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Three Auto Shopper Trends that Matter in Any Industry

LA Auto Show Blog

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.

Vengeance Falls: Musical Marketing Lessons for Bands and Brands


Trivium is not only a fire-breathing thrash metal band – it’s an organization of savvy music marketers. To promote their latest album, Vengeance Falls, Trivium used a variety of promotional strategies that not only work for bands, but for brands.

  • Social media is a supplement to, not a substitute for, other promotional tactics.  Trivium is a band that uses social media as it’s intended: as a supplement to, not substitute for, live appearances and interviews. Band members share thoughts and photos, even if they have nothing to do with grueling sword duels against demons. But Trivium doesn’t simply rest on their blood-soaked laurels by responding to fan Tweets. They’re relentlessly touring in the U.S. September through mid-December 2013, then hitting the road again in February. Compare that to Metallica, who played just five U.S. dates this year and relied on social media to promote the heck out of their new IMAX 3D movie, Through the Never. Despite the band’s legendary status and large social media presence, the film BOMBED at the box office. Touring has always been a strenuous but essential component of selling records; it also should have been part of their strategy for selling tickets. There are factors a band (or brand) cannot control, but effort is one they can.
  • With meaningful rewards, fans become advocates. In Monster Loyalty, Jackie Huba puts it like this: “When companies go over the top to make customers feel special, the customers can’t help but talk about it with all of their friends and families.” Trivium enlisted Jamplify, a social marketing platform for websites of all kinds. Participants have unique referral links and receive points from clicks on those links. Trivium used Jamplify to reward top referrers with free tickets and backstage passes (aka ringing ears and scarred vocal cords).  The takeaway: make sure your incentives actually inspire your audience to spread the word.
  • A loosely-controlled logo becomes a sharable symbol. This is one area where Trivium has very clearly excelled by shredding contemporary wisdom (with Yahoo! as one notable exception). Corporate branding guidelines are often hundreds of persnickety pages demanding rigid adherence to proportions, pantones, areas of non-interference and other mind-numbing decrees. Trivium took the opposite approach with their logo, a stylized ‘T’ with a set of vertical serifs. Not only has the band adapted it to literally dozens of different incarnations – vindictive cyborgs, swords and other classic metal imagery – they let their fans do the same without pursing copyright claims. Just as meaningful rewards can transform fans to advocates, rebukes will immediately turn diehards into intractable haters.


  • Know when – and what – to let go. Online file-sharing eviscerated a longtime stream of revenue for bands. But Trivium is a band that pays attention to history. After making a few of their new singles available for free streaming, Trivium discovered the entire album had been leaked. Instead of trying in vain to crush the online copies, they created and promoted their own free stream of the entire album using SoundCloud, with links to all their important web properties. Foreseeable negative effects that cannot be outright prevented can often be mitigated with quick thinking – or preplanning.

Like many industries, the music business can be brutal – even for the talented. There are many hungry competitors out there. To cut through the noise, raw power must be combined with strategic execution. Hmm, “Strategic Execution” would be a great name for a metal band. …





Brands and Businesses: Are You Linked In to LinkedIn?

networkingWhile LinkedIn is not as popular as Facebook, it has more than 238 million users across 200 countries and boasts more than 1.5 million ‘groups’ – numbers that cannot be ignored. It occupies a distinct niche of the social media world and has evolved beyond a collection of online résumés.

That said, how can you be sure your business or client is utilizing LinkedIn to its fullest potential? Last month, I had the opportunity to attend a Vocus “LinkedIn for Brands and Businesses” webinar and here are a few important tips:

  • Share and share often.
    • Like all true social media outlets, LinkedIn allows users to share thoughts (through “status updates”), blog posts, articles, pictures and more.  This is the perfect place for you to refer visitors back to your blog, website, Facebook page, etc. If you’re not updating your LinkedIn status on a regular basis and sharing useful items, the tool becomes less like a social media outlet and more like a stagnant entry in a printed encyclopedia (because really, who uses those anymore?). Update your profile often with important information, and you’ll see that LinkedIn will become one of your top networking outlets and top referrers to your website.
  • Join groups and become a thought leader.
    • The most underused function of LinkedIn is the ability to join groups. There are many different types (private, company, alumni, etc.), but joining a relevant group and sharing your perspective often is a surefire way to position yourself as a thought leader and, ultimately, refer traffic back to your profile. For example, Brandware president and co-founder Elke Martin participates in automotive public relations/marketing groups, and comments frequently on the topics at hand. If a visitor to the group is looking for advice for their own business, they will take note of Elke’s expertise and position as a thought leader in the group, and visit our company profile. Said visitor will then discover that our services align with their needs, and voilà – a connection is made.
  • Connect with everyone!
    • Literally, everyone you meet. Some think that immediately connecting with a reporter you just met or a prospective new business partner might be too much, too soon, but it’s really a great way to give them insight into your brand, your capabilities and your personality. It’s a safe way to get your toes wet without the pressure of jumping right into the waters of friendship and business. This keeps your business top of mind and you in a better position to grow the relationship with your new connection.

Bottom line: LinkedIn is a fountain of opportunity for brands and businesses if used correctly. Implement the above tips and LinkedIn evolves from an online resume to a source of website traffic and new business leads.


Image courtesy of Victor1558 on Flickr.

How to Market a Small Business

The short answer? Market your small business with a website, but not just any website.

Small businesses such as professional services firms and owner-operated retail shops have historically relied on and spent exorbitant sums on mass media channels like newspapers, billboards, direct mail, yellow pages, and TV and Radio spots to drive leads and increase sales. Changing consumer media habits have made these traditional marketing vehicles increasingly ineffective for small businesses, yet they remain costly.

As a marketing tool for local business, a website has several clear advantages:

  • Easier and less expensive to develop and customize than print or broadcast advertising
  • Reaches very specific and highly-qualified audiences
  • Easy-to-use content management systems offer opportunities for self-service updates
  • Ability to track performance and measure results

Whether a website is a first or next step, here are a few tips to get you off on the right foot:

  • Customize using analytics. Design websites with customers and sales cycles in mind. Draw correlations between marketing activity, inquiries and sales. Do sales increase whenever website traffic spikes? What’s the ratio? From these correlations, develop a set of metrics (Key Performance Indicators) and monitor them regularly against business goals. This is called analytics. Identify which marketing activities and customer behaviors drive more sales and adjust according to what works.
  • All websites are not equal. Slick, heavily-coded websites with one-size-fits-all user paths are of little use. Stick to a few simple landing pages that are mobile and search friendly and get users to where they want to go quickly. Equip all pages with analytics tools that measure incoming and outgoing traffic patterns.
  • If you build it, promote it. A website without promotion is like a brick and mortar built on a desolate back road. Create and connect web content so search engines and actual users will find it using links and content seeding. What questions would someone looking for your products and services likely ask? Put them in your meta data. What terms and phrases are they likely to use? Use them in your copy. What other websites might they visit first? Link to them in a thoughtful way. Regularly take time to add new links and seed your web content on other relevant, well-traveled sites.
  • To buy or not to buy? Today ad dollars buy actions instead of inches or seconds, but reaching an audience is still the endgame. The first step is to identify customers demographically and geographically. Then assign value based on an average sale or the lifetime of a repeat customer. Make sure media buys produce quantifiable evidence that reach the right audience and are generating enough value to justify their cost. For more about advertising options for small businesses, read this series by eHow’s Christian Fisher.

Brandware develops web-based marketing programs for professional service firms and small businesses that are generating more inquiries at a fraction of the cost. Schedule a no-cost 30-minute consultation to discuss your needs.

Image courtesy of William Brawley on Flickr.

Give People Something to Talk About

Given the warp-speed pace of communication technology innovation, I find myself repeatedly uttering the same question: “Do people actually talk to each other anymore?”

While many of us assume the answer may be a responding “no,” it’s comforting to know that word-of-mouth (with an emphasis on “mouth”) is alive and well. In fact, offline engagement at home, at work and at play accounts for 90 percent of all consumer conversation, according to Ed Keller, CEO of research and consulting firm Keller Fay Group and co-author of The Face-to-Face Book: Why Real Relationships Rule in the Digital Marketplace.

Keller recently spoke at the Santa Monica, California headquarters of Edmunds.com about the power of real world-of-mouth, citing it as infinitely more influential and impactful than most of us would think when it comes to driving consideration and purchase.

Social networks, despite their proliferation and popularity, may just not be as effective in swaying the minds of consumers – but you’d never know it from the constant stream of chatter about the power of social platforms. According to Keller, online discussion is “relatively minor” when compared with the billions of actual conversations that take place every day across dinner tables, at the workplace, and in good ole’ fashioned gatherings like book clubs or at kids’ soccer games.

So, how can brand marketers reach into those valuable circles of friends, family, co-workers and everyday contacts? It’s critical, Keller says, to make brands talk-worthy.

To show how that works, Keller referenced two case studies from MillerCoors, both of which make savvy use of owned media as a way to start conversations. One is the case of Blue Moon, a craft beer launched in 1995. It is served at bars in a very distinctive tall glass with the Blue Moon logo, and garnished with an orange slice. The orange slice is the catalyst for word-of-mouth – it gets consumers asking the drinker or bartender “hey, what is that?”  Creating “retail theater,” according to Keller, is an excellent strategy for driving discovery and conversation.

Another example Keller cited is MillerCoors’ use of cold-activated cans for Coors Light where the mountains on the cans turn blue when the beer is at the right temperature. The innovation turned packaging into a conversation starter:  “my mountains are blue” means “my beer is cold.” Keller quoted Andy England, the CMO of MillerCoors, who said: “If you want people to talk about your product, you’ve got to give them something to talk about.”

Once you have a creative concept for getting people talking, you also need a solid media plan, combined paid, earned and owned channels, to generate volume and reach.

What are you doing to give people something to talk about it?

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