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Guest opinion: Experiential communication will help car dealers combat online sales pressures

Sadie Carrington, business development executive, Chameleon Event Production

Traditional selling techniques have increasingly come under pressure to perform with the continued sophistication of digital offerings.

We’re already seeing more car sales completed online and the revolution in retail space started some time ago with Audi and Jaguar Land Rover creating more immersive brand environments, turning the typical dealership experience on its head.

The industry needs to evolve further if it is to emotionally engage with customers. It needs to deliver more customer-centric, immersive experiences to complement the communication that takes place in digital spaces.

Blending innovative and inventive experiential communication with the convenience of online research could be the answer.

Automotive events hold the power to create unique experiences and create a positive lasting impression for consumers, helping to influence brand impression and ultimately purchasing choices.

The internet has equipped car buyers with thousands of online resources. Customers are far more qualified to make decisions without ‘expert’ opinion in the dealership.

Research by carkeys.co.uk found that 40% of consumers spend as long as four months researching their new car purchase.

Although its useful for consumers to access an abundance of information in the comfort of their own homes, it naturally displaces some of the requirement for experts and salespeople in dealerships.

Added research means potential customers sometimes won’t enter the dealership until much later in the buying process, if at all.

Events encourage individuals to get inside of the dealerships and more importantly the cars, experiencing them first hand dramatically increases the likelihood of purchase.

Now, to add testimony to the success of events within the automotive industry, BMW North America has expanded event marketing to 30% of its annual marketing outlay after the success of its ‘Ultimate Driving Experience’, which saw a quarter of those driving a vehicle at the event later buying one.

This proves that experiential communication holds the power to drive decision, with the ability to prevail over facts such as finance and raw figures.

Because so many decisions are made online many consumers miss out on experiencing vital personal engagement with the car.

Purchasing decisions are emotional and strong connections are made when a customer can use almost all their senses to experience the car and its performance.

This is proved by the fact that 80% of customers who purchase a new vehicle take a test drive first.

Dealerships can evolve by tapping into the reasons why increasing numbers of people choose the internet over dealership experience – price and pressure.

These reasons include wanting to be in control of the purchasing decision, not wanting to be sold to and not wanting the obligation that comes with meeting someone who is trying to sell something.

Many consumers choose the internet as the place to get themselves the best deal, buying used puts that lower price over that new car feeling.

Despite this, a study conducted by Autotrader (US) found that 54% would buy from a dealership with their preferred experience over price, showing potential for the industry to utilise this behaviour by using experiential marketing.

If dealerships can create the ideal customer experience this 54% (Autotrader US) would help tackle tightening profit margins.

Events provide opportunity to create a dealership experience that far surpasses finding a car online and vetting independently.

Experiential provides the opportunity to show off both car and brand, allowing consumers an experience into the company’s values.

Memorable experiences create feeling and emotion towards a car and a brand.

In creating this connection, clients are more likely to visit friendly faces at dealerships rather than taking to the internet.

Dealerships are increasingly employing non-sales positions, known by some companies as ‘geniuses’ in an effort, as Scott Willis of Arnold Clark says “to take the intensity away from what used to be a high-pressure sales environment in the showroom”.

With more employees no longer working toward commission they act as enablers to the sale rather than salespeople.

These informed individuals have no incentive to drive sales work to increase customer satisfaction.

This, combined with events as a low-pressure environment where customers can enjoy the experience of the car without feeling under pressure, makes the visit more customer centric – an experience based on building relationships rather than making sales transactions.

Some might argue that events are limited in their ability to reach a large audience and therefore a marketing budget might not reach as far as a viral campaign.

However, a survey conducted by Jack Morton Worldwide proved that 8 in 10 who participated in experiential marketing tell others about their experience.

With social media becoming more prevalent than ever, the potential for an event attended by a few to be experienced by many has never been higher.

In the face of uncertainty, it’s time for the industry to adapt. A rise in experiential could mark a step in the right direction and help secure the fate of dealerships in the future.

Author: Sadie Carrington (pictured), business development executive, Chameleon Event Production

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