Is Hard Sell Automotive Marketing Dead?

2008 is the make it or break it year for auto dealers. It’s your choice where you will be. You have to make the decision to take a leap of faith or duck your head in the sand and do nothing. Hide from the reality that you control your destiny. Which path will you take? The “Same is Lame Road” or the path less traveled.

Is the Internet the solution?

The Internet is a good tool, but that’s all it is – just another medium. It’s no different than the newspaper, radio or TV. You can’t dump your whole operation online. If you do, the consequences could be devastating.

The internet has caused great change in the consumer. It has caused them to think different, act different and be educated differently. Today’s customer demands and responds to information-based, value-driven marketing rather than the traditional hard-sell auto advertising tactics we’re used to implementing. So is hard-selling over for good? For those of you who use hard sell marketing – just the thought will make you squirm in your seat but for those of you who have never experienced it – hold on tight.

Hard-sell automotive advertising can’t be thrown out the door. It has evolved into a better, more effective, finely tuned machine. So what’s the big change all about? Education. Yes education. Today’s consumer is seeking more facts now than ever before. They want to be well-informed before their emotions kick in.

Traditional automotive marketing was all about the dealership, the vehicles and the features. Consumers don’t care about those details. They want to know how you can help them with their situation. What solution can you bring to them? You need to take them by the hand and deliver yourself as the expert that can solve their problems.

You must first define what their problem is and then lay out a well-planned solution. Is it financing they can’t obtain? Are they upside down on their current vehicle? What solutions can you offer? Your answers must be clear and easy to follow. You care about their challenges and want to help them. You are the obvious choice.

The Challenge:

The solution has to be delivered in an easy accessible manner without obligation or commitment. You must give the perception of value first. Today’s competitive market requires you to deliver the value upfront to gain the trust of the customer.

“So where is the hard-sell in this”, you might ask.

That’s where the evolution of the machine comes in. The hard sell sneaks up on the customer from out of the blue. They never see it coming because they have invited it in. That’s what education based marketing is all about.

Cloak and dagger marketing is the kind of marketing that affects people emotionally but sneaks up on them logically. Buying decisions are based on emotion and backed up with logic. The internet has put a new spin on this rule. With the rise of the Internet, people are looking for logic first. Education based marketing gives them what they are looking for and they freely invite the emotional side in. That’s what closes the deal.

Sound easy? Don’t be fooled. There are a lot of pitfalls that can lead you off your path.

Automotive Advertising Agencies Use Social Networks and Search Engine Algorithms to Sell More Cars

Automotive advertising agencies are challenged to provide more for less to serve a consolidating auto industry and today’s Internet has provided them with the media and the methods to do it. Budget conscious consumers are firmly in the driving seat on the Internet Super Highway and auto dealers have directed their marketing messages to their online showrooms vs. their brick and mortar facilities to get their attention. More accurately, they are following their customers onto the World Wide Web and hoping that their past and pending customers will find them there.

The days of hard sell retail messages in conventional media like radio, T.V. and newspaper as well as dealer-centric banner ads and websites promoting daily dealer specials are numbered. Today’s car shoppers have been empowered by the search engines to filter out dealer messages in favor of information on exactly the new or pre-owned vehicle they are searching for. In addition, Social networking communities of online friends have rallied their support and opinions to help car shoppers decide what they should buy and from which dealership they should buy it from. After all, what are friends for!

The consumers’ new found source of information on the Internet to assist them in their car shopping process hasn’t replaced the need for automotive advertising agencies in the retail auto industry, but it certainly has changed their role in it and the methods that they must use to earn their agency fees. The first adjustment that an automotive advertising agency must make in their business model is to recognize that the internal profits that they used to realize in their radio, T.V. and print production departments can no longer be supported by their auto dealer clients. Reduced sales volume and profit margins on the auto dealers’ side of the table demand a better R.O.I. for every dollar and while these departments are still required to produce digital marketing material for online campaigns the production costs must be a fraction of previous pricing to remain competitive with the newly developing online resources that an auto dealer has access to.

The agency must still provide creative that is relevant to the market and they must define the target audience that would be most receptive to it, but once again the World Wide Web has changed the rules and automotive advertising agencies must learn what they are and follow them. Top of the mind awareness is still job one for automotive advertising agencies who understand that they can’t time the buying cycle for everyone on the Internet Super Highway and therefore they must maintain a consistent message across multiple channels to be on the short list when the customer is ready to purchase a vehicle. Diversification across multiple media and frequency of targeted messages to qualified buyers isn’t a new practice but the methods, media and skill sets required to get the job done have changed.

Networking and the related referrals and sales sourced from it has been an integral component of internal selling processes for auto dealers since the first vehicle was sold but it has had little to do with conventional advertising — until now that is. Social networking and the related Internet media channels that have grown to support it are now a primary target audience for automotive advertising agencies. Word of mouth advertising has grown exponentially as viral messages travel through social networking channels with the opinions of like minded car shoppers who use these online communities of friends to share their car shopping experiences before, during and after their buying cycle.

Initial attempts by automotive advertising agencies to market to these social networks from the outside through the use of banner ads or as wolves in sheep’s clothing trying to invade a network of friends were soundly rejected. Members valued each other’s opinions and shared experiences over a self serving auto dealer or their automotive advertising agency.

Monetizing social networking has been a challenge but new technologies that integrate established marketing channels with social networks from the inside out have provided the solution. ronsmap, for example, is a game changing consumer-centric online inventory marketing platform that embeds a social networking engine on their communal site as well as every vehicle posted on it by participating auto dealers. Their application, vBack, provides an Ask-a-Friend / Tell-a-Friend feature that solicits feedback from friends on the various social networks that an online car shopper trusts. These influences then act as agents of the auto dealer — without their knowledge — under the direction of a friend which allows the automotive advertising agency to market from the inside out vs. from the outside in. C2C marketing vs. B2C marketing is the key to monetizing social networking and ronsmap is a new technology based exit on the Internet Super Highway that has opened this new channel to auto dealers.

In addition, ronsmap enhances the value of the leads generated from within the social networks by accumulating the information gathered through their SellersVantage application. In addition to the anticipated name, IP address and vehicle information requests their new Intelli-Leads include the online shopping selection and vehicle preferences of the initiating car shopper and the comments accumulated by his online network of friends. These enhanced leads allow the auto dealer to anticipate the needs of their potential customers before they open negotiations with them. As a result, the consumer is provided a more relevant and transparent vehicle selection in response to their initial inquiry and the auto dealer has a competitive edge to quote the best price on the best vehicle for the consumer. This is a win-win scenario that increases closing ratios and profits for the auto dealer while offering the consumer the advantage of the information and referrals he gathered from his online car shopping experience.

The internet is far superior to conventional media on many levels and social networking is only one of the newest reasons. Automotive advertising agencies must be prepared to direct their clients beyond marketing through social media. They must also provide more than advice on search engine optimization, S.E.O., search engine marketing, S.E.M. and banner ad placements or transparent and relevant website designs. The search engines hold the key to the Internet and understanding the algorithms that determine the rules of the road on the Internet Super Highway that they control are the responsibility of the automotive advertising agency.

Google, for example, has clearly stated the weight that they place on video vs. copy or other means of online digital marketing. Today’s Internet consumer grew up watching television and the explosive growth of YouTube proves that their preference for video has survived onto the World Wide Web. One vendor that has listened to Google and their subsidiary YouTube is SiSTeR Technologies with their Video CarLot platform. SiSTer is able to take the existing pictures and vehicle information posted on an auto dealer’s website and convert them into professionally produced videos.

More importantly, their videos are fully index-able with multiple schema layers making them interactive and more transparent to the online car shopper. These videos are placed on the auto dealer’s website as well as any third party advertising sites that the auto dealer is linked to. In addition they are driven through a dedicated API to YouTube with individual URLs that extend the reach and frequency of the dealer’s inventory and marketing messages — a proven formula for success in conventional automotive advertising that also applies to Internet advertising.

Automotive advertising agencies are not reinventing the wheel by extending their reach and frequency with consistent messages across multiple channels by leveraging access to social networks or by manipulating the algorithms on the search engines. They are simply applying proven and established advertising wisdoms and best practices to an auto industry that has only one constant — change!

American Automotive Artists

Since automotive design is basically an artistic endeavor, art has always been a part of automotive life. However, for many years automotive art was the product of design studies, design departments of automobile manufacturers, or aligned with automotive advertising. Automotive fine art did not exist as a separate art genre. However there were a few car lovers who happened to be artists and enjoyed painting cars simply because they loved the subject matter. But for an artist to be successful, there must be a market. And there were automotive enthusiasts who were interested in buying art. So in 1983, a group of six artists received invitations to display their works at the Meadowbrook Concours in Detroit. During this exhibition, these artists decided to form an alliance devoted to exchanging ideas and keeping current on trends in automotive art and so the Automotive Fine Arts Society was born. The artist credited with founding this society is Ken Eberts who has been its president since that time. Ken is recognized as one of the world’s leading automotive fine artists. He originally worked in the design department at Ford Motor Company. Then in 1968 he embarked on a second career in automotive fine art. Since then, his works have appeared in magazines, on Christmas cards, posters, and book covers. Ken also has an interest in architecture and many of his automotive works include an automobile set against the backdrop of an interesting building. He has been a two-time winner of the Peter Helck Award and the Richard Teague Award for the ‘body of work that best exemplifies the spirit of the automobile.’

Bill Neale is also a member of the Automobile Fine Arts Society. In addition to automobiles, Bill paints the people associated with the industry such as drivers and owners. Bill has an aviation background and both cars and airplanes are often featured in his compositions. Bill’s work has appeared in all of the prestigious automotive magazines such as Road & Track, Car & Driver, and Automobile Magazine. He has done posters for many Automobile Concours d’Elegance and other automobile events such as the Monterey Historic Races, Houston Classi-Chassis and Carroll Shelby Nationals. He is the poster artist for the Colorado Grand Rally. He is also the recipient of numerous awards from Europe, the United States and South America including the prestigious Peter Helck and Athena awards.

Jim Dietz is another contemporary artist who paints automobiles. However, Jim is a historical artist who specializes in aviation and military subjects as well as automobiles. Jim is a graduate of the Art Center College of Design. He began his career in art as an illustrator doing automotive ads, movie posters and book covers. But in 1978 he changed from commercial illustration to historical art. In 1997, Dietz won the Stanley Wanlass Award for ‘excellence in strength of design and composition echoing the spirit of the automobile’ at the Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance. He also won a Peter Helck Award in 1999 and 2,000 at the Pebble Beach Concours’ d’Elegance. In addition, he has received numerous other awards for his aviation and military art. Like Neale and Eberts, he represents the best of a new genre in art.

Are Automotive Brakes Getting Smarter?

A number of recent engineering developments in automotive brakes technology is starting to show up in many new vehicles this year. Auto manufacturers have been testing new features over the last few years, searching for the optimum features that will make vehicles safer to drive for motorists.

These improvements are changing the way brakes react when a car is in motion, and the variety of additional safety features are helping drivers stay safer and avoid collisions on the road.

Forward Collision Warnings

One such feature is a forward collision warning, which uses radars and cameras installed in the front of the vehicle to identify objects or other cars that are suddenly within close range of its path. Several audible or physical warnings – lights or chimes on the instrument display panel or a vibration in the steering wheel or driver’s seat, for example – notify the driver of the need for a hard stop.

If the driver does not react in time or doesn’t brake hard enough, some systems will apply an automatic brake assist to help avoid or reduce the impact of a collision. Some automakers have taken further measures to install similar systems for blind spots that a driver can’t see, or when backing out of a space where a view of oncoming traffic from either direction is impaired.

Lane Departure Warnings

A similar safety feature called a lane departure warning is designed to notify drivers who are either distracted or falling asleep at the wheel when the car deviates beyond lane markings on the road. Here, the camera and sensor record a driving pattern while the car is moving and alerts the driver with an audio warning when the car deviates from that pattern for no apparent reason.

The system typically works in tandem with rear view and side mirrors, showing a blinking cursor on the mirror and the front display, to go along with the audible signal to alert the driver.

Anti-Lock Brakes

The first “advanced” automotive brakes employed anti-lock systems that allowed drivers to retain traction and steering control when braking suddenly, either on wet surfaces or due to sudden obstacle. Here, a driver’s reaction time and behavior is still a factor, since they must brake hard, stay on the brake to fully actuate the system, then steer away from the danger.

By applying steady brake pressure, the system will pulse the automotive brakes to allow the tires to regain traction enough to minimize the impact or avoid a collision altogether. A speed sensor monitors the car at all times, looking for a rapid deceleration in the wheels as a signal to apply the anti-lock assistance.

Predictive Brake Assist

Predictive braking is another modern concept that works in tandem with an advanced Cruise Control system to maintain a safe distance between vehicles automatically. If the system senses a hard stop will be necessary, it prepares brake components in advance to apply enough power to stop the vehicle in the shortest distance possible.

These innovations in automotive brakes will save countless lives by eliminating a margin of error when brakes are not applied quickly enough or hard enough to minimize the impact of a life-threatening collision, or eliminate one altogether.