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Q&A: Kia?s David Schoonover explains how responsive Web fuels in-dealership experiences

After going through a Web revamp in the past year, automaker Kia is now betting on responsive design as the glue behind building digital in-dealership experiences.

Kia was recently singled out in a new J.D. Power survey as one of several auto brands that have rolled out responsive design sites in the past year. With roughly 40 percent of traffic coming from mobile phones and tablets, the decision to go responsive was largely based on getting the right type of content to consumers regardless of what device they are using.

?We?re in the process of rolling it out right now, but if you go into a Kia showroom today, the wheel stands are all digitally-driven,? said David Schoonover, national manager for digital and CRM at Kia, Irvine, CA.

?We can actually push out content to those vehicle displays at all of our retailers with the touch of a button, but it?s the responsive site that powers that in-dealer experience, specifically for the K900, which is our latest flagship vehicle,? he said.

Below, Mr. Schoonover discusses what makes responsive design particularly well-suited for the automotive industry and where Kia is placing its bets with the connected car.

What is Kia hoping to accomplish with mobile and responsive design?
I think one of the things that we have in the responsive site is to bring the site and digital experiences into the dealer showroom.

Beyond that, what the site is also allowing us to do is power our experiential events. Kia, for example, is the official automotive partner of Madison Square Garden, so we have launched displays there, too. Whenever we want to set up an event, our event specialists are using tablets and certain smartphones with the back-end powered again by this responsive site. 

What it has given us is a tremendous amount of flexibility with how to deploy this platform across different business units, whether it?s experiential, showrooming and of course we?re looking at virtual facilities as well, and that is one thing that is on our radar this year.

We have approximately 750 retailers across the United States, but there is certainly opportunity to experience our vehicle and interact with it in a virtual manner. So, imagine that you?re walking through your favorite bistro and you see a wall that?s kind of like a transparent vehicle configurator - it?s not that the typical car is there, but through the back-end platform, we can bring the Web site to wherever the person is regardless of whether they have a device or not and enable experiences to happen virtually anywhere.

When I think of mobile marketing, I think of anywhere where I?m not home or at my desk. It could be tablets or phones - it?s all blurring together now anyway. I think more in terms of, "What am I able and unable to do when I?m not at home or sitting behind my desk?"

When did you decide to launch the responsive site and what was the decision behind doing so?
The responsive site itself was launched in October 2013, and the decision to do a responsive site was probably made around December 2012.

The original phase of it was launched in late August of last year, so we had the first phase of it done in eight months, but the entire site was done in ten months.

I think auto ? as much as the other marketing verticals ? has a responsibility to provide more branded content. Content marketing is a large focus right now, and I think that having a responsive site as a delivery mechanism allows you the flexibility to deliver your branded content more easily across multiple platforms, so I think that?s one of the things that?s very enticing.

What we were doing is that we actually had three separate Web sites ? desktop, tablet and mobile. All of them performed very well for us, and we?ve ranked No. 1 in J.D. Power on both the desktop and mobile site before responsive. 

What learnings can you share about Kia?s experience with responsive design?
For any company that?s thinking about doing it, the time and money that you?ll save on the back end, you will probably end up using on the front end because there?s a big balancing act when trying to balance forms, filters and mechanisms across the three main devices. 

What works on one doesn?t necessarily work on the other, and there is a lot of time spent on optimization ? that is probably the hardest thing about responsive. 

When you?re talking about a site on a smartphone, it?s completely different than a tablet or desktop site. Mobile phone users are hyper-taskers ? they?re not going to be on your site for eight or nine minutes, they?re going to be on your site for two to three minutes. That in itself creates a challenge for responsive because the easier thing to do is to have the same experience consistent across all three platforms, but for the mobile user that?s not what they want.

Why is it that more automakers are developing sites built in responsive design?
There?s like eight of us that have launched [responsive design] so far, and responsive is definitely the flavor of the day. If you think back eight to nine years ago with flash Web sites, everyone had to have a flash Web site ten years ago.

Now responsive design is definitely the flavor of the day, and I think that like anything else, how you use it and learning how to use it the right way is critical. 

Another screenshot of Kia's responsive site

What is mobile?s impact on Kia?s Web traffic?
Including tablet, we?re running at 40 percent. I would say 15 percent tablet, 25 percent mobile and the remaining 60 percent desktop.

What?s interesting is that I would have thought that we would have hit 50 percent by now, but the growth seems to have leveled off. Personally, I think in five years you won?t be able to buy a laptop that doesn?t have a touch screen on it. 

Definitely from a tablet standpoint, clearly iPad rules the day. The iPhone user is a more advanced user between [iOS and Android], and a lot of that has to do with the price point of Android?s platform and phone. The Android-powered phones outsell iOS-powered devices, but a lot of that has to do with those phones being so subsidized because the strategy of the company is to make their money not off of the device, but off of the subscription.

What are Kia?s priorities right now with connected cars?
When I say connected car, I?m talking about the device ? we have the in-dashboard experiences, but for me that?s not the connected car.

Kia is taking a different route than other automakers with the connected car. You?re not limited to what the automaker programs into the dash ? whatever?s on your phone you can use.

I think in the future and what all automakers are working towards is vehicle-to-vehicle communication and vehicle-to-traffic management communication ? for the whole industry, that?s what excites me because the main benefit of those two things is reduced accidents.

Imagine if your car is coming up to a red light, you don?t see it, and you?re going along at 45 miles per hour. Your car could alert you that a red light is ahead and imminent, and if it looks like you?re going to blow the light, [the technology could] actually stop the car for you. 

Or in the case of vehicle-to-vehicle, imagine that someone in front of you is doing an emergency stop and unfortunately you are caught looking at text messages. Through vehicle-to-vehicle communication, you car will know that the car in front of you is stopping in an emergency breaking situation and will be able to calculate how long it will take [to stop] if you?re reacting to it, and then if you?re not, to stop the car for you so you don?t get in an accident.

So it?s not mobile marketing, per se, but it?s using mobile technology to enable safety. Where the smartphone comes into play with that is really as a monitoring device, whether it?s for easy convenience features like starting your engine and having your car warm by the time you get down to the garage or for me as a parent, geofencing. Let?s say my 16 year old daughter who is not allowed to go past certain areas, I can put up notifications that tie in with the navigation system so if they go past a certain area or at a certain time of night, it will send me a notification.

The geofencing is real for [Kia] right now. On the vehicle-to-vehicle, we have some technology launching on the K900 luxury sedan, specifically the cruise control, which gives you that notification that will slow the car down if the car in front of you is going slower. For the traffic managing system, nobody has that yet, but it?s something that our engineers are definitely working on.

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York