MANUFACTURERS routinely enforce a long list of minimum standards for the customer-facing physical elements of a franchised dealer’s showroom.
They can dictate the size, colour and location of signage down to the choice of floor tiles. OEMs have even been known to insist on things as minor as the brand of coffee machine on show in dealerships.
The same rigour in the application of presentational standards has extended to print marketing, such as a dealer’s advertisements in local newspapers.
Official corporate identity (CI), agreed tone of voice, and marketing-approved images are all policed enthusiastically by OEMs’ dealer management teams.
This approach also now extends to many franchised dealers’ websites, with many adopting template architectures handed down by the OEM.
Jeremy Evans, Managing Director at Marketing Delivery, finds it remarkable, therefore, that in 2019 it is still rare for a manufacturer to stipulate standards – of any kind – for dealers’ outbound digital marketing activity.
He said: “On a recent visit to a dealership, I noticed a great deal of care and attention being taken to correct the showroom’s display of a new vehicle.
“The branding around the car featured a colour that didn’t conform to agreed corporate identity guidelines, and the dealer was pulled up on it.
“Yet that same dealer is free to engage with customers and prospects via email and social media channels however they see fit, without any intervention from the manufacturer.”
Attention to detail
Evans said that attention to detail within the showroom undoubtedly has an impact, yet this will probably be lost on the growing numbers of consumers who carry out much of their research into a vehicle before ever visiting a showroom.
He added: “Purchase decision are increasingly made in the digital, not physical realm.
“It’s increasingly likely that the first impression of a dealer will be through a social media page, emailing to request information about a specific car, or making an inquiry through a third-party classified website.
“Without firm manufacturer guidance, the resulting interactions can inevitably lack the professional standards of the physical showroom.
“In such a competitive retail marketplace, first impressions count. By establishing minimum standards for digital communications, dealers can maximise the productivity of their online interactions and set a positive tone for a potential visit to the showroom.”
In the absence of manufacturer standards, what does digital best practise look like?
Stay on brand
Evans said it is important to ensure the look and tone of online interaction is ‘on brand’.
“It is essential to have access to a library of correctly-sized and formatted videos and images for web, email and social channels – visual assets that are often difficult for a dealer to obtain.
“It can be helpful to have examples of descriptors to use with each model, too. For instance, does a car brand want a particular model perceived as ‘sporty’, ‘luxurious’, ‘exclusive’ or ‘family-oriented’?
“Simple provision of words and visual content doesn’t just make it easier for dealers to spread the word, but to do so with greater consistency.
“Dealers should always seek to follow-up enquiries with relevant content about the car in question – even with those prospects that the sales team might have marked as ‘lost’.
“A dedicated CRM system can help dealers send tailored content to potential buyers. Sales staff can measure the success of each stage in the follow-up process, giving them the data they need to adapt and improve.”
Dealers, said Evans, should establish a robust data capture process, giving them the best possible chance to capture four key essential pieces of data for effective customer marketing: an email address, mobile number, MOT date, and service date – with customer consent, of course.
He added: “Our research suggests that, on average, franchised dealers hold incomplete information on 29% of their customers, with email the most often-missed detail yet also the most important – 48% of people prefer to be contacted using email for aftersales, compared to 20% preferring phone contact.”
Dealers should devise a comprehensive content plan for each of their social media platform accounts, combining manufacturer-provided content (such as images or video) with information relating to the dealer’s own local area and events.
Dealers should also work with manufacturers to establish a social advertising audience profile for each vehicle range – especially within Facebook where advertising is most productive. This enables them to target the most appropriate prospective customers in their area.
Helping to fill the workshop
Evans said: “Digital marketing isn’t just about selling new cars – it can help fill empty workshop bays too.
“Dealers should therefore establish minimum standards for aftersales marketing, sending timely reminders to customers for upcoming service and MOT work, and following up any marketing using customers’ preferred methods of contact.
“Our research indicates that 60% of motorists are more likely to book their service and MOT with a dealer that offers timely reminders of due dates.
“Dealers must also implement a robust process for updating out-of-date customer details, ensuring they have the correct service and MOT dates on record for their customers’ vehicles.
“In order to succeed in this marketplace, dealers should not only demand manufacturer guidance, they also need the correct tools for the job. Solutions like Marketing Delivery’s Voicebox provide the means to control a diverse array of location- and brand-specific social profiles across a multiple-franchise dealer group, providing consistent and timely digital marketing to prospects.
“The key is to ensure all digital communications are planned with the same rigour and care as a showroom display. For maximum impact, outbound marketing messages need to be professional, timely, on-brand and targeted at the appropriate audience.”