Data warehouse to drive online marketing at GM

In a race against its rivals to create lasting customer relationships, GM is building a massive data warehouse that will include detailed consumer information for marketing purposes.

The project will link stand-alone customer databases from its car and truck divisions, car leasing, and home mortgage and credit-card units to a central repository with ties to the company's international operations.

The data warehousing effort was designed in part to supercharge General Motor Corp.'s three-month-old BuyPower online car shopping service and cross-sell customers on GM financial services.

"What this will do is greatly increase our ability to understand who we're doing business with and extend the relationship by [offering] things they need over time," said Rick Lee, GM's general manager of fleet and communications operations in North America. "If we know, for example, that a customer has had a baby, we'd proactively contact them to see if they would want information on a minivan," he said.

GM is racing other large automakers such as Ford and DaimlerChrysler to build a central customer data warehouse. Such a project presents several challenges, said Joe Bione, a partner at Deloitte Consulting's automotive practice in Detroit.

"The automakers have a wealth of data stored in many different places, but operationally, bringing them together is a big struggle because you're talking about managing a million bytes of data that changes daily in the process," Bione said.

The next two steps are to determine how best to make use of the data and how extensively to market using GM's Web sites and e-mail, he added.

GM officials declined to divulge the project cost, technology products used and details on the marketing strategy they will pursue.

The data warehousing effort coincides with GM's plans to test systems around the world that support BuyPower, such as the search engines that locate models available at specific dealers.

Ann Blakney, national director at BuyPower, said GM is looking to enhance the site by selling auto parts online. The site also offers discounts on GM's OnStar satellite positioning systems.

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