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A licence to communicate should drive car retail, a guest opinion

Graham Nicholson, business development director at Paragon Customer Communications

The automotive sector is no stranger to innovation – from Henry Ford’s assembly line in 1913 to the autonomous vehicles of the future. However, as Graham Nicholson, business development director at Paragon Customer Communications explains, such innovation is also impacting positively across wider areas of the sector, namely customer communications.

Modern car buyers bring new expectations, but also new opportunities for franchised dealerships. However, with a third of UK consumers spending less than a month reviewing their vehicle options, according to Deloitte’s 2018 UK Automotive Consumer Study, brands now have a smaller window than ever to influence purchasing decisions.

The positive for today’s dealers is, in that time the average buyer encounters 24 touchpoints along their journey to a new car purchase; be that reading information on a franchised dealers’ website, browsing a printed brochure or watching a video of the car they are looking to buy.

Streamlining communications and managing the complex customer requirements of multi-site franchise car dealer networks, therefore, is fundamental to the success of the industry.

Equally imperative is creating and implementing coordinated marketing campaigns across all dealerships, within a cost-effective and efficient framework.

And while the sector continues to engage with its customers in a very innovative way, the resurgence of traditional customer communication channels such as print and direct mail for sales and service promotions has only added to the challenge faced by the sector.

Although the benefits of printed communications are clear – according to the 2018 Direct Mail Annual Report “New Currency for Mail”, 57% of respondents open addressed direct mail (letters, catalogues or leaflets/flyers) when it arrives – navigating both operational and marketing print, alongside digital communications as part of a multi-channel strategy, necessitates the delicate balance of managing costs without compromising your brand.

All this combined, means marketing in an organisation with multiple branches, dispersed sales teams, multi-channel marketing processes, prospect expectations for individualised materials, and the need to adhere to corporate branding standards can make the creation and procurement of printed and digital marketing materials a logistical headache.

A steer towards local marketing campaigns

Localised marketing campaigns are becoming an incredibly powerful tool for dealerships. Research has revealed some 85% of business customers live and/or work within an 8-kilometre radius of the businesses they use , according to signs.org.

In a bid to capitalise on this growing market and attract local business, franchisees have an opportunity to steer away from ‘one size fits all’ nationwide or international marketing campaigns and instead create more regionalised initiatives that are tailored specifically to the customers in their area.

Unfortunately franchisees often feel unsupported and ill-equipped to market to their local audience, and as a result, are left exasperated due to missing out on potentially prosperous opportunities.

As many do not have the appropriate systems in place to make local marketing campaigns possible, they instead take it upon themselves to create their own marketing materials, often at the determent of maintaining brand consistency and credibility.

Ensuring franchises and multi-site organisations follow through on marketing initiatives whilst maintaining brand control across a franchised network, therefore, remains a major challenge for central marketing teams.

By investing shrewdly in the ideal cutting-edge technology, the holding company can equip local franchises with the marketing tools to market effectively to local audiences and demographics, whilst remaining on brand and on time.

It is also crucial that the ability to monitor the success of all marketing campaigns is not diminished.

The latest web-to-print platforms provide users with a highly customisable marketing platform, with access to a catalogue of document templates and print collateral.

Such technology empowers franchise or branch managers, enabling them to shape individualised marketing strategies that utilise a myriad of channels from direct mail to email, SMS, display and much more.

The use of pre-defined templates for campaign materials guarantees all communications are strictly on brand, while also giving each branch the authority to manage their own communications locally.

What this means is each franchisee can develop and circulate marketing materials as varied as special offers exclusive to each particular dealership, discount incentives or test drive vouchers both digitally and physically to the home of their customers, whilst adhering to corporate branding standards.

By using advanced communications technologies to deliver coordinated marketing campaigns, messages, content and design can be unified, helping to maintain brand consistency across local, national and international levels.

While dealerships can also gain better stock control of marketing collateral, thus helping to save costs.

Analysing campaigns

Lead times are also significantly reduced as dealerships can order standard stocked items for next day delivery, as well as generate bespoke print-on-demand items for localised marketing campaigns which previously had to be managed through external agencies or their centralised marketing team.

Central marketing teams are able to accurately analyse spend and performance across multiple channels. Smart communications channels offer the distinct advantage of in-depth reporting capabilities that can drive the continued success of marketing efforts.

Whether it’s reporting at a high level on activity for a particular campaign, the detailed spend by a particular client, or the open and click-through rates on an email campaign, franchisees have access to an array of data.

The insights that can be derived from these reports can help shape future campaigns, ensuring communications strategies can be streamlined to maximise the way in which companies engage with their audiences that will deliver the highest return on investment (ROI).

Through the implementation of the latest platforms across all dealerships, automotive organisations can not only streamline communications processes, but also gain control of expenditure, product obsolescence and brand integrity.

Author: Graham Nicholson, business development director at Paragon Customer Communications

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