September Q&A: Mobile Marketing Provides a Constant Customer Connection

Three automotive experts explain how mobile done right drives new sales while building loyalty and repeat business

With smartphones and other mobile devices, we’ve reached the point where when we see someone who isn’t going through life constantly connected, we think they’re some sort of Luddite contrarian.


Pew Research from earlier this year reveals that 77% of American adults now own smartphones, and almost half of the U.S. public owns some kind of tablet. And those numbers are much higher for younger demographics, especially millennials, who made up 29% of the car-buying market in 2016, according to J.D. Power and Associates.

You know where we’re going with this. If you’re selling vehicles in 2017, you have to be marketing to and connecting with your potential buyers via the medium they favor—and that’s clearly mobile.

Of course, none of this is news to you, and your dealership’s website and communications have undoubtedly been moving toward mobile for at least the past two or three years.

But are you doing enough? Is your dealership’s expansion into mobile meeting your customers’ needs and expectations at the same time it’s expanding your marketing reach?

A mobile-friendly website is a must, but it’s only part of the equation. For example, are all of your dealership’s departments—especially fixed ops—making full use of the communications, operational, and retention power of mobile?

And does your mobile marketing include geo-fencing, telematics, and a social media strategy? If not, well, you’re hardly alone among dealers. Not many dealerships are batting a thousand with mobile.

In this month’s Q&A feature, we asked the following three industry leaders to discuss what dealers are doing right and wrong in terms of mobile, and identify areas that may be slipping through the cracks.

They explain how mobile done well creates a constant connection with customers, driving new sales while building loyalty and repeat business.

PARTICIPANTS

Alexi Venneri is co-founder and CEO of Digital Air Strike, the award-winning social media and digital engagement company. Previously, she was president of Auto Media/Blue Flame 6 and a vice president at Dealertrack. An accomplished public speaker and best-selling author, she was named a Top 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry for 2015 by Automotive News. Get a free custom Intel Report for your dealership, and request a copy of Digital Air Strike’s Sixth Annual Automotive Social Media Trends Study by visiting www.digitalairstrike.com/resources.

Greg Geodakyan is an accomplished product executive with over two decades of product engineering and product management experience. As the chief product officer for Client CommandGreg leads the product team responsible for designing, building and optimizing the Client Command experience. Prior to Client Command, Greg worked as the vice president of technology at Summit Resources, Partnered to create Indigo Technologies, and acted as director of systems development for Altuscio Networks. Greg is widely published in the industry and is a well-respected speaker. He can be reached at Gregg@clientcommand.com.

Sunil Marolia is vice president of product management for Spireon’s connected car division. With more than 15 years of experience leading product development and marketing strategies across telecommunications, wearable technologies, and wireless software, Marolia brings a unique entrepreneurial spirit balanced by a methodical, measurable approach to developing and executing business initiatives. Before joining Spireon, Marolia served as vice president of product management at Smith Micro Software, overseeing the company’s wireless product portfolio. Marolia earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronics engineering at University of California, Los Angeles, and an MBA in entrepreneurial studies at the University of California, Irvine.


Q:

How well is today’s average dealership doing in terms of utilizing and benefiting from mobile marketing, and why?

Venneri: Dealers are doing much better, but with most everything, there’s room for improvement.

So much is done today via mobile device, which really means people are constantly connected and expecting a response immediately, no matter the time of day.

Dealers need to be ready with the ability to respond immediately to requests for information about specific vehicles, a customer survey, and online reviews.

Our recent Automotive Social Media Trends Study showed that 66% of car buyers that clicked on a Facebook ad were on a mobile device. Leveraging the advertising options social sites have developed for mobile can mean the difference between a click and an actual car sale.

Geodakyan: I would say about 50%. Dealers are using products like Google AdWords or Facebook, and are handling the ad side of the mobile equation. Those companies are forcing “good use” in mobile.

However, there is more opportunity for dealers to target mobile shoppers outside of the big two: geo-fencing and in-app and native mobile experiences. I don’t see many dealers going down that mobile rabbit hole yet. But, it’s coming.

The customer experience begins to lag when that visitor leaps to the dealer property—a VDP [vehicle detail page], SRP [search results page], or just a home page—and it is typically below what they experience in the rest of their mobile lives.

There is a lot of opportunity on the conversion of that customer in this area.

Marolia: Most dealerships are at an infancy in terms of effective use of mobile marketing.

The traditional dealership has predominantly relied on email and print marketing to nurture customers and to drive traffic back to the dealership.

And while these conservative methods are unobtrusive, they are also largely ineffective.

Mobile marketing requires the right touch point at the right time, and dealers have lacked the data insights to be truly effective at mobile marketing.


Q:

What are the most common mistakes or omissions you’ve observed in dealerships’ mobile marketing strategies?

Venneri: The biggest mistake dealers make is not fully utilizing social sites, and not optimizing content correctly for mobile marketing.

Facebook and YouTube are among the top most downloaded apps, so dealers need to reach their customers there. The social sites also offer an incredible ability through new ad formats to target the right customer at the right time with the right message—including mobile targeting when a consumer is just driving by their store.

Besides being used heavily on mobile, customers also spend a lot of time on social sites. Facebook’s average usage time is more than 50 minutes a day.

Customers are also more responsive on their mobile devices, particularly text messages. The average text is read and responded to in minutes, as opposed to email, which can sometimes be days—if ever.

Geodakyan: The lowest-hanging fruit is making sure all of your existing marketing responds and makes sense on mobile.

Existing marketing includes retargeting, website, emails, click to call, and social. It’s not sexy, but it shows respect for the mobile consumer when they can follow through the ad, experience, and engagement smoothly.

I would start with that.

Marolia: Mobile marketing is different from traditional marketing approaches because it provides an opportunity for a two-way exchange between business and consumer.

However, in order to effectively utilize mobile marketing, businesses need to ensure that their messages are relevant and well-timed. This requires knowledge about the specific needs of the customer, and without this, the marketing becomes an annoyance.

Many businesses have relied on social networks to handle their mobile marketing, which provide improved targeting and relevancy.

The downside is that businesses are not able to build their own data insights and generate longer-term relationships with their customers.


Q:

What dealership departments stand to gain the most from incorporating mobile marketing, but often have not, and why?

Venneri: Service departments and F&I should really leverage mobile marketing because typically these departments require waiting.

Customers usually spend that time on their mobile devices. Think about texting your happy customers review requests while they are still in your dealership.

Create check-in offers, and make sure they’re posted where your customers will see them—in the waiting areas. Check-in offers on Yelp help reviews “stick,” [because] the check-in indicates a verified customer.

Yelp ratings show up right in iOS Apple maps when consumers are just looking for directions, so understanding these integration points and maximizing them is key.

Geodakyan: Service. It’s the area with the most touch points and the most valuable customers.

Creating a better mobile experience on transaction history, car telematics integrations, service scheduling, and payment are a few obvious wins.

I think some are waiting to get there through the use of their vendors (CRMs, etc.), but often those vendors aren’t “all in” on that consumer experience.

From there, it’s money and time, of which there is a constant shortage.

Marolia: The dealer’s service department stands out in terms of gain from mobile marketing, with the right kind of data to drive the marketing.

With knowledge from telematics solutions such as mileage and driving behavior, service departments can precisely target customers with offers and streamlined appointment-setting directly through the mobile phone.

The finance and sales departments also have much to gain by monitoring miles driven and gaining understanding of opportunities to transition customers into new cars and new finance deals while optimizing margins with their used car assets.

The dependency for these kinds of opportunities is to have valid data about the vehicle in terms of mileage and driving behavior, which most dealers lack today.


Q:

What developments in mobile technology or mobile-user behavior do you see on the horizon that are likely to affect dealerships’ future mobile strategy?

Venneri: Consumers are becoming increasingly more comfortable and confident in completing an entire transaction from their mobile device, and even social site apps. Dealers need to be ready with their responses to inbound requests for vehicle quotes and general information in mobile formats, including having responses that are mobile-optimized, and even texting back to consumers.

Dealerships need to hire digitally savvy employees so they can communicate on these platforms and use tools like mobile videos to quickly give a virtual tour of specific vehicles, which [can expand the] geographic area from where dealers can pull. Virtual transactions are becoming more popular with new programs to deliver vehicles to the doorstep of consumers, even in markets like Manhattan.

Leveraging social sites for recruiting and including mobile applications for candidates is one way to attract tech-savvy employees. The sooner dealerships embrace this, the sooner they will profit from our mobile commerce economy.

They can learn more about this at digitalairstrike.com/social-recruiting.

Geodakyan: The tech for mobile retail analytics is getting cheaper. It won’t take long to be able to use the mobile device to measure lot traffic, engagement with ads, etc.

As the price on these solutions comes down, it will be a more effective way to measure marketing to showroom conversion.

NFC [near field communication] payment, Facebook Messenger, and Siri- or Google Now-type assistants will all begin shifting how consumers research cars, [so] dealerships will have to make sure their brand has a presence on these evolving platforms.

Marolia: Mobile technology that is being added to dealership vehicles by way of telematics solutions is changing the way dealers manage their businesses.

A connected car paired with convenient access through mobile apps allows dealerships to serve customers more efficiently, with a real-time view of every car in inventory and its precise location.

Once these vehicles are sold to consumers, the consumer mobile app paired with the connected car provides a way for dealers to understand the precise needs of the vehicle in terms of maintenance, a means to notify the customer of those maintenance needs, and a calendar of available appointments.

Through data mining, dealerships will be better suited to respond to customers who are ready to transition into new vehicles, and be able to optimize their inventories of new and used vehicles to maximize margins.


Kurt Stephan

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