Is Digital Marketing Blurring the Lines Between Tiered Automotive Marketing?

According to a report by eMarketer, the estimated automotive marketing spend in 2017 fell in somewhere around $206 billion. Coming off a seven-year run of continual sales growth, it’s no surprise that the industry has shown such openness toward investment. The near-unparalleled level of innovation alone ensured that most messages were well-worth “getting out there” and, judging by the spend, it would seem that all three tiers of automotive marketing were aligned in their dedication to do so.

In the past, one could argue that the efforts of OEM, regional and retail marketing groups were more delineated. With a clarity of both roles and boundaries in-place, proper integration of all three levels into one synergetic marketing juggernaut left few obstacles insurmountable. And it goes without saying that such united efforts have been a primary fuel-source for the kind of incremental growth that the industry has enjoyed. But with each year of the past decade, the evolution of digital marketing has empowered each level to visualize and embrace new strategies. Even with OEM regulations in-place, the opportunities for promotion, increase of brand awareness and the forging of stronger relationship with the consumer are greater than ever.

But what does this mean to an industry that is now taking several deep-breaths, regrouping and re-strategizing from atop a temporary plateau? With no shortage of continual innovation (including, but hardly limited to the inevitable paradigm shift of autonomy fast approaching) there is no absence of stories to tell.

And therein lies the potential for massive pay-off. Stories to tell, and an ever-growing number of platforms upon which those stories can be told, fueling consumer engagement and anticipation for things-to-come. It’s been a great run for the automotive marketer in recent years, but let’s be honest…it’s only looking up from here.

The New Face of Tier 3 Marketing

For as long as televisions (and radio, before it) have held real estate inside of American homes, the automotive industry has been a part of our daily lives. With the ever-present and incessant advances of local dealerships, our buying dollars have been courted in every way imaginable. From the fast-talking salesman and gimmicky sales events enjoying the most modest grabs of airtime to the well-financed families of dealerships that negotiate full 30-minute advertisements on a weekly basis, automotive marketing efforts seemed ever-present long before the internet came into play.

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But with advances in digital marketing, search engine optimization, social media and reputation management dealerships are empowered to gain even more real estate inside the consumer head-space. And (depending on individual regulations, enforced by a dealership’s franchise) there are no real limits to how aggressively they can reinforce their presence. With that in mind, it’s no real surprise that car dealers are estimated to spend over 55% of their ad spend on the internet.

Of course, multichannel marketing is still an intelligent strategy but it’s important to recognize the smaller role that traditional marketing platforms (such as TV, radio and print ads) play in the On-Demand / Live Streaming world that we live in, buy from and drive through. In addition to their ever-diminishing influence on consumers, such platforms have proven to be far less reliable (than digital marketing) in terms of analytical measurement. And if the goal of a Tier 3 marketer is to balance their approach between in-market shoppers and existing customer bases, an outdated and less-reliable set of tools has no place in an evolving strategy. Because a strategy must remain as pliable and forward-thinking as the product it promotes, if not more; and if that’s the case, the pressure is on for automotive marketers who have yet to embrace the power of digital marketing.

Remaining Ahead of the Curve

In order for a dealership to assert themselves as an authority and resource, they must do far more than offer the ‘largest inventory’ or ‘guaranteed financing’. That sort of ‘rest on your laurels’ mindset is long behind us, and all dealerships should be focused on remaining ahead of the curve at all times. Fortunately, there is a massive ROI to be enjoyed from the generation of high-quality online content.

First, a marketer must always recognize themselves as a tributary of the OEM’s vision. Doing so ensures harmony of content, and acts as a constant reminder of prioritization when it comes to the creation or circulation of content. In other words, a dealership knows the automaker that they answer to, and it’s important for marketers to remain up-to-date on newsworthy content rife for discussion.

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Second, any marketer worth their salt knows their audience. In the case of a dealership, that audience consists primarily of brand loyalists, non-committal prospective buyers ready to be redirected and the inevitability of ever-baiting trolls.

So what’s the takeaway? In the simplest terms, a steady flow of high-quality topical content which strengthens the brand that you represent will assert you as an authority and prompt regular engagement with your audience. Your OEM (with the assistance of recognizable trade publications and industry insiders) provide you with a steady stream of ideas and news updates that your audience will be interested in. Your ability to assert yourself as a resource for breaking news, and thoughtful introspection will pay out in dividends. Every ‘read’. Every ‘like’. Every ‘share’. Every ‘comment’. Compounded, online engagement strengthens your digital marketing initiatives, improving search rankings, converting more customers, and strengthening brand awareness at all levels. This is how a Tier 3 automotive marketer from a quality dealership sets themselves apart from their ‘wacky waving inflatable tube man’ contemporaries.

No longer can you remain content to peddle your individual dealership brand on the strength of the OEM. You need to view yourself as the megaphone, the authoritative amplification of the brand’s strongest attributes, and the most direct line of communication with the local consumer.

In other words, don’t be afraid to blur the lines in order to become a better marketer today than you were expected to be yesterday. The stories are there for the taking or arriving in droves. Step up and tell those stories, and there’s no limit to the continued growth you could enjoy.

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