When there are fewer customers out there buying cars, naturally the fight to land each and every one becomes fiercer.
No longer can dealers sit back with their feet up, waiting for customers, pockets stuffed with ready cash, to cross the threshold and buy the first car they see.
There’s no doubt buyers are spending more time looking around, weighing up the deals, because the prevailing mood is that there is always something better round the corner.
So how do you hook in those buyers, and are manufacturer partners helping? As with everything in life, the internet and email are taking an increasingly important role, and it seems manufacturers are putting a number of programmes in place to ensure their dealers can take full advantage.
Of course, there’s an element of self-interest in this. For all the flexibility and reach the internet brings, it also offers freedom and, for marketing departments with their obsessive quests for brand values and corporate identities, it means dealers can wander off into the web, do their own thing, and go ‘off message.’
Mitsubishi announced last year that it would be offering free marketing support intended to enhance the web presence of the dealer network.
The service enables Mitsubishi dealers to manage their website from their desks using a suite of personalisation options, change sales messages and special offers and, at the same time, as with other support of this type, keep their site in line with Mitsubishi’s corporate identity.
Lance Bradley, Mitsubishi’s director of sales and marketing, says: “For some dealers, this will mean a real and tangible cost saving of several thousand pounds per annum, while also improving the quality of information to the customer and sales leads to the dealer.”
BMW has offered these sorts of services for some time. Marketing communications general manager Chris Brownridge says: “In order to get communications out quickly for new models and offers, we have an email tool with templates for the various messages, and it is used a lot – by 75% of the network.”
Citroën also offers a complete suite of online tools for dealers, where each can take a templated site and create their own personalised message, that apes the citroën.co.uk site, as well as a toolkit for local newspaper and web advertising.
Marketing director Ian Hughes says: “It ensures a coherent and consistent message for advertising, emails, banners and other material, even at the local level.”
But the printed word is still important and, for dealers, this can cost a lot of money. Brownridge says BMW has invested in a suite of services to allow its network to create bespoke literature quickly and cheaply.
“We have a dealer marketing service, where retail dealers can select materials from a toolkit to make bespoke messages for their business.
“This means it is possible to produce material such as advertising for the local press, or point-of-sale material within the dealership, much more quickly and efficiently than if it had to be originated from scratch.
“We also have a massive direct mail operation, where dealers can nominate who they want the material to be sent to, and we will do the rest. So far, we’ve sent out 525,000 packs to targeted customers.
“It saves the dealer money for this to be done centrally and we’ve seen high levels of participation.
“We also offer a marketing consultancy that dealers can use to maximise their efforts. It can produce marketing material specific to the dealer and because the agency is working across the network, there are economies of scale.“
At the moment, though, producing good cars at an attractive price will still prove the most effective marketing. It’s an area in which Citroën feels it is currently well positioned, having been a firm whose message has consistently been price-led, often in the face of criticism for its approach.
And despite the travails of the pound against the euro, it’s an approach the company will continue to use.
“We’ve continued to maintain high levels of support for dealers, especially with consumer offers,” says Hughes.
‘Obviously, offers have been a key pillar of the Citroën marketing effort for a number of years, and in the current market it’s interesting to see that most other manufacturers are using the same approach now.
“But we’re at a big advantage, we believe, because we are very good at marketing and selling these types of offers.”
Ultimately, the best marketing is producing great cars on a regular basis.
As Hughes says: “Citroën has been reinvigorated over the past few year, and the press coverage we’ve got for the forthcoming C3 Picasso is almost humbling, it’s been so good, and that certainly helps a lot.
“The dealers, despite the problems in the market, are optimistic.”