Jason Easton, General Motors’ director of sales, service and marketing for the Toronto/GTA market, is on a mission to incorporate data analytics into the company’s everyday thinking and decision making.

Jason Easton, General Motors’ director of sales, service and marketing for the Toronto/GTA market, is on a mission to incorporate data analytics into the company’s everyday thinking and decision making.

There are few tougher markets for selling new vehicles than Toronto. With its mix of young renters, culturally diverse suburbanites and wealthy older families, the Greater Toronto Area is very complex, hyper-competitive and much different from other parts of the country. No one knows that better than Jason Easton, General Motors’ director of sales, service and marketing for the Toronto/GTA market. And a recent analysis of Chevrolet buyers drove home the distinction, according to Easton.

“We know how to reach our loyal customer base, those consumers who already buy Chevrolet vehicles, consume our media and engage with the brand,” says Easton. “But in urban centres like Toronto, where consumers behave very differently, different approaches are required. This is something that our senior leaders fundamentally knew, but no one had shown them quantifiable and actionable data to support that.”

Easton, a professional engineer, is a recent convert to the senior marketing team. Having worked at GM for more than a decade in a variety of demanding roles—from assembly plant engineer to communications manager to lead strategist—he moved into marketing in July 2015 to spearhead GM’s strategies in Toronto and “move the needle for Chevrolet.” As a Millennial who lives in the heart of the city and is connected within Toronto’s social fabric, he was a natural fit to start thinking differently about new approaches for this market. In just a few months, he’s begun to shake things up with his data-based approach to decision making.

Instead of focusing on aspirational targets at the national or regional level, Easton wants to map a different course, using data to better understand Chevrolet’s current car buyers at the local level. “Who’s going to drive sales today and tomorrow?” is the question he posed for himself. “There can be disconnects between aspirational brand targets and our target sales group. And we need to bridge those gaps.”

Last spring, GM contacted Environics Analytics (EA), the marketing services and data analytics company, for help analyzing its Toronto car buyers. Examining the car buyers around GM’s 18 Chevrolet dealers in the GTA, EA analysts identified seven distinct target groups—with names like “City Renters” and “Multicultural Suburbanites”—and provided detailed information on their demographics, media usage and psychographic social values.

Getting to know Chevy fans

The study revealed which segments accounted for the most sales of Chevrolet vehicles in Toronto, which were underperforming and which offered the greatest opportunity for growth. The data also helped GM plan Chevrolet’s media spend, showing that City Renters, for instance, were heavy consumers of TV, newspapers and direct mail—insights that would help dealers determine the best media plan to reach this buying segment. Meanwhile, the data revealed that radio was a better channel for reaching Multicultural Suburbanites.

But the analysis also aided Toronto dealers in their local marketing efforts, with maps indicating the concentration of Chevrolet target groups in each dealer’s market area and the two or three primary target groups in their audience. Last November, Easton and his team took their data findings on the road, spending countless hours reviewing the EA data with each Toronto dealer, along with other complementary research and analytics. The presentations highlighted the differences between target groups so dealers could understand the nuances as well as the commonalities within their market in order to be more efficient in their marketing efforts. Most dealers plan to use the information in their 2016 marketing plans, says Easton.

“We wanted to make the information dealer-friendly so it could be actionable and used for localized marketing plans,” says Easton. “Instead of paddling against the current, we should first be marketing to those consumers who are already receptive to our brand. And our dealers want to move the needle through these local opportunities.”

Easton envisions building a “culture around analytics” that will impact decision making at the national, regional and local levels. Already his marketing team in Toronto has declined sponsorship opportunities because they didn’t align with their target audiences. Last October, his marketing team revamped an age-old new car sales tactic, the test drive, with a customized program to promote its Chevrolet Cruze brand with a “mini road trip” aimed at Millennials and young, budget-conscious families. Prospective buyers could sign up for a test drive by going online or sending a text; they could also bring along a couple of family members and friends for the ride and even request loading the car with their favourite music and snacks.

“We received amazing customer feedback that our approach was completely unexpected and delightful,” Easton says. “We used targeted young Millennial segments that exist in downtown marketing areas, and the EA data informed that effort.”

Shifting away from a mass mindset

Admittedly, not everyone has enthusiastically embraced the targeted approach that the analytics have informed. “Change is hard. And it’s harder for some than others to change from the mass mindset to the targeted mindset,” Easton observes. “But the foundation of the EA data is to determine who we are already selling vehicles to and where can we find more of them.”

Despite some of the challenges, Easton says he’s encouraged by the customer insights revealed in the EA data. Although dealer results from their data-driven approach for 2016 won’t be available for some time, Easton’s already promoting its use in other markets, including Vancouver and Calgary. “If we can successfully use this approach here in Toronto, we can do it anywhere,” he says. Meanwhile, other marketers at GM Canada have taken note of the EA findings in Toronto and have asked for similar analyses for their efforts. Easton, the engineer turned marketer, is only too happy to oblige.

“One of my secret missions is to enhance our overall capability and willingness to incorporate analytics into our everyday thinking and decision making,” he says. “So I’m very excited that the approach we’ve taken in Toronto is spreading. I’m happy it’s starting to influence how people in the company think.

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Direct Marketing.

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