Bonita Coleman Stewart Discovers the Fifth Element of Online Marketing

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As solid as that job description may sound now, Stewart’s position at Chrysler wasn’t always so clearly defined. Having originally joined the company in 1993 after a ten-year, high-level marketing stint at IBM, Stewart made the leap into territory as yet unknown to her with the direct intention of making a splash. “I was very interested in bringing technology into the automotive arena,” she says now. “I actually led an initiative that was called ‘Project New World’ that brought in interactive elements to the dealership. It was just a test, but it was fascinating what was learned about just the overall shopping process.”

What she learned during this time was that a whole new model for automotive purchasing was sprouting up. “You had the third-parties ramping up, and you had online buying services ramping up. So things were changing during that timeframe between 1994 and 1996.”

Though at that time portals were a fairly new concept, Stewart already had some grand ideas for bringing the old model of reaching the customer face to face with the new. But first she had to make sure she knew the industry inside and out. “I knew that there would be this convergence that would take place between marketing and technology,” she says. “[But] being not automotive-attuned, I spent the next few years learning the business, because I knew that would be important. I knew in my heart of hearts that I was really ahead of my time,” she admits with an endearing chuckle.

Those learning years were spent working in brand management for the group. But towards the latter end of the dotcom craze, Stewart found herself wanting more independence. In 2000, she left Chrysler to form her own research marketing startup, Nia Enterprises, which still thrives today. But three years later, in 2003, she got a call from her former bosses asking her to come back to Chrysler. Eventually Stewart accepted the offer—but not without a caveat or two in place. “I came back and I said that you must have e-newsletters, and now we have those,” she says. All of this was a part of Stewart’s mission to help Chrysler solidify its interactive marketing division.

The group she now leads abides not only by the four most popular marketing tenets— Product, Price, Promotion and Place—but also by a fifth “P”: Process, which Stewart herself conceptualized back in 1996. While the notion dates back a decade, Stewart believes it will nonetheless less shape the future of interactive communications.

“I think there’s a lot of focus on the front-end right now. It’s all about the creative aspect. But I think over time, there’s going to be a greater appreciation — and this is going to separate the leading online marketers from [other] online marketers — for how they utilize the information that has been collected in real-time,” Stewart suggests. “So if they are [effectively] utilizing that information, they will be able to optimize their marketing processes and do it in a real-time fashion to actually impact profitability and market share. That’s the next frontier: Process.”

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