3 steps to evolve auto industry marketing

Adam Stewart, Google’s VP of consumer goods, writes that auto brands should market based on a single view of the customer.

This might sound familiar to you. I’m currently in the market for a new car. While I’m considering a newer model of the brand I own, most of the marketing communications I receive don’t recognize me as a potential loyal customer. Furthermore, I recently visited the dealership, spent two hours there, and after returning home, received an email from the general manager of that same dealership inviting me to come in and check out the latest models. I was just there.  

Like I said, you’ve likely heard this story before — or experienced it yourself. But it exemplifies a marketing challenge that many industries need to solve. Brands need to get organized and aligned internally to allow for a complete view of the customer. This is especially important today as consumers have increasingly higher expectations and an ever dwindling level of patience for disconnect.

As a consumer, I don’t care whether you’re marketing to me from a brand, regional, or retailer level. I only know and recognize one brand. A poor experience at any point in the journey is a poor experience for your brand. The auto industry, which has multiple players, is particularly affected by this issue. Manufacturers, regional dealer groups, and local dealerships generate multiple streams of marketing messages and collect a lot of their own data.

Leading marketers understand that to really assist their customers in the ways they expect, all tiers of the business — from the manufacturer to the dealer — must work better together. They push for strategies that help the entire business gain a holistic view of the customer. This includes organizing their infrastructure, activating their data, and improving their measurement.

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Organize your infrastructure

Fiat-Chrysler recognized that to market based on a single view of the customer, it would have to organize its customer data across brand, regional, and dealer tiers into a centralized place. Doing this would enable Fiat-Chrysler to define relevant, measurable goals for each tier. In addition, the brand needed to connect its data to its marketing. Only then would it be able to truly understand if its media was helping drive real customer results.

Fiat-Chrysler first built a foundation by organizing its teams internally. This allowed the brand to gain greater visibility into its marketing across tiers. It then connected its data across tiers through the Google Analytics 360 platform.

Fiat-Chrysler is still in the process of rolling out the strategy across 2,600 dealers. But once all websites are on the same technology stack, the company can make more informed marketing decisions based on a single view of the customer. For example, Fiat-Chrysler will be able to tie dealership website actions, and even phone calls to dealerships, back to Fiat-Chrysler’s brand media.

Activate your data

Once you have a foundation for organizing and connecting your data, you can begin to act on it. For example, BMW’s Mini wanted to reach adults who were in the market for a premium vehicle and had expressed interest in their brand. In partnership with Universal McCann, Mini leveraged its first-party data — people who were either in their CRM system or had visited the Mini website. Then it layered that data onto its existing search strategy to drive greater efficiency and create more relevant messaging to interested car shoppers.  

The company also let technology take the guesswork out of whether it would reach the right customers with the right message at the right time. It allowed machine learning to determine when its messaging appeared based on a person’s device, time of day, previous searches, and other signals.

This approach drove huge efficiencies, increasing Mini’s conversions by 3X and lowering its cost-per-acquisition by up to 75% in some campaigns.

Improve your measurement

Fiat-Chrysler and Mini have started to market based on a single view of the customer by organizing and activating their data. But what about measurement? How does that need to evolve?

Like other automakers, Honda recognized that as its customers interacted with its brands across a growing number of screens and channels, it was increasingly difficult to know which parts of its marketing were working. As a result, the Honda and Acura brands have begun to explore shifting their measurement approach away from a last-click model and toward a data-driven model.

Though it’s very early on, they’re starting small by first testing in search. This allows the brands to refine the new model in a single channel before expanding to other channels, such as display and video. Instead of giving full credit to the last interaction, such as a click on a Honda CRV search ad, their data-driven model considers what other actions the user took, such as searching for “compact SUVs” or “top rated SUVs.” This approach should help Honda and Acura to see a more complete view of their marketing strategies and determine which drive impact.

When compared to last-click attribution, data-driven attribution typically delivers more conversions at a similar cost-per-conversion.1 Better yet, it enables you to cut inefficient media.

Progress, not perfection

The auto industry has the opportunity to create the model for how manufacturers and retailers work together.

No brand has this entirely figured out and the path will be different for everyone. Some will be led by the CEO, others by the CMO. Some will even be led by outside parties like agencies, consultancies, or other business partners.

But it’s critical to remind ourselves that as consumer behavior evolves, our marketing must evolve with it. This is true whether you’re in automotive, tech, CPG, retail, or any other industry. Start by taking one action: schedule a meeting with your executive teams across tiers to discuss how you organize, activate, and improve your business to best assist today’s customers.

Not having the perfect solution isn’t an excuse — it’s about progress, not perfection.

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