Sep 10, 2018

A Digital Marketing Strategic Blueprint for the Automotive Industry

Digital marketing professionals working in specialized fields will only be successful if they are able to identify specific challenges, conditions and consumer trends within their industry.

The automotive industry is highly specialized but still diverse, fulfilling a common need for most adults across the globe. And while the demand for cars remains high, economic struggles, rising costs of gas, and the emergence of car-sharing and ride services, are just a few of the challenges that auto marketers will continue to face in the coming years.

So how can managers, dealerships, administrative staff and industry partners leverage digital marketing strategies to meet the unique conditions of the auto industry and the changing needs of consumers?

Read on for helpful guidance on this.

Overview: Marketing in Automotive

The automotive industry faces some unique challenges today, and they are not about to go away any time soon. These challenges include consumers who are becoming more eco-conscious and looking for specific types of cars, the Internet of Things being well on its way to automating almost every aspect of automotive functioning, and of course self-driving cars coming to the forefront.  

More than 17 million cars were sold in the US in the period 2015-2017. The demand for cars is always highest in the US, where some 88% of households own a car. So there’s no question that, while demand might fluctuate, it's likely to remain very strong.  

While there is always a demand for cars, particularly in Western countries, overall use and demand are dependent on external factors such as the price of gas and availability. We need to look beyond the issue of demand and consider how and why people are shopping for cars.

V12 Data provides some interesting statistics about consumer behavior trends in the automotive field. Here are just a few:

  • 78% of shoppers use third party websites, and 57% of shoppers use dealerships when shopping for cars.  
  • Even though many people today are turning to their peer networks for car-buying advice, walk-ins are still the most common form of initial contact with dealerships. However, many still feel uncomfortable or dislike shopping at dealerships.
  • Some 22% of shoppers use social streams like YouTube, DealerRater and Facebook to help them learn more about cars.
  • Most people are using their computers and smartphones to research cars, with smartphone use surpassing both the use of computers and tablets. Mobile shopping is also on the rise.   

So what does all of this mean for marketers? With the focus shifting to digitally-centric shopping for automobiles, as well as peer-networking and even apps that allow customers to purchase cars from a distance, all car companies must find innovative ways to engage clients from a distance, as well as authentically building trust. That trust should also be maintained before, during and after an in-person purchase or follow-up service visit.

Content Marketing

Most dealerships are still in the old-school mindset that prioritizes revenue-building and conversions over other types of marketing activities. Thus, any digital marketing professional who takes on this type of business as a client may face the challenge of convincing them to focus on data that represents relationship building and brand loyalty.

Of course, executives are always going to be focused on the bottom line and want to know those numbers. However, it’s crucial that they are aware of how their brand stands out in the digital sphere. Of course, content marketing is critical for engagement and lead-building.  

What type of content marketing is best for lead-building in the automotive sector? We recommend pairing experiential content and information-based visual videos with highly personal, user-generated social media campaigns.

Incorporating Video

Creating high-quality, detailed videos as a part of an auto sales platform is crucial. According to izmocars, videos encourage some 70% of prospects to take action, and live videos are three times more powerful than pre-produced ones. Videos can take the form of YouTube reviews, launches, tips and driver experiences.

Having even a single promotional or instructional video that you can use on multiple channels could be a very valuable content asset.

The idea is to allow viewers to get as ‘up close and personal’ as they can to a product, and to educate and inform them. Videos are also the ideal method of storytelling, with long-form, professional ads becoming more emotion-based. Land Rover, for instance, developed a video series using photographers’ images of driving in crazy mountainous landscapes, and there’s another that hones in on wanderlust, travel and cultural experiences to appeal to customers with that adventurous spirit.

Social Influencers and User-Generated Content

Social influencers are already key when it comes to marketing cars. By now, most people have probably seen the Matthew McConaughey Lincoln ads, but there’s a lot more to this kind of strategy than big brands and big stars. Using local influencers, popular car writers and enthusiasts and even sports enthusiasts, can be very effective when it comes to brand awareness and promotion. Marketers would be wise to follow automotive influencers like David Patterson or Tim Burton (a.k.a. Shmee) to get a sense of how these people are talking about cars on their personal sites.  

Of course, when would-be customers can see other customers’ happy smiles (or even complaints) clearly via their social channels, it’s one of the strongest ways to build trust. One estimate is that this kind of content is over six times more likely to generate user engagement than branded content. Running Instagram contests and unique hashtags is another easy way to visually promote participation.

An excellent example of a car company taking a new approach is Toyota’s Feeling the Street campaign, part of which used music, culture, travel and joy to encourage purchases. Their focus on authenticity (and likely a lower income bracket) was geared towards a Millennial marketplace, and it worked – Facebook engagement improved by some 440%.  

Mitsubishi (#MitsubishiLife) and Subaru (#MySubaruStory) have also had campaigns focusing on authenticity and personal connection. They had very personalized campaigns where they encouraged users to connect, reach out and share their stories. These are just some examples of the ways car companies are successfully engaging younger, childless, lower-income and less car-centric audiences.  

Augmented and Virtual Reality

Digital marketers must never underestimate the power of augmented reality and virtual reality (AR and VR) when it comes to marketing experiential and outdoor products, and now it’s truly coming to the forefront for auto advertising.  

VR ‘test drives’ have been available for a while, at least at car shows, and Audi is about to do these in European dealerships. They are the first company to do this as part of their customer consultation process. The test drives are 3D, 360-degree, multisensory experiences in which the company offers customers the chance to build a dream car and investigate various products and add-ons. There’s even the option of driving ‘through’ various types of environments and conditions. Users can even look inside the car to examine its components.

Developing an Action Plan

Remember earlier when we mentioned that there’s still a high number of people who distrust dealerships? It’s true that they have a poor image when it comes to honesty. In light of that, most dealers would benefit from focusing on activities that promote trust and loyalty over sales.

People will always be buying cars, and they will be doing research on their own, possibly not even going in to see a dealer face-to-face. And why would they when many have been taught not to trust them?  

When you get that face-to-face walk-in customer, though, that's a great opportunity to build their trust. Even for those automotive professionals who are moving into more of a digital strategy – for example, consulting customers via live chat or even using apps to sell products – they must still work hard to earn their customer’s trust.  

Thus, engagement must be the motivation, rather than conversions. A strong visual presence is mandatory and real-time, experiential opportunities are essential for those shopping for vehicles.

The strategy should include elements like this:

  • Building engaging, highly user-friendly websites that offer specialized experiences such as AR and VR
  • Creating meaningful video ads that are based on qualitative key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Providing live experiential opportunities
  • Giving real-time expert support for those using car-purchasing apps

The key is to provide clear information in an engaging, immersive way. Any marketing activity that promotes transparency and trust will be useful. That’s why plain old blogs aren’t likely to work every time, but well-researched articles in respectable print publications and websites would hit the mark. Managing content is another key to planning and creating a vibrant content ‘hub’, where you are tracking and managing these stories.

Automotive marketers would be wise to incorporate multimedia and specialty forms of marketing such as AR and VR whenever it’s affordable. With highly visual, interactive user-generated content, automotive brands can show themselves as being a step ahead of their competition.  

The Bottom Line

Honest storytelling really is crucial to a good marketing platform, and for the automotive industry, this is what’s most in-demand. So, keeping your visuals high-quality and innovative, while sticking with messages that are simple and relatable, is a good approach.

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