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Five Essentials for Auto Marketers in 2021

Auto marketers have always been engaged in a race for the cutting edge, and this year more than ever, the most fundamental challenge they face is how to truly connect with customers in a changed world. Only the most innovative brands will thrive.

Even with the growing availability of the vaccine, people are unlikely to get back to their pre-pandemic lives overnight. The need for new vehicles has changed as a result of remote working and decreased travel, not to mention economic uncertainty. You may need to revisit your prior customer understanding or audience models to harness that modified demand. But market changes and uncertainty can also bring opportunity for auto marketers, and you can find success and create competitive advantage with these five considerations:

Craft the right mix of customer experiences

Seventy-four percent of dealers agree that they would not be able to survive in the long run without digital retailing tools. In fact, all brands by now have live digital retailing experiences (or soon will). However, launching an online platform is just the beginning; designing the right optimization roadmap to ensure its success will be of utmost importance in 2021. In addition, it is critical that marketers understand what kind of experience(s) individual customers want; the truth is that some customers will always like to go into a dealership, and most customers will desire a mix of digital tools and retailing features, as well as dealer visits. Marketers who try to create one perfect, static customer journey are going be at a disadvantage, as they may fail to provide the personalized experiences that customers expect.

Get identity right

A challenge for auto marketers has been tracking customers and resolving identity across multiple tiers, interactions, and systems. This challenge is now more pronounced, due to the increased number of platforms and digital retailing solutions, such as augmented reality (AR) tools, personalized video, new modes of interaction with sales reps, and even Zoom calls. Moving beyond identity resolution, another source of competitive differentiation will be deeper analytical and decisioning approaches that integrate disparate data sources into a richer, real-time understanding of an individual.

Shape uncertain, evolving consumer needs

As the year unfolds and vaccines becomes more broadly available, customers will have varying degrees of trust and comfort. You’ll need to understand these differences and address individual customers according to their needs, leveraging digital and physical assets to provide personalized customer experiences. With inventory being uncertain and semiconductor lead times more than doubling (from 12-16 weeks to 26, according to IHS Markit), it becomes even more important to find the right marketing mix to optimize sales across the portfolio. This might require pivots in marketing; for example, highlighting certified pre-owned vs. new to customers who might be frustrated with delivery delays and new model year postponements.

With many changes here to stay, most notably remote working, customers’ specific vehicle needs will change; for instance, some households may no longer require multiple cars, and decision making on lease vs. purchase and new vs. used might also be impacted. Defining and measuring customer experiences through CX “listening posts” will help articulate and design new engagement approaches.

Turn data into an advantage

The most successful dealers in 2020 were those who realized that sales and service were about personalized options for the individual consumer. They are sitting on a treasure trove of data about individual customers that is not being leveraged. This can be caused by a number of factors, including persistent data silos between tiers and departments, a lack of strategic direction on how extract value out of that data, and an inability to transform insights into action. If your organization intends to transcend these limitations, you must define how you will use data in 2021, including a prioritization of privacy and legal definitions and approvals.

Lay the foundation for new models and solutions

Forty-one percent of dealers and consumers expect more states to adopt mandates that stipulate only electric vehicle (EV) sales at some point in the future. Though market share is still low, the right investment in education now will enable brands to capture more market share as EV share grows and the customer base expands beyond early adopters.

Additionally, a third of consumers still have vehicles without advanced safety features. And with a slew of connected features and tech being introduced, brands must position these enhancements in the right way to gain adoption and increased revenue from new streams, such as connected subscriptions. Partnerships with content providers and content contextual to the driving experience will enhance the connected experience. Developing a holistic connected solution strategy will be important to increase “stickiness,” getting past connected navigation and into infotainment and digital upgrades.

It is time to boost your holistic visibility into an understanding of your individual customers’ needs and behaviors. Only then can you connect each customer to personalized solutions that matter to them, through relevant marketing and value propositions that will drive value to both your customers and your brand.