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Converting Auto Sales: Data Creates Opportunities

Converting Auto Sales: Data Creates Opportunities Christopher Skinner
Far be it for me to belittle the Detroit comeback. The Tigers had a nice run into the playoffs. The Lions are the most improved team in the NFL. And American automotive companies have come from sudden-death bankruptcy to decidedly improved sales, marketing and overall execution. Still, I see a critical need for improvement. That improvement is in the area of connecting design and product planning to marketing. In other words, Detroit needs to do a better job in the early innings.

Here’s what I mean. The key for successful automotive campaigns has been connecting the car to its target audience and the geographic market that contains the audience. When the car is a minivan or luxury sedan, the job is easy.  Those markets are usually easy to find with logic, crude demographics and solid targeting information. However, another story about a recent project illustrates a disconnect that could have been avoided. In this case, a domestic manufacturer was adding a mid-priced convertible sedan to an already successful line. Convertibles sell where the weather is nice, dry and warm, right? So the decision was made to blanket Miami, Atlanta and Tampa. Can’t miss.

It missed. The car was poorly received in Miami, but it sold like cheesesteaks in Philadelphia. The reason for the strong response in Philadelphia was the basic reason that the car appealed to a certain segment of consumers. The car, a mid-priced, more expensive looking convertible, had a classically sporty element. This style appealed to the middle-class car buyer in the mid-Atlantic states instead of the hot shot convertible fan in the South. In Philadelphia car customers didn’t see a convertible, they saw an affordable car.

This is not to say that money was wasted on the digital campaign that focused on Miami and its dealer base. It is saying that even in the pre-design phase, customer research on a local level can go a long way. Even while a car is in development, car companies could take the guessing game out of whom the target customer will be (which is largely dictated by price) and get closer to knowing where it will be bought.

There’s no simple formula for that.  However, there is data in the form of advanced digital customer research that finds customers, where they live and identifies how they live.

With that information in their back pockets, car companies can widen their net of information beyond, for example, targeting women, aged 18-54 that make between $40 and $60k. Now, they can identify attitudes and understand that a guy buying a car in Philadelphia just might be from a family that has seen a hundred years of manufacturing jobs passed down through the family.  They can see that maybe that guy values a car that looks a lot more expensive than the sticker.  Finally, they can know that many car shoppers in Miami feel that air conditioning is a lot more important than a drop top.

Data is not a limiting factor, even in the design phase of a product.  Instead, data creates opportunities. The Detroit renaissance has been built on tradition and, lately, it has succeeded by breaking away from tradition. I think they could – and should - break further into data and defining the location of their target audiences.

That’s a winning game plan.

Christopher Skinner comes to Centro as Vice President of Strategic Insight. In this role, Christopher takes a holistic approach to melding technology, data management and business intelligence to develop media planning and attribution...

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