The auto industry must meet consumers where they are and be intentional in catering to the right audience with the most relevant content. - IMAGE: Getty Images

The auto industry must meet consumers where they are and be intentional in catering to the right audience with the most relevant content.

IMAGE: Getty Images

For years we’ve been telling dealers that to be successful, they need to meet customers where they are and engage on their terms. This idea, which aligns with the well-known hospitality mantra, “the customer is always right,” certainly isn’t new, but how to get there is ever-evolving. The massive shift we’ve seen because of the restrictions, uncertainty, and disruption from the pandemic has forced dealers to change the way they’ve been doing business — and accelerate their digital offerings faster than originally planned. It’s a new world out there, with a higher bar for customer satisfaction and new expectations. It can be difficult to navigate the ins and outs of this new world without the right digital marketing insights and tools to help you reach today’s customers. 

The world of digital marketing in the automotive industry has had its share of challenges, quickly pivoting to meet the new consumer demands. Buyers do even more online research before considering their car purchase or a dealership visit. What does all this mean for OEM clients and agency partners? It means they need to embrace a business model that balances car buyers’ dynamic preferences with the fast-paced world of online retailing. 

Evaluating Positive Disruption in Consumer Behavior and Industry Marketing

We can see the consumer behavior shifts in every facet of our lives, from how we consume media (OTT, connected TV, social networks) to how we shop and buy — as well as our expectations. Time, convenience, accessibility, and personalization are priceless commodities that have become imperative over the last 18 months. Moreover, the automotive industry is facing unique pressures with more than 60% of consumers wanting to fully transact online. OEMs and agency partners must provide a seamless, informed, tailored digital retail experience. ​

A strong digital engagement platform helps to build trust, save time, increase confidence, and foster loyalty — and we’re seeing its evolved impact in a number of ways, including through the enablement of swifter responses to consumer engagement. A digital-forward approach also allows brands and solutions to be present and useful at moments that matter to the shopper. This all adds up to a positive change in consumer sentiment toward car buying, with nearly three in four new-car buyers being satisfied with their shopping experience, according to the Cox Automotive Car Buyer Journey Study.

A Seamless Buyer and Brand Experience

For years, retailers have been trying to keep up with consumer demand for digital retailing, and the pandemic accelerated retailers’ need to catch up quickly. Brands and buyers build relationships through trust, responsiveness, and credibility. By enabling solutions that interpret buying signals and anticipate actions, buyers can meet customers where they are in real time and on multiple channels and devices.
We ultimately see three experiential pillars when purchasing a vehicle:

  • Traditional in-store experiences 
  • End-to-end digital transactions, which are growing exponentially
  • Hybrid approaches that start online and close at the dealership

It’s up to the brand to follow consumer behaviors and the marketing strategists to leverage them. The right technology plays a critical role. Platforms with built-in predictive technology enable a customized, holistic buying journey that builds brand trust and customer loyalty. 

Delivering a Superior Shopper Experience with Marketing Tech Innovation 

Shoppers expect a curated and personal experience for big-ticket purchases. But when it comes to car buying, consumers have a broad and varied range of preferences. By embracing a consumer- and digital-first strategy powered by rich data, OEMs can achieve diversity and scale, and provide the right solution to the right customer at the right time. Through targeted marketing and advertising, dealers have the power to reach a greater number of potential customers.

Keeping with the Tide and Planning for 2022

We know that auto buying behaviors will not go back to pre-pandemic standards, and the fundamental shift to digital retailing is here to stay. Research reveals that 76% of shoppers are now open to the idea of buying a vehicle completely online, and 77% of shoppers feel that digital retailing can provide them with a more personalized experience. Not only do consumers believe this is the future, but so do many dealers — it’s about meeting consumer demand and keeping pace with the competition. Looking to the future, 84% of franchise dealers believe that customers will continue to complete increasingly more steps of the buying process online. By 2025, they believe that four in 10 consumers will buy a car entirely online.  

As such, there will need to be an intelligent, multichannel universe — enabling a fluid online-offline experience — built around the buying journey. The auto industry must meet consumers where they are and be intentional in catering to the right audience with the most relevant content. 

Robert Dimson is senior director of client marketing at Cox Automotive Inc.