When I joined Google in 2011, after more than a decade in the automotive industry, it wasn’t the obvious choice.
But Google was looking for a seasoned automotive professional who could speak the industry language to manufacturers and bring them into the digital age.
At the time, there were just three of us working with European automotive headquarters. That number has grown significantly since then along with Google’s automotive business.
What is it about automotive that interests Google? The obvious - and partially correct - answer is money.
Globally, the auto industry as a whole spends about $47 billion a year in advertising, according to Advertising Age.
That’s about 20% of the Top 100 largest advertisers. VW is the biggest auto spender globally, with an estimated $6.6 billion.
Google certainly gets a share of that.
Yet auto companies still invest comparatively little in digital marketing beyond Search Engine Marketing.
Online video, for example, is frequently used as little more than an additional channel for broadcasting traditional TV ads. That’s if it’s used at all.
UK car buyers, however, say that manufacturer websites and YouTube are their two most trusted online information sources.
And outside of the US, the online presence of automotive retailers is woefully underdeveloped even when it comes to basics like websites and SEM.
Most car dealers in Europe remain wedded to traditional media like print and radio even though survey after survey tells us that dealer websites are among the five most sought after sources of information.
Changing this would certainly be good for Google financially, but it would also be good for the auto industry.
At least 90% of car buyers use the internet as part of the purchase process. Car shoppers look to brand and dealer websites for detailed information about the cars they’re interested in, current promotions and available stock.
They also turn to sites like DriveK to compare models head-to-head or to YouTube to watch independent reviews.
As any salesman will tell you, by the time most customers enter a dealership, they are well informed about the product.
While the overall quality of brand web sites has improved in recent years, there is still considerable room for improvement in the online experience offered by car companies and dealers.
Mobile sites, for example, are a common weakness - even though 65% of car shoppers use their smartphone during the research phase and more than half do so while at the dealership itself.
And few brands leverage the data available to them to enhance their marketing in any meaningful way.
Despite all of this, industry executives devote little time to their digital experience.
Few of them have ever tried to shop for a car using their company’s own online tools. Even those executives who do “get it” frequently suffer from a mindset heavily influenced by the industry’s structure and traditions.
Marketing campaigns are often developed with broad targets in mind and then launched and abandoned. But the digital world moves much faster, rewarding flexibility, micro-targeting and engagement.
Google is clearly one of the giants of the digital landscape, with a tremendous scope of products and services, but there are many things Google doesn’t do.
Google doesn’t build websites for companies or provide comparison shopping tools for car buyers; It doesn’t qualify the people who show interest in a product to determine the actual level of interest; It doesn’t provide dealers with in-person training on digital tools or lead management processes.
Without those services, it will be impossible for any manufacturer or dealer to meet the expectations of today’s consumers used to shopping on Amazon or booking holidays on eDreams.
That’s a big part of why I left Google to join MotorK, which supports manufacturers and dealers in nurturing qualified (i.e. genuine) leads, developing tools that drive conversion and provides training on skills and processes necessary to improve the customer’s path to purchase.
Google can help drive clicks, but converting a click to a lead takes extra work. The brand or dealer site must be set up to convert, and they must be supplemented with a mixture of online and offline actions. Chat services and a call center are both essential for lead qualification.
Many brands don’t appreciate the difference between a raw lead, with a simple customer name and contact, and a qualified lead, which includes valuable information such as trade-in details and when best to contact the customer.
Getting it all right requires a combination of organization, structure and processes supported by technology.
But customers won’t wait for the brands or dealers who fail to execute.
Conditioned by the open communication and immediate satisfaction they enjoy from other sectors, today’s buyer is always one click away from changing brands.
Author: Brian Coleman, chief strategy officer, MotorK