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Retail revolution: entering the cloud will clear the road ahead for manufacturers and dealers

Imogen Tostevin explores how cloud-based marketing can help car brands and dealerships provide a better customer experience

The average motorist probably doesn’t care much whether an automotive brand or its dealerships owns the relationship when they buy a vehicle or bring it in for a service. If it works fine and pricing is good, the relationship between OEM and retailer isn’t something that keeps them up at night. They may not even consciously recognise the distinction between the two.

Behind the scenes, however, in an era when digital customers journeys are overtaking the traditional trek around the showroom floor, a truly collaborative approach to sales is becoming crucial.

BMW online sales
BMW claims to be the first car manufacturer to offer a digital sales solution for the entire product range and the full end-to-end buying or leasing process online

As powerful as automotive brands are, dealerships have heft of their own; some are huge networks with armies of technicians and salespeople keen to build their own revenue. In some instances, dealer chains are brands in their own right. However, while they may have a grip on getting the motorist to buy through them, dealerships must now also own communications throughout the customer journey. That’s a totally different ball game to discussing car features face-to-face or taking a consumer for a test-drive. Today’s busy consumer expects targeted marketing from automotive businesses as much as they do with any other brand. Dealership teams must therefore be geared up to create and deliver highly relevant and personalised communications, usually on budgets far smaller than OEMs command.

Digital channels have become a key factor. While they make the motorist’s research phase easier and more informative, they pose a problem to dealerships: knowing how to serve the right messages at the right point of the customer journey. Pressure comes from above, too: OEMs have begun to set online purchase targets for all linked dealerships.

So, how can car brands and dealerships team up to navigate these obstacles, while also giving their customers a better experience?

Dealerships must now also own communications throughout the customer journey. That’s a totally different ball game to discussing car features face-to-face or taking a consumer for a test-drive

The answer lies in cutting-edge marketing platforms that help OEMs and retailers collaborate, automate content, and make budgets go further. Based in the cloud, the technology gives teams access to a range of tools to meet a number of challenges, from marketing planning to execution. Working together in this way gives manufacturers greater visibility in local markets, while enabling them to offer more marketing support to dealerships. It’s a unified approach that closes the gap between marketing strategy at ‘brand HQ’ and deployment of content by teams “on the ground”.

Closer collaboration brings into play strengths at both ends of the automotive sales chain: OEM expertise in consumer data and behaviour; retailer nous regarding local trends and individual customer needs. Because platforms allow closer, smarter working, dealerships can deliver cross-channel, localised, fully brand-compliant materials with minimal fuss and expense. Brands and retailers can also keep a closer eye on marketing spend globally and locally with built-in financial management features.

Most importantly, the motorist benefits from receiving customised communications across channels, from email and print to social and digital display messages. The end result is a joined-up approach that simplifies and enhances their experience. When assets can be centrally produced at minimal cost, OEMs can pass initial customer interest directly to dealerships, meaning a far smoother road from research to purchase for the motorist.

With electric vehicles set to dominate the next phase of car sales, brands and dealerships alike need to know how best to help their customers understand a fast-changing landscape. A seamless experience is key, and marketing tools based in the cloud have arrived to make the road ahead much clearer.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.

Imogen Tostevin is Senior Account Director at CODE Worldwide

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