It's widely agreed that all three automotive marketing tiers should be aligned and integrated from a messaging and timing perspective. While we in the business dissect the communications strategies into three tiers, consumers may only know the difference between a dealer ad and a "factory" ad. The distinction between Tiers 1 and 2 is of little importance to the consumer if the communications are properly aligned and the message is integrated throughout both tiers. Herein lies the problems of the Tier 1 and Tier 2 knowledge gap.
At its core, Tier 2 is the bridge between the manufacturer and the dealer that maintains brand integrity while driving local retail marketing. And, now more than ever, marketers are having a terrible time getting their arms around measuring and improving their efforts at this level. In fact, this is the single greatest concern on automotive marketers' minds right now, as noted at the recent Dearborn and Newport Beach iMedia Driving Interactive Summits. How odd, though, since Tier 2 has succeeded for decades without this challenge. So, why is this top of mind all of a sudden?
To start, Tier 2 spends more than Tier 1. So, imagine you lead the automotive marketing efforts at a major automotive manufacturer. Despite the massive budget available to you as a Tier 1 brand, you're outspent by dozens of fragmented dealer associations around the country. Furthermore, media proliferation and audience fragmentation are occurring faster than any time in history, making it difficult for even the most disciplined brand to communicate with one voice. Finally, because new media are more measurable, clients want more accountability. But who wants to be accountable for something that isn't yet completely understood? Dozens of distinct voices without unified direction more resembles the world's worst choir than a good marketing plan.
Despite Tier 2 being the perceived challenge, nearly all of the frustration occurs at Tier 1. One reason is that there is such a wealth of marketing intelligence available at Tier 1 that it's frustrating for manufacturers to see what isn't happening at Tier 2. For instance, how many Tier 1 interactive groups have used an online random sampling study to measure their interactive efforts? Probably most. Unfortunately, few Tier 2 marketers have even been exposed to such a tool, much less used it. The lack of frustration at Tier 2 may then be a case of "what you don't know can't hurt you."
So what can be done? Solving this problem requires investigating the cause. First, disseminating this reporting and intelligence to dozens of offices/agencies and getting them to read it and making it readable enough for staffers at all levels is immensely difficult. Additionally, all retailing is local. So, information which only contains national data is often disregarded because it's a "Tier 1 problem." This is then further compounded by territorialism that often occurs because dealers and folks in the field "are out here every day" and "know what it's like on the ground."
However, we're not here to fix blame, we're here to fix the problem. To do so, let's examine a brief real world scenario and determine the best way to attack. Dallas-Fort Worth's 44.9 percent is the lowest cable penetration of any major market in the U.S., according to tvb.org. Additionally, D/FW has the highest DVR penetration of any major market: 26.5 percent according to a recent eMarketer statistic. Knowing just these two pieces of information would make me significantly rethink my TV strategy, including the likelihood of reducing the importance of TV in my D/FW media plan. How many D/FW associations made real changes as a result of this free, publicly available information? My guess is very few.
Seek out the information
I know, easier said than done. Regardless, it is the job of field offices and agencies to request this information from their Tier 1 counterparts and occasionally seek it out themselves. If you find yourself thinking, "Gosh, this data must be available somewhere," it probably is. The eMarketer RSS feed is a great place to start.
Identify your place in the funnel
Two marketing epidemics are currently infiltrating Tier 2 offices around the country. The first is the "if it's measurable it should be used as direct response." The second is that everything should be measured by sales. Tier 2 is not supposed to be Tier 1 or Tier 3. It's supposed to be Tier 2! If the funnel's four phases are awareness, consideration, intent and purchase, Tier 2's role is somewhere within or between consideration and intent. Purchase (i.e., sales) is a Tier 3 function, not Tier 2. But as media becomes more measurable the path of least resistance is to try and hold each medium accountable for the ultimate success metric: sales. Don't get me wrong; Tier 2 efforts should absolutely drive consumers down to funnel with the goal of creating sales. It will simply be a case of one stage in the funnel improving the success in the subsequent phase. Start by identifying and agreeing on your place in the funnel with your regional clients and the dealers. Then, based on this agreement, identify the metrics you'll use to define your success and how you'll report on them. For instance, local Allison-Fisher consideration and intent data is an option. Simply having this baseline puts you leaps and bounds ahead of where you were.
Identify the tools and budget you'll need to measure your success
Many, many associations spend $10 million or more annually. Almost none set aside even $1 to consistently measure their efforts. That just doesn't make sense. Spending $100,000 on data and superior abilities to measure efforts only requires a 1 percent improvement in a $10MM media budget's efficiency to pay for itself. I've found free data that can make more of a difference than that!
But, commissioning effective research to measure your specific campaigns won't be free. It will be worth spending the money. Once you know where your place is within the funnel, and what you're measuring, you'll need to measure it consistently to see where you're succeeding and what needs refining.
Work with a research expert
If you don't have a background in or experience doing research, work with someone who does. It's critical to make sure the methodology is completely unbiased and that the research isn't created with a desired outcome in mind. For instance, research should always be phrased as "Determine consideration levels of metro-area buyers for vehicle 'x'." It should not be "Determine how much we've increased consideration levels of metro-area buyers for vehicle 'x'." The latter creates the mindset that consideration will go up and leaves no possibility for any other outcome. Small change, gigantic difference.
Building consensus around a plan that positions a brand at a specific point in the funnel may seem insurmountable. Add to this the challenge of identifying and measuring success while remaining disciplined enough to achieve continuous improvement and it's understandable why it's easier to just buy as much TV as possible. But if you're an "A" player at an "A" agency, buying as much TV as possible isn't what you do. Your regional client and dealers are counting on you to build their business with the most effective and efficient use of their money.