One of the biggest trends in automotive advertising this year has been the emergence of Tier II (regional auto dealer association) online advertising as a major factor in advertising budgets. Traditionally -- or as traditionally as one can get in a 10-year-old business -- the largest advertising budgets have come from the auto manufacturer level in Tier I, more recently followed by increased online advertising budgets from individual auto dealers in Tier III. While each one of these tiers has a different advertising goal, they need to show some consistency in messaging in order to be effective.
Let's take a look at a definition of the marketing goals for each tier:
The auto manufacturer: Tier I -- Why buy this product?
The regional dealer association: Tier II -- Why buy now?
The individual dealer: Tier III -- Why buy from me?
While each of these divisions has different goals, they need to work together for the overall good of the brand. Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden often spoke about how each member of his team knew their responsibilities and that, in order to win, each team member must understand the team goal. The same is true for effective cross-tier advertising for any brand, particularly in the automotive category.
Doug Frisbie, Toyota's interactive marketing & online media manager, puts it this way: "Tier I, II, and III messaging needs to be consistent from a strategic perspective, but understanding that the actual message will be different because each tier provides the consumer with unique value. It's important to coordinate these messages while also leveraging the strengths of each tier."
Of course, the challenge for the manufacturer is to provide marketing and advertising direction for the other two tiers (Tier II at the dealer association level & Tier III at the individual dealer level) that are separate from the manufacturer. Publishers can partner with manufacturers to help with this challenge. As Dave Schoonover, Kia's customer relationship marketing manager, says, "Much can be learned and applied from media companies and how they manage a great many ad placements. The best way to drive message consistency is with a thoroughly integrated infrastructure and common reporting platforms."
The challenge for the manufacturer also is shared with site publishers: how to get a consistent marketing message from three different advertisers with distinctly different goals. In many cases, the advertising placement goals of the Tier I manufacturer could be in competition with placement goals from the Tier III individual dealer advertiser. Automotive sites need to work with the client and advertising agency to develop ways to help bring consistency to the advertising message.
Of course, one very important question needs to be asked: Does the consumer recognize the difference between the three tiers? Paul Ratzky, engagement planning director at Lexus' agency Team One, says, "It's critical to remember that Tier I, II, and III are industry constructs that, while readily apparent to us, are far less meaningful to the consumer. The differences in placement, messaging, etc., must always be contextually relevant to the shopper and not just reflect our own structures and boundaries. Many would argue that Tier I & II advertising should not be fundamentally different in any way."
We in the online automotive industry (client, agency, and publisher) still have a lot of work to do to help make sure that the advertising messages of all three tiers are effective in achieving the obvious goal of selling more cars. Working together, cross-tier advertising integration can achieve this goal.
Tim Hand is director of advertising and business development (West) for Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com. .