Automakers Struggle With Digital Marketplace

For all the touting of integrating online and in-store retail, many automakers are still struggling to iron out the wrinkles.

I haven’t purchased a vehicle in about five years, which was the dark ages in digital buying. However I was able to use various vehicle search websites to hunt down the exact vehicle I wanted at an out-of-state dealership. My local dealer swapped out one of their vehicles for mine and I went to the dealership to sign the papers and hand over my check. 

But I’m an anomaly when it comes to vehicle buying. I make up my mind quickly and don’t shop around very much. After all, I’m an automotive journalist. I’m “shopping” each and every day with every story I read and write. 

According to digital advertising executive Rachel Conforti, who recently bought a new car, there's definitely room for improvement. She saw a number of mistakes auto manufacturers and dealers are making in their efforts to reach in-market buyers through advertising and targeting.

Conforti, who ultimately purchased a Volvo, says the process took a month. She observed many missed opportunities. 

“While I did receive competitor car ads alongside car ads for my specific search terms, there were plenty of opportunities for the actual car I bought and its competitive set to do a conquest campaign,” she says. “I learned mostly about who Volvo competes against in asking the dealers who they mostly lose deals to, and brands like Audi and BMW came up. However, I never saw an ad for those in my search.”

For the brands that did target Conforti, the frequency with which they did was “overwhelming” and highlights a gap in data targeting that they likely weren’t aware of or could not control via their ad targeting plan. Multiple sources fighting for her impression and various “walled gardens’” that wouldn’t share data with other partners led to this bottleneck, she believes.

“In the end, I was left feeling fatigued and negatively influenced by brand marketing that wasn’t properly controlled,” she says.

Other members of her household were also subjected to fruitless pitches, she says.

“This may be an isolated issue as the pandemic forced people to move in with family or temporarily relocate to addresses that aren’t their own, but by targeting at a household level (via IP address) all members within that household begin to get targeting ads for the brand or product.,” Conforti says. 

“As a result, this past summer when I was staying with family, my brother-in-law and mother-in-law were all consistently getting car ads on their mobile devices even though they were not in the market for a new car. This means a wasted impression on someone who is not going to buy, and a miss to the individual in the household who IS going to buy.”

Finally, the biggest problem was that this online targeting seemingly never ended.

“It took nearly another two to three months for the targeted car ads to stop,” she says. “It mostly was from one or two brands that didn’t seem to have a time cap or the ability to connect with that user to see if they were, in fact, still interested in buying a car.”

Yikes, that’s a huge waste of money and not great for your brand image unless you want to be known as “the annoying brand.”

Conforti offers some solutions.  

Automakers could Include brand surveys and other in-flight data points during their targeting and conquest campaign to find out if consumers are still in the market for the purchase or if they have already made a purchase. 

“If you find out the latter, consider changing your creative message or trying to influence their next purchasing decision,” she suggests.

Automakers and dealers need to assess all marketing touch points and ensure their ad frequency is handled so that they don’t overwhelm the buyer with too many ads (especially when it comes to CTV).

Finally, in what seems like a no-brainer (but apparently isn’t for some brands), automakers should ensure creative matches the customer’s journey. Is the emphasis on price, electric cars, or family SUVs?

“Knowing more about your customer in the process will help your marketing efforts resonate better and turn into relevant opportunities,” Conforti says. “Connect online and offline efforts. Create ways for your dealerships to determine what drove their customers into the store. By knowing how a customer found out about your brand, auto brand marketers will be able to better understand their digital and creative strategy in real time.”

And that can translate into sales -- which of course, is the ultimate goal.

1 comment about "Automakers Struggle With Digital Marketplace".
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  1. Steven Rousseau from Acuity Ads, March 10, 2021 at 11:18 a.m.

    This is an example of marketers not being in control of the Customer Journey but letting the "walled gardens" say they have control but unwilling to share the data.  This is precisely why Acuity Ads created "illumin".  We provide the marketer with the control over the customer journey and look at incrementality at every stage of the journey.  Happy to share more with a demo of "illumin".

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