Car buying has changed. Great automotive digital experiences are no longer new — they are expected. We all see it. In response, many automotive marketing departments have buried their heads in the sand. They have flexed and stretched with each new disruption and technology, but only within comfort and well-worn marketing structures. And that is where the problem is. To succeed, automotive dealers and marketers must step out of the shampoo-rinse-repeat cycle of marketing as normal. They must not only reach new car buyers, they must describe the value of their dealership and brand, they must create value that is engaging and different. “So what’s next?” this is the question I get asked with some regularity. When I answer “you,” there is an awkward silence while they process what I said and then they look at me a little like my dog does when I try to whistle. Let me explain what I mean. There’s a cool quote by Nobel Prize winning physicist Niels Bohr who said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it is about the future.” The question — what’s next — isn’t about predicting the automotive marketing future. If we peel back some layers, what we’re really asking is “How do we prepare ourselves for what’s coming next in automotive marketing and car sales?” In July 2014, an article entitled, The Ultimate Marketing Machine was published in the Harvard Business Review. The author concluded that in order to meet the challenges of the future, marketing organizations must evolve to deliver what the author calls the “total experience.” He wrote, “Companies are increasingly enhancing the value of their products by creating customer experiences. Some deepen the customer relationship by leveraging what they know about their customers to personalize offerings. Others focus on the breadth of the relationship by adding touchpoints. Our research shows that high-performing brands do both — providing what we call the ‘total experience’. In fact, we believe that the most important marketing metric will soon change from ‘share of wallet’ or ‘share of voice’ to ‘share of experience’.” It seems clear now that the evolution of automotive marketing will move beyond the goal of simply finding a car buyer or a buyer finding a car. The new objective for automotive marketing and car dealerships will be to evolve customers, from unaware of your dealership to a brand subscribing advocate and fan. And digital content-driven experiences will be the natural selection process that moves that customer along. To put it more bluntly: in order to succeed, automotive marketing departments must themselves evolve. They must not only serve to describe the value that the dealership offers, but also create value that is experienced, value that is separate and distinct from your cars and services. This is what’s next from an automotive marketing perspective. But, more importantly (and to get to the heart of the question), what’s our place in it? How will automotive marketing fundamentally change in order to be ready for it? Changing the automotive marketing structure In our experience, we are seeing car dealerships have much more success when there is a process for creating consistent and integrated experiences. And the key is that these experiences are solely designed with the purpose of creating delight at every single step of the customer journey. One of the largest challenges I have personally seen in our own brand the last five years is arranging the customer experience — and then adding discreet teams (each with its own goals) to address each spectrum of the experience. We now have a brand team, demand-generation team, sales-enablement team, field-sales team, social marketing team, CRM team, a digital marketing team, and regular plain ol’ marketing team. The interesting thing is this focus has allowed us to create and perfect this structure in order to deliver automotive digital marketing services for small or large dealerships at a very small cost compared to building and maintaining these systems on your own. Before we look at structures and solutions… If automotive marketing is to become customer-centered and a strategic discipline for delivering value that results in more cars sold and a growing fan base, then we must simply agree that change is what’s important. Ultimately there is no way to predict with any accuracy what automotive marketing will need to look like five years from now. It’s only been eight years since any business could even think about disruptions such as Facebook, the iPhone, or Android. And it’s been only four years since any automotive marketer even thought about the opportunities an iPad could bring. So — what’s really next? Who knows for sure. What is clear?
- We know car buying habits have changed.
- We know content and customer centered experiences are the drivers to creating more meaningful engagement with those customers.
- We know automotive marketers can and must be the agent of change.