Since the economic recession, automotive sales have drastically declined. Even as other areas of the retail sector begin to gain momentum, auto dealers continue to struggle. According to Reuters' recent study, economists report that Americans cut back on automobile purchases once again this year, with sales falling 2.2 percent in just the last month-the biggest drop since October 2012. Dealers and manufacturers have also come to realize that the average consumer spends more time researching and exploring the market, with 48 percent spending one to three months shopping around before making a decision, according to Lab42. But, while these purchase habits demonstrate the dramatic shift in how consumers interact with the auto industry, these trends also serve as a precursor for the wave of change sweeping over automotive marketers in the space today.
Marketing and sales professionals recognize that, to appeal to consumers, they must adjust their tactics to address multiple channels, engaging the educated shopper where and when they are most open to relevant messaging. Because consumers have grown accustomed to engaging across channels, automotive marketers understand that they must develop their brand's omnichannel presence in order to capture the attention of potential buyers, as shoppers are fewer and farther between. According to Polk, Americans are buying fewer new cars within their lifetime, with the average consumer buying four fewer new cars by the time they're 76 years old, meaning marketers have limited opportunities to spark relationships and cultivate loyalty in the industry.
In many instances, automotive marketers have begun to tap into online behavioral data so they may better target in-market buyers with relevant communications to encourage them to visit the physical dealership. Dan Smith, vice president, product at Outsell, emphasizes that the new reality of shopper behaviors indicates that the purchase process begins long before the consumer steps foot on the dealer lot. With vast amounts of information available on the Web, marketers understand that they must now use digital media to drive interest in the first place. By doing so, auto dealers and manufacturers can easily surmise the consumer's interests and psychographic data, for they can track clicks and searches down to the brand and model.
"When the downturn hit, the first thing dealers did was pull back on their print advertising," says Craig Fitzgerald, editorial director at IMN. "What they learned was that there were no metrics they could rely upon from that advertising. The economic downturn has forced dealers and manufacturers to pay close attention to each marketing initiative. Measuring the ROI received from each of their marketing programs has become extremely critical. They need to know how their marketing campaigns affect the bottom line."
Instead, marketers are working to hone their omnichannel tactics, bringing in the element of personalization to strengthen loyalty in this competitive landscape. Smith notes that many marketing teams are moving beyond the one-to-many broadcast of generalized TV commercials, to targeted email and social media messaging that serves consumers on a one-to-one level. In doing so, marketers emphasize the importance of relationships over the selling of products, for this level of personalization starts conversations and encourages brand advocacy that inevitably serves as its own form of word-of-mouth marketing down the line.
Castle Automotive Group Grows Its Facebook Following
Though consumers are no longer limited to one or two channels, many can be found poking around social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, rather regularly. For Castle Automotive Group, the family-owned dealerships in Chicago, Facebook became an ideal way to contact current customers and target prospects. Using Facebook for Business, Castle Automotive Group worked to grow its following for both its Chevrolet and Buick GMC dealerships. Facebook enabled the dealer to reach out to potential customers by cultivating relationships via targeted advertisements dedicated to generating brand awareness and acquiring fans. The Customer Audiences tool also allowed Castle Automotive Group to securely match its email list with Facebook users to offer content specifically designed to pique their interests and incentivize them to purchase new vehicles or come in for service.
By focusing on its Facebook presence, Castle Automotive Group successfully matched 8,000 Facebook users to its 14,000-customer email list, resulting in a 57 percent match rate. Castle Chevrolet also grew its following to 21,000 fans in 2012, with current fan totals amounting to nearly 35,000 followers. Castle Automotive Group also noted increased customer engagement and a 24x return on advertising after running a "Buy One, Get One" oil change offer, for Facebook advertising costs 75 percent less than direct mail marketing. The dealer successfully employed the popular network to cut costs and increase engagement, achieving its goals to boost brand awareness simply by understanding where and when its customer base truly wants to be contacted.
Honda "Starts Something Special" via Social Media
Because automotive brands are eager to cultivate a new level of customer loyalty, many now embrace social media to engage consumers and spark dialogue. For Honda, the company's "Start Something Special" campaign was designed to incite conversation and encourage customers to share personal stories that demonstrate their love for the brand. The concept builds off the idea that owning a Honda is not just about the car-it's about the relationship. The theme, which reaches across all brand and retail advertising, including print, broadcast, and digital media, aims to tap into the minds of Honda's vocal customers, allowing them to celebrate special memories and moments involving their Honda vehicles using the #StartSomething hashtag across Honda's social networks. All stories shared will then be collected at hondastories.com. The goal is to highlight the meaning behind these loyal relationships in order to strengthen advocacy and trigger interest in prospective customers.
This campaign spawned Honda's latest national brand TV spot, which highlights photos and videos of families and fans expressing their appreciation for the brand. These commercials also feature a voiceover that perpetuates the overall message: "Thank you all for making your Honda more than a car. Thanks for making them something special." Honda also tapped into the viral video market by kicking off the campaign with the story of Mairead and Kevin, a soon-to-be-married couple with a long history of loyalty to the Honda name. By surprising the couple on their wedding day with free car rentals, the band from their first date, and family members flown in from Ireland, both Honda and the couple's local dealership worked to emphasize that, to Honda, brand advocates and loyal supporters are much more than customers-they're family.