João Ciaco: Marketing to customers, as well as to colleagues

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João Ciaco,
Director of advertising and relationship marketing for Latin America/Brazil, Fiat

If everyone in the company is ultimately responsible for brand perception, what’s the role of the marketing department? For João Ciaco, chief marketer in Latin America for Italian carmaker Fiat, marketing is increasingly about making connections. Ciaco explains his efforts to connect social media with experiences beyond the virtual world, to encourage many disparate agencies to work together, to collaborate with the IT department, and to convince skeptics of marketing’s long-term value.

What would you consider to be marketing’s primary role at Fiat?

Marketing has a very difficult position in any organization. We’re not directly driving sales because that’s the role of the sales department. We’re not a planning department because planning happens in each of the departments individually. And we’re not even exclusively responsible for the brand anymore because that responsibility is now spread across the company. So my approach is to aggregate all of the activity happening around the brand so that we can have a much more consolidated brand presence. To do this, it’s really important to see the data and to align everything. It’s also important to see the best solutions and how to provide them to the people who are responsible for managing products from the beginning so they can have the best total vision. It’s a tough world.

What’s the secret to integrating various marketing campaigns?

I can spend 30 percent or more of my time just solving problems with our agencies, whether that means integrating projects or solving conflicts across five national agencies, eight regional agencies for PR, and various innovation and design agencies. It’s really difficult to have everyone working in the same direction. A year ago, we put all of the agencies together into one new structure called Agencia Fiat, which breaks down the responsibilities between online and offline and puts everybody together in one building and lets them work together. This way, we’re not talking about integrating projects after they’re already developed, but rather integrating these processes from the start— so we’re not wasting as much time. We still do have some conflicts, but things are much better than they used to be.

How has your job changed?

Ten years ago, it was very easy to choose media or to choose advertising or merchandising or point of sales or direct marketing. But it’s not this way anymore because the same consumer can see all forms of communication at the same time. That makes our job much more difficult in terms of how to squeeze the budget and build very consistent marketing plans across media. So, it’s essential for us to have a more precise marketing plan. Also, it’s difficult to talk about the old segmentation methods where you’d just split consumers in different groups and have a dedicated effort for each of the segments. Now we realize that the same consumer could be part of several groups. With mass media, television especially, the communication was not based on the buyer, but rather on the medium. That’s not possible now. It’s much more important to understand your consumers and know what groups they consider themselves to be part of.

How do you use technology to help?

Technology is important. Whether it’s customer relationship management or the various databases for customers and clients, measuring performance of the communications, managing the market research integration or measuring social media, a lot of these involve technology.

I don’t have the ability to always find the necessary solutions to do what we need to do, so I rely on my IT colleagues. I have a very good relationship with them. I have to. Together we identify the needs and decide on the best solutions. It’s not always easy, but we work very closely together. They’re following what’s going on, seeing all the projects that we’re involved in to understand our needs so they can work on finding the right technological solutions. Then there are the agencies. They have their own preferences and sometimes we have to consider how we’re going to analyze information together.

How has online and social media changed car retailing?

Seventy-five percent of our consumers go to the Web site before they go to the dealer. They go to see our cars and prices, to simulate financing and leasing, and to determine availability. We’re trying everything possible to improve this experience, in terms of 3-D photography and movies that show all the features and systems or explain various technologies. So, it’s fantastic that you can create a way of finding or building a car online. But you still have to connect the online experience with the real experience. We’re always trying to connect the digital and real worlds. We recently launched a project with Facebook where consumers use a car configurator to build the cars and around 31,000 cars are built this way every day. That’s a huge number considering that we manufacture only 3,000 cars a day in the real world. But nobody buys a car by him or herself. It’s a social decision. You have to talk to your family. So, we decided to make the experience of building a car online more social. When you finish the process, you can share what you’ve created. That’s basically how we’re making online and social media work.

How do you use all the data generated in that much activity?

It helps us understand the most preferred colors, accessories and all the configurations. It can definitely help in organizing production. Right now, we’re just getting this information and showing the team the colors that are most important.

How do you measure the return on investment for your marketing activities?

I have an area in my department, in planning, that’s responsible for measurements and continually understanding the various contributors to ROI—because sometimes it’s not possible to look at just one marker. It’s important to see the evolution of a program and its effect over time. We have short-term indicators that just show return on marketing investment relative to market share. Then we have to understand the medium-term effects. At Fiat, brand image, brand awareness and brand perception are the key elements. So, it’s important to measure and understand the effect of every action and how it influences the brand. And we have to look at the company’s profitability in light of the evolution of the brand and we use that information to determine how exactly the brand is evolving and to understand brand failures. What’s more, different metrics matter more to different departments. When you talk to finance, for example, the short-term metrics are very important. But it’s important for every department and every market to see the medium- and long-term effects of building the brand.

How do you keep abreast of all the changes to make sure that marketing is relevant in the long term?

We work with specialists, like an anthropologist in France, who have very specific ways of approaching the consumer. Sometimes we collaborate with universities that help introduce us to new processes. I also think that formal education is important—I recently completed a course myself. But the most important solutions for marketing, at least for the medium- to high-level marketer, aren’t going to come from business courses. For me, it’s more important now to see what’s going on in different areas—in philosophy, for instance—that will help us understand the way people organize their lives.

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