Modern, digital-savvy consumers are radically different than previous generations of auto shoppers. Over the past 20 years, Amazon has taught them to seek out highly personalized, frictionless omnichannel customer experiences. Meanwhile, Apple’s 2007 introduction of the iPhone has fundamentally changed consumer behavior, with customers multitasking across multiple devices — often at the same time — when consuming advertisements.
Automotive marketers are still struggling with this fragmentation in the digital customer journey.
Currently, most OEMs employ a bifurcated bookend strategy: They use TV and online linear video at the top of the funnel to drive awareness, and digital remarketing tactics to drive leads at the bottom of the funnel.
Video (along with TV) remains the primary media channel for brand storytelling because the best way to tell stories with emotion is by using sight and sound. As consumers progress deeper into the funnel, the communications become more transactional in nature; it’s not about storytelling so much as driving action.
There is a gaping hole in this model — the lack of tactics in the middle tier. The middle tier is where the overarching brand promise becomes tangible through the model offerings. At this point, consumers have added the brand to their consideration set and now want time to research the brand’s offering online.
They want to understand the feature benefits of a particular model, and how it might integrate into their daily life. This is the customer expectation, but think about what happens today: A car shopper sees a brand video or two, maybe performs some casual searches, and then visits the brand’s website.
She is still starting her research, but the brand is in a full sell mode. All she sees are display ads with lease offers, dealer locations, and buy-now calls to action (CTAs).
The race to the bottom of the funnel is on. Compounding the problem, if the brand’s awareness campaigns are weak — and the emotional connection is lacking — it only accelerates the bottom-feeding tactics at the expense of the customer experience.
Most OEMs make available on their online properties the research tools required to help customers with their research, including technical specs, model comparisons, pricing calculators, and vehicle configurators. The problem is that these tools are not incorporated into the customer-experience journey in paid media.
As noted earlier, once we have a customer on the hook, we tend to bypass these steps and drive them straight to the purchase. Mid-funnel marketing is fundamentally about messaging. It’s about replacing the beat-them-over-the-head buy-now CTAs with more subtle tactics — “Explore Now,” “Learn More,” “Build Your Own,” etc. — that allow customers to progress down the funnel at their own pace.
This type of messaging is about incorporating visual imagery that helps the customer envision herself in the vehicle, or how she or others might view her when she drives it.
It’s also about incorporating messaging points that reinforce the brand promise, or validate the customer’s reasons for purchasing the vehicle. All of these personalized messaging elements can be triggered off incoming data signals from your DMP, DSP, or website.
For example, consider when consumers engage with one of your make’s SUV models. In the same way you tell the story of your brand in the awareness stage, there is also a story to be told about this SUV in the mid-funnel.
This story is best told through the sights and sound of a video ad, rather than in a display banner. At the same time, you don’t want to have a one-size-fits-all video.
What you want to do is deepen the emotional connection by personalizing the videos for each interested audience: the parent buying a family car, the adventure-seeker buying it for camping and paddling trips, the boomer looking for a sporty retirement vehicle, or the style-conscious individual looking to make a fashion statement.
Today, this is possible because the technology now exists to incorporate personalized text overlays and end frames. This allows you to achieve one level of personalization through the video versions themselves, and another through the personalized overlays.
There is also a very real opportunity for video in bottom-funnel tactics. Today, auto marketers rely on digital banner ads to deliver their Tier 2/3 retargeting messages. These often feature an image of the vehicle combined with a dealer address or, perhaps, a map.
But for many consumers, the issue is not so much locating the dealer as it answering the question “Am I doing the right thing?” They are looking for some validation before making this big purchase.
A banner ad is not going to provide much comfort. A video, however, that reminds the customer how she will feel in the vehicle, combined with a midframe with “validation points” and an end frame with the offer and dealer location could do the trick.
The fact remains that as car buyers continue to choose customer experience over brands, automotive marketers are wise to free themselves from the limitations of the current bifurcated channel approach, where video is viewed exclusively as a top-of-funnel tactic and digital as a bottom-feeder tactic.
In other words, you should be much more mindful of consumer modality per channel as you allocate your methods.
As marketers get wiser and operate in this more-considered manner, I’d expect personalized video to become more widely used. It is positioned to not only solve many common marketing issues, but to truly advance the art of cross-channel, data-driven marketing, giving sight and sound a real place in the mix.
John Mruz is SVP of strategy at Flashtalking, a data-driven ad management and analytics technology company.