Translate Data Into A Better Car-Buying Experience

If you bought a car within the last few years, you probably wondered why the experience was harder than it needed to be, why digital advancements haven’t streamlined the process for car buyers, and most of all, why you couldn't just buy the car online. As it turns out, you're not alone, according to the panelists at this year's JD Power Automotive Marketing Roundtable.

Jon Beebe, director of digital advertising and analytics at GM, told attendees that “connecting data points” across all of GM’s brands, agencies and local dealerships, around the world, is the challenge that keeps him up at night. “You need to be able to identify the customer and leverage that [information] across the enterprise,” Beebe said.

The panel, which also included Kim Kyaw, digital marketing & social media manager at Jaguar Land Rover North America, and Brent Hillyer, VP of marketing at Gulf States Toyota, agreed that today’s consumers are ready to buy cars online. But the real question, they all said, was whether automotive marketers are ready to meet evolving consumer expectations? After all, today’s consumers live in an always-on, multi-device, multi-channel world where information and expectations move in real-time. 



According to our recent survey on the state of cross-channel marketing, 9 of out 10 marketers agreed that better integration of technology solutions would help in six key business areas, including improving customer relationships and loyalty, delivering more impactful and relevant marketing, and driving marketing ROI. However, the same survey also found that only 4% of marketers have achieved a fully integrated cross-channel approach. 

So far, the panel agreed, consumers are ahead of carmakers. But one early test of those expectations could be what becomes of the three-tier system of automotive marketing, which has defined the automotive marketing playbook for decades. 

 “Consumers must be at the heart of things,” Kyaw said. “That means breaking down traditional tiers because consumers don’t care.”

Beebe, who called the tier system “antiquated,” said that GM, which is in the process of shifting to a consumer-centric marketing model, is currently testing how to pass segments between various tiers of marketers.

Using data to better understand consumers

While consumers are now clearly in the driver’s seat when it comes to automotive marketing, the panelists agreed that the key to understanding consumers and giving them the best possible experience will come down to how well car brands manage their data.

Marketers need to provide a consistent and relevant experience, especially when consumers exhibit in-market behaviors,” Hillyer said. “That is the promise of big data.”

According to Hillyer, brands like Toyota want to control the entire vehicle purchase and ownership cycle. But to do that, they need to be able to manage all of the available data, whether it comes from first-party or third party sources, online or offline. 

At GM, which has added nearly 30 people to its data team in the past year, according to Beebe, the solution is to create an enterprise warehouse that contains all of the consumer data they have across the entire company. From there, that data is turned into actionable insights that can be distributed to any one of the brand’s agencies and partners. 

“Data is the new natural resource,” Kyaw said. “It is revolutionizing the industry. [But] you also need the business structure, and [you need to] know what questions you want to ask.”

Programmatic plays a role

As marketers adapt to a consumer-centric, data-driven model, the panelists agreed that they also expect automotive brands to begin changing the way they buy media, especially now that programmatic has become something of an industry buzzword. But Hillyer stressed that marketers shouldn’t be too quick to replace humans with algorithms.

“You can’t do it on autopilot, or you will get burned,” he said. “[Programmatic] requires management with defined inputs and outputs.”

It also requires more data, according to Beebe, who praised programmatic for its efficiency, but added that he’d like to see more datasets applied to programmatic buying.

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