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How can marketing automation help navigate the retail revolution?

With disruptive new entrants looking to push car sales online and OEMs emphasising user experience, retailers need to find new ways to attract customers, writes David Greenberg

Car buyers today expect more from their experience of purchasing a vehicle than they did previously. With the pandemic normalising online shopping, consumers have come to expect the same digital experience when it comes to buying a new car.  As a result, car dealerships are facing increasing pressure to provide a seamless, digitally-driven experience throughout the entire car-buying journey.

It goes without saying that over the last 18 months the automotive industry has faced many difficulties from the pandemic to the latest issue of chip shortages, which is predicted to wipe 100,000 off the UK’s total car production for 2021. Consequently, car sales in the UK have seen some big declines—35% in September—resulting in intense pressure and competition for the automotive industry. To cater to the changing consumer expectations when it comes to purchasing cars, disruptors in the industry are looking to move the industry online. This means that businesses—particularly the more traditional car dealerships—must become more digitally innovative if they are to attract and retain customers.

According to a recent AutoTrader report, three-quarters (76%) of car buyers use the internet to research their purchase and 67% visit showrooms in person at some point in the car buying process. These findings highlight that customers now expect to progress through the car-buying journey both online and offline, emphasising the need for car dealerships to have a multichannel marketing strategy.

Marketing-driven customer experience

A marketing-driven customer experience is key to standing out from competitors and combating the challenging times facing car dealerships. To attract potential buyers, understand more about them, and nurture their interest to a point in which they are ready to buy before walking into the showroom, marketing automation can have a game-changing impact.There are several distinct ways marketing automation can support automotive businesses throughout these challenging times.

Daimler is aiming to take 25% of sales online by 2025. Volvo is aiming for 50% over the same time period

Utilising marketing automation to fend off the competition and attract customers

While research by car comparison site Moneyshake found that a staggering 82% of consumers are happy for their car purchasing journey to be completely online, one of the challenges facing car dealerships is the sheer number of choices consumers are privy to at the click of a button. It is therefore crucial any company goes above and beyond to capture the attention of prospective customers and nurture a relationship with them to the point of sale, as well as post-purchase.

A marketing automation platform enables automotive companies to streamline, automate and measure marketing tasks and workflows. By utilising a marketing automation platform, car dealerships can efficiently and effectively grab the attention of prospective customers, and once done, retain their attention and garner further interest with nurture campaigns.

Marketing automation can monitor all engagement within a company digitally to fully harness interest from people who recently completed a form on the website, providing insights into their digital behaviours. Marketers have access to who opens emails, who engages with digital advertising, who visits the website, and which pages they go to and spend the most time on. By having access to this data intelligence, marketers can get smart by understanding the digital behaviours of their prospective customers and responding accordingly.

Car dealerships are facing increasing pressure to provide a seamless, digitally-driven experience throughout the entire car-buying journey

For example, knowing where certain individuals are at in the buying cycle and then automatically triggering communications with that person based on this known interest through nurture campaigns. Marketing automation allows one to send relevant information in the way they have indicated they like (via SMS or email for example), such as updates on new model launches, new or used stock available and invites to events at a showroom.

Redefining the showroom experience

The rise of consumers looking for a digital experience when it comes to purchasing a car is an opportunity for dealerships to rethink how their buying journey is received by their customers. A survey by McKinsey found that prospective buyers are less inclined to want to interact with sellers at car dealerships, which means there are many opportunities for dealerships to thrive online. Interestingly, this is even falling for those between the ages of 55 and 70, who would look at buying cars online “as a relevant alternative to visiting dealers”.

A website is crucial to this and should provide key details customers should know before choosing services. This includes the volume of cars currently in stock, specific product information, and even the ability to book a test drive. This means that customers can enter the dealership already equipped with useful knowledge of the products from the website, ensuring a journey for the buyer where they are in control.

Driving lifetime value with marketing automation

Managing the after-sales experience of the customer is important to providing lifetime value and therefore increasing their loyalty long-term. SMS and email communication to customers, providing them with notifications regarding when their lease is about to expire, or when their MOT is coming up is a great way of keeping the dealership at the forefront of customers’ minds.

Marketing automation is a way for businesses to maintain a close connection with customers, due to it being an advanced communication tool that helps customers get the most value out of a company’s product. It also allows the business to be proactive with customers once the car sale has been completed, such as prompting them to provide feedback about their experience or if they would recommend your services. Targeted messages like this are a useful way for a brand to remain present to customers even once the car sale is complete.

Renault dealer
Traditional car dealerships must become more digitally innovative if they are to attract and retain customers

Making effective use of all of the data available also presents an opportunity if a customer is not fully committed to the brand and are keeping their options open to other brands. If this is identified, having access to data regarding an individual’s interests and past engagement behaviours is important to re-engage with these customers directly, albeit tailored to their preferences to try to secure repeat business and customer loyalty.

How to progress the next sale

Staying ahead of the competition is crucial for any business looking to encourage customers to purchase their vehicles and services again. The question is: how do you know when an existing customer is likely to purchase their next car? Marketing automation provides opportunities to take advantage of initial customer interest before your competition has even been considered.

Ultimately, how each customer engages with a brand and its online presence offers important behavioural insights that are gold dust to car dealerships. By leveraging the data available, dealers can automate trigger programmes—proactive communication that sets out to ignite interest such as providing information on new models, an offer to upgrade a lease, or a timely invitation of a test drive.

Marketing automation also allows one to detect increased interest from customers, for example, whether they have recently visited your website or when they last engaged with the last communication sent to them. By automatically monitoring their activity, it is possible to track and score their engagement and therefore respond to any signs of intent.

Marketing automation is a crucial tool that businesses in the automotive industry must consider if they are to stay ahead of the game and emerge successfully from challenging times ahead. With an increasing number of people moving online to purchase vehicles, or at the very least starting their buying journey online, there are new and exciting opportunities to engage with customers. If those in the industry continue to adapt to use these modern marketing methods to attract and retain the attention of their customers and prospects by providing an engaging and tailored experience, then the automotive sector will see the light at the end of the tunnel.

About the author: David Greenberg is Chief Marketing Officer at Act-On



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