old tyres and more.
1. Dominic, for the past two and a half years you have been with Tyres4U. Can you talk about the company and what your position with them entails?
Tyres4U is a BRW top privately owned Australian company, specialising in the import and distribution of tyres. The company operates 18 branches in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. The product range includes 16 brands and covers applications for passenger, 4WD, truck, agricultural, industrial, earthmoving, off the road and special purpose tyres.
We are launching into the retail market with our challenger brand Tyreright. We sell to thousands of independent tyre stores across Australia; we are currently branding many of our premium stores and those that want to join under our Tyreright umbrella group. We have about 70 stores across most states with many more to follow. We want to compete directly with the big guys that have dominated the market for decades i.e. Beaurepaires, Bridgestone, K Mart Tyre & Auto, Bob Jane, Goodyear Autocar, Jax etc…
My position entails starting a digital team from inception, building the new innovative eCommerce website and associated channels, vehicles and tactics used to promote Tyreright. I pilot the digital and CRM strategy, working consultatively within each business unit. Tactics include; eCommerce, SEO, SEM, EDM, SoMe, ECRM, online display, analytics, mobile, technology automation, knowledge management and enterprise level technology implementation. I do a lot of marketing planning and functional roles for Tyres4U’s B2B strategy and their portfolio of brands as well.
2. You launched Australia’s first online tyre ecommerce website. Can you talk about the challenges you face in getting the public to change their thinking to buying tyres online?
Tyres are the ultimate grudge purchase, they are black boring circles of rubber, no one wants to part with their hard earned cash when it comes to tyres, in fact the vast majority of drivers only replace tyres when their vehicles wont be re-registered unless they do. So the challenge is huge!
Where we are having success is in the consumer buying process, putting the empowerment on the consumer’s side. Most people have walked out of a tyre store with new tyres and felt confused or taken advantage of. Our customers can choose their tyres online at midnight, in their pajamas, in the comfort of their own home. They can research them and pick them on value, performance or go as far as selecting them on their driving style (e.g. handling, wet weather, comfort, fuel economy and durability). You can then select a suitable time to have them fitted at your closest Tyreright store, turn up to have your tyres replaced between dropping the kids off at sport and picking up the groceries, a time convenient to you.
The experience is a lot more palatable and it’s proving successful. These days the savvy online consumers don’t just want to tell you what they want, they want you to predict what they want, that is what we are working towards.
Australians are not yet used to purchasing tyres online but they are doing a lot more research through search engines, content sites, comparison shopping, user reviews and ratings, affiliate sites and retailer sites. If you can make their life easier at this point of research and they trust your brand to take the next step, which is an online transaction, and that purchase is a pleasant experience; they will come back and tell their friends about it.
3. You manage a digital marketing team. Do you find yourself still getting involved in the trenches of your company’s specific marketing tactics or do you more just manage your team as they handle the specifics?
I like to be involved in the trenches, I have many ideas about business strategy, the principles of traditional and digital marketing and how they need to be applied plus how I think our customers want to engage with our brand / s now and into the future.
Consumers want to use all shopping channels. These channels need to work from the same database of products, prices, promotions, etc. All business units and departments need to work together with goal congruency and transparency.
You need to be in the trenches to help drive the outcome that is best for the business. Of course, we play strategically to the strengths of each member in our team, assigning specific tasks or projects accordingly, and we work closely together. There’s a lot of trust between us, and a lot of collaboration across all our tactics.
4. Tyres4U entered the retail space with Tyreright. How does your implementation of social media strategies change when you are faced managing two companies that have different customer bases?
The B2B and B2C strategies are at opposite ends of the paradigm. We have some tyre store customers in our dealer network that don’t have a computer let alone an email address. In this instance we are continuing on loyalty and reward programs and the best possible customer service to continue the success. I have some big ideas on ‘enterprise social’ but I will slowly introduce it based on a cost-benefit analysis. I am implementing some new social features into our existing intranet as a starting point.
Retail from a social standpoint is a completely contemporary focus; we want to ensure that we are using all available channels to engage with customers at every possible touch point. (What our resources can manage anyway).
We have found that social engagement really works when you approach it with a customer-care focus. We’ve even made tyre sales recently through twitter and facebook which is exciting.
5. How has entering the retail space challenged your existing distributor model? For example, have you lost business being that you might now compete directly with some of your clients?
We are very conscious of this and we are successfully doing our best to start by branding existing customers, keeping geographical distance between competition. However we are purchasing stores where there is a location void with the aim of selling it back to a retailer so we can concentrate on our core competencies which is wholesale. In saying that, you cant please every situation and there are challenges to mitigate. Trying your best to communicate with all parties and be transparent definitely helps.
Our distribution model has been our underlying success for almost 30 years, we need to maintain this, retain our partners but accommodate for the digital evolution and changing consumer behavior.
6. What are the overall differences in marketing for Tyres4U, which has a B2B sales model, vs.Tyreright which has a B2C sales model?
Our end user audience across both business models is anyone that drives a vehicle, which is huge. B2B is often product specific e.g. a mining tyre to an intermediary or a mining company. B2C is currently focusing on passenger vehicles and our competitive advantage of eCommerce and pushing this message direct to the consumer.
While we have introduced many digital strategies into B2B, it still has and will continue to have weight in traditional marketing because that is how our customers want to interact.
When it comes down to marketing, the business logic, practice, procedures, business models and principles remain the same, it’s the customer and how they want to interact that dictates your choices of tactics and engagement.
When it comes to Tyres4U and Tyreright, we adopted a simple philosophy of consistently and rigorously asking ourselves, how does this make our customers’ lives easier? The plan in both business models is to grow with our customers. To develop lasting, long-term relationships that allow us to understand their needs and to identify the things that we can do that will make life easier for them.
7. Being that you started the first online tyre ecommerce website, what have you done to keep your site in good form as competitors have entered the field?
We don’t have a direct online competitor yet but I know of three building their online portals right now, two on the same CMS platform, so the sharks are coming. We are not going to get to do this in isolation, our competitors are racing to meet us and beat us.
We’re really looking forward to seeing what our competitors come up with, seeing how they solve some of the same problems and to see what new ideas they’ve generated in terms of trying to meet their customers’ needs. Competition is good for us, because it keeps us moving forward. We can’t let up the pace and we can’t rest on our laurels. We need to constantly keep looking for refinements and methods that allow us to better serve our customers.
My advice is to build a roadmap with scalable platforms. These platforms need to be agile and adaptable enough to show a holistic understanding of the dynamic consumer behaviour path. Digital channels are no longer part of the discovery purchase phase. Consumers are looking for total channel integration and an experiential window on the world of your brand.
Connect with your customers in a two-way dialogue. If consumers are made to feel empowered and engaged by a company, they are more likely to act as evangelists for a product without prompting.
8. Tyre right must have been considered a bold move at the time of its launch. What were some of the biggest fears that you and your firm’s leadership had upon the launch, and how did they play out over time?
I am extremely fortunate that the executives want to move in this direction and embrace the technological shift. I have been given complete autonomy to grow the department inline with revenue and continue to plan and implement a digital strategy. I still have to go through the formal process of creating a business case for approval on initiatives but my decisions are supported at all levels.
We have had 7/9 record months for online sales, units and dollars, while the positive progression keeps on rolling I wont be asked too many questions.
9. Could you talk about your SEO strategy and how it fits in with your overall marketing campaign? How does content play into your online strategy?
Content is a top 3-strategy focus for us, we want lots of it and in multiple forms of media from ‘how to’ and instructional videos to safety, performance and entertaining multimedia content.
SEO is all about rich, relevant and constantly updated content. This will become a full time role for someone in my team (or outsourced) in the very near future.
10. Tyres might not be considered the “coolest” product on the planet. How do make your brand fun and exciting and avoid just quoting the “boring” facts about your product?
Along with trying to get a repeat purchase that is my biggest challenge, both the challenges go hand in hand really. We try to bring a human voice/presence to our digital interactions, whether that’s on the website or via one of our social channels. We encourage our team to express a sense of humour and to enjoy what they’re doing.
We also have a broader goal to help our customers feel empowered to choose the right tyre for their needs and to understand how to get the best out of it. This means that we’re not actively trying to sell a particular tyre, instead we’re relating the specific details of a product to the needs of a customer and helping them to make an informed choice.
In addition to the above we also are employing some customer loyalty and reward tactics, and my team is working on an exciting app that has the potential to change the competitive landscape so watch this space.
11. What is an area of marketing that Tyres4U has had some trouble gaining some traction (sorry for the word play) and how do you overcome those hurdles?
One of the largest challenges has been the result of being an industry leader in the digital space, and that is basically just getting Australian customers to be aware that there is now a comprehensive online solution for tyre purchasing that includes tyre selection, product comparison, pre-booked fitting and real-time customer support. In essence, we’ve not only launched a new retail business and a new brand, we’ve opened up a new market in Australia. In addressing this challenge we’ve looked at revising the entire user flow and experience in interacting with our brand.
We’re all aware that the traditional purchase funnel no longer adequately addresses the needs or capabilities of the modern consumer. So for us, the challenge isn’t just introducing an idea to the Australian market, that you can buy your tyres online. It’s also about identifying and using every opportunity that we can to help our customers get the best possible experience from their interactions with us. And that’s why we’re committed to evolving our digital presence. Digital is long past being a broadcast medium, we all know that, and we’re all familiar with the concept of a relationship based digital environment, but it’s essential to remember that relating to people means growing with them as well.
We’ve created specific performance characteristics for our tyres so that you can compare them based on more than the brand name and the price. We give every tyre a score out of 10 for each of the characteristics. We also have reviews and ratings on the site. These are slowly being built up over time and are primarily actual customer reviews, so you can see what other purchasers have had to say about the tyres you’re looking at.
We’ve added a live chat function to our site that’s available during business hours. We’ll expand that over time to offer out-of-hours support as well. We’re also adding plenty of new information and content to our site to help you understand why your tyres are important and what you can do to make sure you’re operating your tyres safely. We’ll even help you save money as you do it.
Most importantly, we’re not going to sell you tyres. Instead what we’re going to do is help you to understand your driving needs and empower you to select the right tyre for you.
We have a massive focus on personalization and localization but that is a whole other story!!