Automotive advertising agencies are challenged to provide more for less to serve a consolidating auto industry and today’s Internet has provided them with the media and the methods to do it. Budget conscious consumers are firmly in the driving seat on the Internet Super Highway and auto dealers have directed their marketing messages to their online showrooms vs. their brick and mortar facilities to get their attention. More accurately, they are following their customers onto the World Wide Web and hoping that their past and pending customers will find them there.
The days of hard sell retail messages in conventional media like radio, T.V. and newspaper as well as dealer-centric banner ads and websites promoting daily dealer specials are numbered. Today’s car shoppers have been empowered by the search engines to filter out dealer messages in favor of information on exactly the new or pre-owned vehicle they are searching for. In addition, Social networking communities of online friends have rallied their support and opinions to help car shoppers decide what they should buy and from which dealership they should buy it from. After all, what are friends for!
The consumers’ new found source of information on the Internet to assist them in their car shopping process hasn’t replaced the need for automotive advertising agencies in the retail auto industry, but it certainly has changed their role in it and the methods that they must use to earn their agency fees. The first adjustment that an automotive advertising agency must make in their business model is to recognize that the internal profits that they used to realize in their radio, T.V. and print production departments can no longer be supported by their auto dealer clients. Reduced sales volume and profit margins on the auto dealers’ side of the table demand a better R.O.I. for every dollar and while these departments are still required to produce digital marketing material for online campaigns the production costs must be a fraction of previous pricing to remain competitive with the newly developing online resources that an auto dealer has access to.
The agency must still provide creative that is relevant to the market and they must define the target audience that would be most receptive to it, but once again the World Wide Web has changed the rules and automotive advertising agencies must learn what they are and follow them. Top of the mind awareness is still job one for automotive advertising agencies who understand that they can’t time the buying cycle for everyone on the Internet Super Highway and therefore they must maintain a consistent message across multiple channels to be on the short list when the customer is ready to purchase a vehicle. Diversification across multiple media and frequency of targeted messages to qualified buyers isn’t a new practice but the methods, media and skill sets required to get the job done have changed.
Networking and the related referrals and sales sourced from it has been an integral component of internal selling processes for auto dealers since the first vehicle was sold but it has had little to do with conventional advertising — until now that is. Social networking and the related Internet media channels that have grown to support it are now a primary target audience for automotive advertising agencies. Word of mouth advertising has grown exponentially as viral messages travel through social networking channels with the opinions of like minded car shoppers who use these online communities of friends to share their car shopping experiences before, during and after their buying cycle.
Initial attempts by automotive advertising agencies to market to these social networks from the outside through the use of banner ads or as wolves in sheep’s clothing trying to invade a network of friends were soundly rejected. Members valued each other’s opinions and shared experiences over a self serving auto dealer or their automotive advertising agency.