Monday, May 4, 2015

Automotive Brand Managers: 3 Ways to Prevent Your Dealerships from Ruining Your Brand

As brand managers, you know how critical it is to interact with your consumer throughout the buying process. It is for this reason that bad dealers yield bad sales. As a Northwestern University student in the Medill IMC certificate program, I am studying how automotive manufacturers must interact with their dealers to create more effective communication with their consumers to increase sales. My research has lead me to the following two articles that highlight several ideas that brand managers should consider when developing their newest strategies.

Chris Fleisher highlights the growing influence women have on the auto industry in his article on Trib Live entitled Car Dealerships Turn Advertising, Sales Focus to Women”. For years the focus has been almost primarily on men. However, more women than ever before are a home’s primary breadwinner and are playing a more vital role in the car buying process. Last year women accounted for 40% of all new vehicle registrations compared to just 37% five years ago. Realizing this trend, some dealerships have begun to feature more women in their ads. They are not used as sex symbols but are strategically placed to send the softer message that the dealership provides a comfortable, safe and trustworthy environment. It is important to note that women tend to do more online research before walking into a dealership than men. They are less concerned with negotiating sales than getting the right car. For this reason, it is critical that dealerships provide a customer experience that allows women to know they are getting the best deal for the car they want and not the car the dealer wants to sell. 

Brian Molidor discusses a new trend on TECHi in his article The Future of automotive marketing: car deals that stalk you on social media”: the automotive industry needs to embrace social media. It is important to note that he does not suggest that manufacturers and dealers should create amazing social media pages, but rather, use social media to hyper-target consumers. Other industries, like retail and consumer packaged goods, have successfully embraced technologies that gather data from all over the web on an individual, identify which products they would be most interested in buying, and place special deals on their social media pages. BLiNQ Media has begun to incorporate this technology in the auto industry with their newest product AutoLiFT, which focuses on amassing data for the manufacturer. On the other hand companies like Dealer Authority have decided to focus on the dealerships. These companies gather information from Polk, a dealer’s email database, and website retargeting pixels to identify whose Facebook feed and what model and lease incentives to place. Hyper-targeting like this has yielded positive results so far, for every consumer that blocks the dealership’s page or hides the post, a thousand clicked through to the website.

After analyzing these two articles, and based on my studies in the Northwestern Medill IMC program, here are three actions that all automotive brand managers should consider before developing their next strategic plan: 
  • Be Respectful:
    • It is imperative that you to teach your dealers to provide the best consumer experience possible that is congruent with your brand.
  • Women Matter:
    • Do not be afraid to create advertisements and a consumer experience specific to women. They possess much more buying power in the industry than in years past.
  • Hyper-Target:
    • Social Media is a valuable tool to not just identify potential new customers, but also begin a conversation with your consumer and your dealership.
As you know, in the United States it is illegal for auto manufacturers to sell directly to the consumer. Therefore, cars do not get sold if dealers are ill equipped to identify potential consumers and alienate at least 40% of their market. Also, since many times the only face-to-face interaction consumers have with your brand is through dealerships, the worse they are treated, the less loyalty they will feel towards your brand. One bad dealership experience is enough to permanently turn off a consumer to your brand, while a great one can lead to lifetime loyalty.

My name is Craig Maynard and I am a student in the Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) Certificate Program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Previously I studied Cognitive Science at Northwestern to learn why people do the things they do. I am interested in developing marketing strategies that see the target market for what they are, humans. Please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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