The way people buy cars, and indeed the automotive industry as a whole, has changed significantly and continues to do so.
If you remember ‘Swiss Toni’, The Fast Show’s 1990’s parody of a car salesman with his grey suit and platinum blonde bouffant, he didn’t seem a million miles away from those local car dealers of that time, with their forecourt bunting, balloons and window stickers. Today, however, that approach and style is pretty much resigned to the archives. Thankfully.
Nowadays, many car companies have taken the time to learn from other sectors about how to drive an enhanced customer experience. Things like, using the retail sector’s expertise in face-to-face customer engagement to create more sophisticated showroom environments, integrating these with digital and data to deliver a more engaging and joined up buying experience.
But what learnings, if any, can retailers take from automotive?
Digital channels, technologies and data in marketing have had a profound effect on every industry, but perhaps even more so in the automotive industry.
Covid accelerated digital transformation programmes in the sector as the traditional car purchasing journey pulled away from the dealer. Add to this an associated influx of new competitors like Cazoo, Cinch and Carwow, it’s easy to understand why manufacturers need to work smarter to acquire and retain their customers.
A focus on the use of data, digital-first engagements and omnichannel retail transformation has seen many deals take place without the need to visit the dealership. A trend supported by CarGuru’s buyer insights which report 63% of buyers being open to buying online post-Covid.
Even before that though, 88% of prospective buyers were researching their options online prior to going to a dealership, some having as many as 24 marketing touchpoints with the brand along the way.*
While the research, purchase and replacement cycles for a car are arguably more expensive and longer than for most retail purchases, there remain some parallels. Customers don’t care which sector they’re buying from; they expect to be treated as individuals with good service and relevant information.
With this in mind, the following data-related learnings to drive enhanced customer engagement and sales in the automotive industry may resonate for those working in retail.
1. Capture customer data at every touchpoint
Engaging potential buyers when they’re still in the ‘consideration’ phase and capturing and retaining this data together with data from other areas of the business supports the ability to unlock a variety of analysis, planning and strategy development as well as communications opportunities including (but not limited to):
Building customer acquisition and retention strategies and determining the most effective marketing methods
Offering personalised communications and product recommendations
Developing predictive models to forecast trends and changes in demand to boost product sales
2. Create a solid foundation for data
Existing data landscapes are often siloed with the data from various parts of the business, whether it’s structured or unstructured, being held in different and un-connected systems. For many, bringing this together is simply a ‘nut too big to crack’ – too complex, too timely and too expensive for what is a relatively unknown return.
Rather than trying to start from scratch, one approach increasingly being used as an alternative is to run an audit to identify what data is held, where it’s held and whether it’s needed or not. Following the audit, a Customer Data Platform (CDP) type solution can be implemented to bring together those datapoints the organisation identifies as useful in a unified way to support the:
Provision of accessible and well-maintained customer data
Combining of customer profiles by connecting characteristic features
Creation of a single database for customer profiles and a single and coherent view of the customer on an individual level
Enhancement of marketing and customer service
3. Deliver a highly personalised end-to-end customer experience
Using customer, demographic and behavioural data to better understand and segment audiences and support a personalised customer experience that delivers the right message, at the right time, through the right channel.
By making communications highly personalised to individuals they’ll receive relevant information about products, offers, complimentary goods/services which will not only help to encourage a purchase but also create a seamless omnichannel experience, building loyalty and encouraging repurchase.
Of course, there will be many in the retail sector either considering or who already have well mapped out data and digital strategies, in the same way there will be some in the automotive sector yet to implement them.
Either way, the fact remains; digital continues to be a major battleground. Data, digital-first engagements need to be on the agenda. Everyone is fighting for that digital customer and those who can gather, interpret and use data quickly, and correctly, will stand a better chance of getting them.
* DealerWebb Services: https://dealerwebb.com/understanding-the-digital-car-buyers-journey