In automotive marketing, it’s all about the Internet now, right? Well, yes and no:
Yes: Going Online
Both car buyers and car sellers are going online more than ever before. According to emarketer.com, the automotive industry spent some $5.07 billion on paid digital advertising in 2013, with that number expected to rise to $7.80 billion by 2017. Such growth makes it likely that the U.S. automotive industry will become the second-biggest spender in paid online and mobile media by 2015. As for automotive consumers, a recent survey by the marketing agency Pepper Gang discovered that 83% of respondents go online first when researching a new car purchase, with 64% including online review websites in their research. And in Google’s 2013 study on auto consumers, they found that 74% of new car buyers visit dealership and manufacturer websites as part of the buying process.
No: Staying Traditional
Despite the trend towards online research, sharing, and advertising, certain digital channels work better than others, and “old school” methods such as direct mail still have powerful roles to play. For example, a recent study by the research company fast.MAP showed that marketers of all stripes tend to “massively overestimate” the effectiveness of social media channels for reaching consumers. According to the study, fewer than 2% of respondents were “happy” to receive marketing messages via text and social media, whereas eight of ten answered that they will open direct mail, a figure even above 2010 levels.
The real answer is that today, both online and traditional channels play important roles in an effective automotive marketing campaign. The question is: how to maximize the innovative power of the online without neglecting the direct-approach power of the offline? Here are some useful tips for striking a balance.
Auto shoppers are not only doing more online research than ever before, but they also have much more information at their fingertips when they do. In this light, wise lenders and dealers should remember to:
- Invest in your website. Provide messaging that is clear, accurate and as non-technical as possible, with snappy graphics to match. Videos and other design elements that are social media friendly make it easy for consumers to share your content, expanding your brand exposure.
- Make it easy for consumers to find and learn about loan and vehicle products. Allowing consumers to save their preferences, export information, and compare options side-by-side empowers them to be in control and generates positive feelings towards your brand. If it’s too hard to find information, they will quickly go elsewhere.
- Offer high-quality content—both written and visual—to meet the expectations of these more sophisticated consumers. Today’s customers have done their homework and expect to be educated and informed.
Maximizing your online presence does not mean that traditional direct marketing has been dethroned. Quite the contrary:
- Many consumer segments, including older consumers who tend to have more disposable income, continue to be less familiar and comfortable with online channels. For them, direct mail, dealership contact and the good, old-fashioned phone call remain crucial.
- Even for digital-savvy generations natives like the Millennials, direct mail can be important. Oversaturated with online messages, members of the digital generation can become numb, lessening the impact of email or other online offers. And as computer tools become more sophisticated, filtering out online ads, routing emails directly to SPAM folders, and allowing for private browsing, it becomes even harder to reach consumers via digital channels. In the face of these challenges, a coordinated multichannel approach will generally provide better results.
Striking the Proper Balance
Before you dump what you’re doing in favor of the next big online marketing technique, make sure you are not discarding something of value. Lenders and dealers should carefully monitor the success and return on investment (ROI) of current online and offline techniques, enhancing successful approaches and confidently discarding those that are no longer working efficiently. Sometimes, improving ROI only means improving coordination among your various existing channels—for instance, making sure that customers are receiving consistent messaging across email, direct mail, phone, and dealership visits. Such an integration of tried-and-true methods, combined with the massive power of the Internet, will move your automotive marketing campaign into the fast lane.
About the author: Scott Zientarski [LinkedIn] is the General Manager for Automotive at Datamyx, the top provider of data-driven technology solutions for direct marketing in the financial services, automotive, and insurance industries.