Don’t mistake Bonita Coleman Stewart’s confidence for cockiness—even when she utters something like, “I think marketers have caught up to where I always was.” Statements like those are just not egocentric when you have ample proof to back them up. And looking at the list of accomplishments that this Daimler-Chrysler executive has accrued over the years, it’s clear that her words speak not even mostly to her own successes; they’re canted primarily towards her optimism about the online field in general.
As the Director of Interactive Communications for Chrysler Group, Stewart—a Harvard Business School grad and winner of the 2003 Ebony award for Outstanding Women in Marketing and Communications—has had plenty to be cheerful about lately. Long been considered a stalwart traditional marketer, with sales hinging on print, TV and dealer-led advertisements, the automotive industry’s recently undergone a slight change of heart thanks to folks like Stewart: big-league carmakers like Daimler-Chrysler are now citing the Internet as a value-adding medium.
To her credit, Stewart attributes this achievement primarily to an increasingly web-savvy consumer base. “Because the consumer was really leading this effort, we just said we are going to go in lock-step with [them],” she explains from Chrysler’s Auburn Hills, Michigan headquarters. “JD Power has just come out with their latest survey for automotive shopping online. It’s reached a record high, where 67% of all automotive shoppers are going online, and then 89% of [those shoppers] are using search.”
Those online percentages have translated into real benefits for automakers (and marketers). As Stewart tells us, “Particularly for the automotive industry, [the Internet] is a welcome addition, because you get so much information about your products with the consumer, the behavior, the competitive environment. And just looking at our search logs, we know what’s on the consumer’s mind.”
It’s not only search logs that are keeping Ms. Stewart busy these days. As the head of all of Chrysler’s online communications efforts, she oversees not only database management and analytics, but also brand sites like Jeep.com, Chrysler.com and Dodge.com. Additionally, Stewart is responsible for managing the Group’s agency efforts, along with the operation of their many “Five Star Dealer” websites.