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Q&A: Avi Steinlauf, CEO Edmunds Inc., on Putting Data to Work

April 22, 2014 | By Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director – DCN@michellemanafy

This Q&A interview is part of OPA’s “Three on Three” series where we ask three industry executives the same three questions on a topic to uncover actionable insights… If you want to learn more, keep an eye out on our site for more interviews. This Three on Three interview is with Avi Steinlauf. CEO Edmunds Inc., on Putting Data to Work.

Q: Please describe the value of data to your editorial and advertising efforts:

Avi SteinlaufA: Data is the backbone of  Edmunds.com. Consumers who visit our site use our automotive data to shop for a car. And, with a deep regard for individual privacy, we collect clickstream, lead and transaction data that illustrates aggregate car shopper behavior in order to present our automaker and dealer partners with tangible insights that they can apply to their business.

We also analyze traffic to specific dealership inventory listings and carefully monitor consumer reviews of dealerships to ensure legitimacy and to help dealer partners pinpoint issues that may be hampering sales. I’m pretty sure that our attention to our consumer reviews is likely one of the reasons that Edmunds.com was named — along with TripAdvisor, Zagat and OpenTable — one of the most trusted prominent online review sites in Maritz Research’s 2013 Online Customer Review Study. That study examined 13 high-profile ratings sites; Edmunds.com was the only automotive site listed in the top ten and it ranked fourth overall, outperforming Yelp, Google+, Hotels.com, City Search and others.

Of course, we also collect data that allows us to make improvements to our own website user experience.

Q: Please describe a recent advertising initiative that leveraged data, how it did so, and how that generated a better end result:

A: Well, I think the way that we approach the use of data for advertising in general might be a better answer here. We have an innovative “dashboard” through which our account managers can help our business partners understand all sorts of performance data. For example, we can show how many Edmunds.com visitors spent time shopping online for particular vehicles—slicing the data by make, model and/or segment—to help our partners market their vehicles.

Our sales team can also help an Edmunds “Promise Partner” dealership review its performance relative to other dealerships. For example (see picture below), data might show that a dealer is providing Edmunds.com visitors only with exterior colors of its inventory 60% of the time. This means that in nearly half of the searches in which car shoppers are specifying a desired color, this dealer’s vehicles will not be included in search results.

Additionally, this dashboard illustrates that the dealer is below average in its designated market areas, both in terms of number of consumer ratings and reviews, and in terms of the score, for sales and service. So, when this dealer’s inventory appears on the Edmunds site, its listings will show no stars to 2 stars based on 1 review, which does not make them very competitive. These dashboards make our clients aware of opportunities to make positive changes that will affect their bottom line. We find that the real-time analysis is tremendously valued by our clients, and is a huge differentiator from our competition.

Q: The notion of “data” raises concerns with some. Please describe your take on the issues around publishers’ use of data and how you address some of the common concerns/issues:

A: Privacy is extremely important to us here at Edmunds.com. We have been told by our site visitors that they trust us, and we intend to always be as helpful and reliable as a friend. We use non-PII [personally identifiable information] data to help build better products for our website visitors and clients. By entering a ZIP code, car shoppers can gain access to locally relevant information such as nearby dealership inventory, regional True Market Value® prices, and average vehicle ownership costs specified by year, make and model.

Many of our site visitors choose to also give us PII data in order for us to help make their car shopping experience easier. For example, to receive a Price Promise certificate (which guarantees a locked-in, upfront price from a dealership), a car shopper will opt in to provide to Edmunds.com his or her name, phone number and email address. We make it crystal clear that this information will be used by Edmunds.com to facilitate a useful connection to the dealerships selected by the car shopper. Our site visitors know what we will do with the data, and we don’t do anything more. From a process perspective, that data is segmented and has strict access control so that we can maintain the privacy of our site visitors as we deliver a service that they requested from us.

Edmunds Data Dashboard

Avi Steinlauf is the CEO for Edmunds Inc. He is responsible for managing Edmunds’ operations, including its 550 employees headquartered in Santa Monica, CA, its satellite office in Detroit, MI, and its field sales force located across the US. Avi also serves as a Director on Edmunds’ Board of Directors. Since joining the company in 1998, he has been responsible for developing and cultivating relationships with a number of Edmunds’ key partners. Positions Avi has held at Edmunds include President, Chief Operating Officer, Executive Vice President of Strategy & Development, Vice President of Revenue Management, and Vice President of Marketing. Before joining Edmunds, Avi was a Senior Industry Analyst for Coopers & Lybrand’s Knowledge Strategies Group in New York.

Since 2006, Avi has been a Board Member for the Online Publishers’ Association, a not-for-profit trade organization dedicated to representing high-quality online content providers before the advertising community, the press, the government and the public. Avi is also a member of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO), Golden West Chapter and serves as the Communications Chairman for YPO’s Automotive Network.

Note: This Q&A is part of OPA’s “Three on Three” series where we ask three industry executives the same three questions on a topic to uncover actionable insights. Also in this series:

Q&A: Vikram Somaya, GM Weather FX, The Weather Company on Putting Data to Work

Q&A: Colin Decker, Group Operating Officer, Discovery Digital Networks on Putting Data to Work

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