Author: Deborah Dermouk (pictured), from automotive marketing support firm Paragon Group UK
"Digital advancements have changed customer behaviour forever leading to a revolutionary shift in the way that the automotive industry engages with prospective purchasers. Despite forcing dealers to take a multi-channel approach to communication the process still relies on one fundamental point; making it personal.
We know that while people enjoy buying a car, they don’t always relish the showroom experience with many people finding the sales process aggressive.
The purchase of a new car is known to be an emotional event for customers. Representing many aspects of an individual, such as what they do in life and how they see themselves, a car also reflects how a person wants to be perceived by their friends, family and peers.
A person’s car reflects their lifestyle, outlook and taste. Without even thinking about it, our brains function in a way that links different things. Based on what we experience and what we see and hear, it’s a natural instinct to categorise, resulting in profiling and stereotyping.
Brands are building upon this emotive experience through the personalisation of their marketing materials. Whether it is a piece of direct mail or an MOT reminder, the automotive industry are personalising their materials with the individual’s name, interests and brand of car, in order to generate better customer engagement and retention.
As people we value the personal touch and enjoy being recognised and treated as individuals. By providing a personalised experience brands can gain cut through in what is becoming an increasingly ‘noisy’ world.
As technology has changed the way that people shop, this is also evident in the automotive sector, with leading manufacturers being quick to adapt and offer customers rewards and also insights into new launches and promotions. In the same way that manufacturers have been quick to adopt, dealers have had to change.
The internet has given people the perfect opportunity to browse for their chosen vehicle online in the comfort of their own home before even entering a dealership. As a result a customer’s first experience and impression will be from a website.
What dealers have to ensure is that visitors to their online channels are getting what they want; pictures, videos, testimonials, even guided tours. Updating good quality content is a must in a world where people want and expect everything to be at their fingertips.
Shopping online may be the first opportunity a consumer has to engage with a brand but in the absence of a secure and mass market click and collect system a dealership will still form part of the purchasing process.
As consumers we have been taught to shop around in order to guarantee that we get the best deals available. We can therefore expect that a customer will have done their research before even visiting a showroom and it is also likely at this stage that they will know what make and model they want and how much they expect to pay.
Understanding as much as you can about a customer before they arrive may seem obvious, however there has to be a process to collecting this data in order for the information to be useful. This is where small changes to the way a dealership works can make a big difference.
The role of a receptionist has always been to interact with customers however if they are tasked with asking a series of questions at enquiry level, which will allow the dealership to complete a mapping exercise, the data collected could be crucial. A classic example of how many children or pets you have could be the difference between one model and another, saving everyone time.
Personalisation isn’t new but using big data effectively is still proving difficult for many companies. Either there is a wealth of data that is never processed or collection methods are untrustworthy making it unreliable. When data is used properly it can lead to customer loyalty which to most brands is invaluable.
Brand loyalty plays a significant role in the automotive sector. Often people will purchase the same brand of car time and time again, choosing only to change the model. There are few industries where this level of trust and loyalty are replicated.
Marketing teams can use brand loyalty to their advantage to create campaigns that target certain age groups, in a bid to create longer term relationships. This does however rely on new and emerging marketing principles including data collection and personalisation.
Deborah believes that it is those dealerships who adapt to current buying behaviours and also the emerging digital world will both survive and thrive.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the franchised dealer groups have to change the way it interacts with customers. Dealerships need to focus on the whole customer journey from website to showroom, sale to repeat business. For the automotive sector adapting is not an option but a necessity."