As you would expect, today's biggest trends in the automotive industry all revolve around e-commerce. As more consumers head online to research and shop for vehicles, vehicle sellers and marketers have to provide the websites, electronic tools and online information consumers want and need.
Yet, they are also challenged to attract and retain in-market auto shoppers to their online turf, especially during a weak – and therefore highly competitive – economy. This calls for innovation in areas such as campaigns, eye-catching visuals and clever SEO tactics. Following are five of the big marketing trends we're seeing in the automotive industry and how they're affecting and changing the online environment overall.
Although mobile marketing has been popular for a while, it's only recently that companies in the automotive space have started to optimize this communication channel.
Take a look at the work of some companies currently employing this technology. Dealership e-newsletter service IMN Loyalty Driver has started including mobile coupons in its publications. When customers receive an e-newsletter that includes a coupon, they enter their cell phone number into the space provided and within seconds the coupon is delivered to their phone as a text message. To redeem the coupon, customers only have to show their phone at the dealership.
Mobile marketing company Gumiyo makes it possible for a dealer to place trackable keywords, VINs or stock numbers next to vehicle advertisements (both print and online) that consumers can text from their cell phones. These buyer-generated text messages receive automatic dealer replies with specific vehicle information, or promotions with links that launch a cell phone's web browser. Services like this make a dealer's inventory directly available to cell phones, potentially shortening the sales cycle and increasing the value of offline advertising.
Innovative uses of video
Full-motion vehicle videos are steadily gaining in popularity. We've seen many dealerships and portal sites licensing video content because it delivers compelling presentations that keep viewers on sites longer which, in turn, raises conversion rates. In response to the overall success of video-based ads in the automotive market, vendors are starting to experiment with video in unique and innovative ways. The Wall Street Journal online for example, is now using a video component to supplement many of their articles and special features, including those about the automotive industry.
Another great example of this is MyDealerBroadcast. The company is working with dealerships to deliver automated, personalized email messages in response to customer vehicle inquiries. Each message includes an embedded photo along with a link to a vehicle video. Once an email is sent, the dealership sales team receives instant text and email alerts whenever the customer interacts with the message, so they know what leads are hot and when to follow-up. Not only does their product guarantee that a customer vehicle inquiry will be answered promptly, the inclusion of video gives the customer immediate access to the information they want in an eye-catching presentation that grabs attention and better primes them for the sales call.
The automotive industry is data-heavy: With numerous new vehicles released every year, each with more than 10,000 option and pricing configurations, a dealer or portal trying to get complete vehicle information online and provide configuration and comparison services has a steep development hill to climb. Because of this, web services are rapidly gaining in popularity.
Web services allow companies to focus on core competency – how the application manipulates and enhances data for the best consumer experience – rather than structuring, warehousing and updating the source data. In addition, using web services for VIN decoding, mapping to used vehicle values and configuration and comparison reduces development cost and shortens the development cycle because it obviates custom databases and coding. And unlike framed-in applications, web services allow for the freedom to customize every aspect of a website's look and feel.
Dealer generated leads
Virtually every dealer has a love-hate relationship with third-party lead generators. On the one hand, they deliver solid sales leads, but on the other, volume does not equal quality, and multiple dealers often receive the same leads.
Some companies in the space are helping dealers to skip the middle man and generate their own leads by creating small landing pages for individual vehicles, or by using SEO to drive consumer traffic to these pages. eBizAutos, a leading innovator of online marketing solutions for dealers, and NowMarketPlace.com, a new company creating dealership websites that combine the power of video and the web, are putting the power of lead generation in the hands of dealers.
OEM-owned vertical ad integration
Vertical ad networks are a big topic right now, and in the automotive space we're seeing manufacturers using this model to create their own vertical channels. General Motors, for example, recently began offering its dealers a comprehensive digital marketing package for free. Designed to drive more in-market shoppers to GM dealership websites, the program will enable GM to better coordinate its national advertising message with its dealers' local advertising for consistent messaging that grabs casual shoppers, as well as sophisticated, brand-savvy shoppers.
These five trends attest to the industry's commitment to attract and retain online vehicle shoppers. The steady sophistication of websites, marketing campaigns and interactive tools is a boon for customers and, therefore, the automotive industry itself.
Pete Batten is general manager of Chrome Systems.