Automotive Marketing: Positioning for Success & Looking Ahead to 2021

As COVID-19 turned 2020 upside down, nearly every industry has had to adapt in unexpected ways – automotive is certainly no exception. With inventory at record lows and vehicle production and delivery just starting to ramp up for Q4, dealers have to get more creative than ever to reach their potential customers.

What lies ahead in 2021 is anyone’s guess, but one thing we do know is that technology is king and will continue to lead the way over the next year and beyond. Adapting as a dealer and marketer and staying abreast of ever-evolving technology and trends are the keys to success.

Adopt Virtual Retailing
The car buying experience is becoming more digital and more customized than ever.

From the beginning stages of shopping to bringing home a new vehicle, most of the auto shopping journey takes place online. Prior to COVID-19, actually purchasing a car online was not given much attention by many dealers, automotive marketers or consumers. The addition of digital retailing tools happened quickly and out of necessity this year but is still a relatively new concept for many dealers.  

Look for intuitive, self-service platforms to grow and expand on automotive sites in the coming months. While some dealers are hesitant to embrace this technology for fear of losing touch with the customer, consumer behavior is shifting toward the increasingly popular DIY model for all types of goods and services. Embrace it, familiarize yourself and your sales staff with it, and shout from the rooftops that you have this convenience available to your customers.

Get Personal
As with any online purchase, customers are looking for a more seamless and more personalized buying experience when it comes to auto shopping. With the addition of virtual retailing to most new car dealer sites, customers can now create their own deal and complete paperwork online, saving time at the dealership.

But what happens to the sales process? Never fear, salespeople – you are as valuable as ever. No matter where the consumer is in the purchase process, it’s important that both salespeople and marketers be there to provide a highly personalized shopping experience. Knowing when, how and with what message to reach a customer at each step of the process is invaluable. 

Sound intimidating and cumbersome? That’s where AI comes in. There are numerous automotive platforms and plug-ins catering to every step of the process, tailored to sending the right message to the right customer at the right time.

Place More Focus on Video
Video is becoming an increasingly effective tool through which customers shop for vehicles. YouTube videos featuring virtual test drives, vehicle reviews and walkarounds are growing in popularity and making it easier for both the dealer and the potential customer to make a virtual connection. A good collection of video assets, both agency-produced spots and more casual, conversational videos produced by the sales staff and even service techs, can help position dealers for success in top-of-the-funnel marketing.

Take Advantage of the Future Now
Looking even further ahead is the increased focus on electric vehicles (EVs). EVs currently account for an estimated 3% of all vehicle sales in the U.S. (lagging far behind the 17%-plus figure globally), but this number is expected to more than double in the U.S. by 2023 and potentially surpass traditional internal-combustion vehicle sales by 20371.

Many U.S. dealers don’t currently stock EVs, but plans are being made by most OEMs to focus more attention on growing this part of their business. More models are being built, and charging stations are being added to public locations for added convenience to EV drivers.

It may not sound like a big deal now, especially in the Midwest. But as influential companies like Amazon and Uber publicly state their intentions to reduce their carbon footprint and “go electric,” consumers’ interest is being piqued. Even prior to the arrival of new EV inventory, there are steps dealers can take to make sure they have a presence in this growing space right now. Intenders are increasing as customers seek to educate themselves about the advantages of owning an EV, and dealers need to be present to capture that interest! An informative landing page, good SEO and organic social posting are ways to help you stay top of mind as the EV market becomes more relevant.

So What Next?

Don’t let any slowdown in sales activity cause complacency. Use the time to train, network, evaluate your marketing strategies and take a look at new tools and solutions. The dealers that make good use of downtime are going to be the ones furthest ahead as the industry recovers. Be honest with yourself and your team about what’s working and what isn’t, and know that there are worlds of untapped opportunity in the space.  

As the great Lou Holtz once said: “In this world you’re either growing or you’re dying, so get in motion and grow.”

1Bloomberg New Energy Finance Report