When a ballroom filled with car dealers and automotive industry types erupts in applause to the question: “Who in this room thinks it’s a great year to be in the auto industry,” you know that despite all the talk of Washington dysfunction and consumers’ lack of confidence, optimism is back. It’s still cautious in many quarters, as Automotive News reporter Mark Rechtin pointed out in his coverage of yesterday’s 2013 JD Power Western Automotive Conference, held in conjunction with the Los Angeles Auto Show.
Many of our clients, from Porsche Cars North America to The Tire Rack, are in the automotive industry, so we attend numerous conferences and events each year to gauge trends and learn what the people whose daily business it is to design, manufacture, market, sell and service cars and trucks are thinking. For me, the various panels and presentations during this annual gathering offered up three key themes that aren’t just unique to the auto industry. They are valuable considerations for any marketer whose job it is to influence consumer shopping behavior. Here’s what I heard:
1. Mobile Optimization Matters More than Ever
Online shopping is moving to the dealership, just as it has and is in every other category of retail. According to JD Power’s 2013 Sales Satisfaction Study, 32% of shoppers researched dealers digitally first. Among tablet and smartphone users, 23% of users are looking for dealership information. When you add that 75% of auto retail customers are looking at 3rd party ratings and reviews, and over 50% are not committed to any brand at the start of the online shopping process, it’s clear that retailers whose websites are information rich, who post and promote positive reviews and whose content is fully optimized for mobile have a clear edge.
2. Multi-Cultural Marketing isn’t a Trend, It’s Everyday Business
Los Angeles is an epicenter of multiculturalism, and the rest of the country is catching up fast. Yet, as Toyota’s Bill Fay pointed out, multi-cultural doesn’t mean a monolithic approach to marketing. Every segment from Hispanic to Asian consumers has multiple segments within it, so national brands should take advantage of local retailers for the right intelligence on what works within specific communities. A panel of multi-cultural marketers, moderated by Univision Communications VP Paul Sellers, reinforced the importance of integrating multi-cultural messages as part of every campaign. One thing every panelist agreed on is the importance of social and digital channels for reaching these audiences. Whatever their native language, consumers are already comfortable using these “borderless” channels to communicate and data shows they over-index when it comes to mobile usage. One very bright spot: millennials bring a “built-in” multi-cultural mindset and embrace diversity marketing.
3. Traditional Sales Approaches Don’t Work with Millenial Shoppers
Veteran wheels and wings CNBC reporter Phil LeBeau moderated a panel of automaker and auto dealer leaders and one thing is clear – figuring out how Gen Y buyers prefer to do business preoccupies a lot of very smart folks. As well it should: by the end of this year, Gen Y will account for 23% of all U.S. new car sales. From ditching the watch (apparently a key giveaway that you’re not on a Gen Y wavelength) to offering up product information on a tablet versus talk, adapting selling techniques to millennial preferences is critical at retail. Auto marketers and dealers agree that millennial shoppers arrive at the store fully armed with info and with a clear idea of what they want (thanks to all that advance online research). They don’t want to be sold again – they want to complete the transaction, so make it fast, simple and painless.