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How Does the Pandemic Change Dealer Marketing?

The upheavals of 2020 have fundamentally changed marketing plans across industries, and car dealerships have faced more tumult than most. With on-the-lot sales jeopardized by lockdown measures, social distancing and other factors surrounding our new normal, dealerships have been forced to think outside the box when it comes to their marketing.

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And yet, vehicle sales have been rising in the U.S., with 16.5 million expected sales in October, an uptick from September’s better-than-expected 16.3 million. To meet this moment, dealerships must learn how to effectively market amidst increasing demand in a time of uncertainty. Here’s how.

Recreating the Experience Online

Digital transformation has been the focus of B2B and B2C businesses in most industries, with total spending expected to reach $2 trillion by 2023. These kinds of changes are meant to give companies a competitive advantage by using the latest technology, as well as give them a greater presence in online sales channels.

Yet while cars themselves have become more technologically advanced over the years, most dealerships still rely on analog strategies to drive sales. The art of the in-person pitch is enough to hit quotas and drive sales — or so goes the traditional thinking. However, there’s nothing traditional about 2020; in order to thrive, dealerships must focus on building a comprehensive online sales presence for customers to use, one that meets them where they are from the first step and allows them to finish the process online as well, if they so choose.

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Overcoming Uncertainty

Part of the hesitancy in adapting auto sales to online channels comes from the notion that the test drive is king. Without it, customers simply won’t have the full experience required to make a purchasing decision. Yet this assumption has been proven false by companies such as Tesla, which sold a full 78% of its Model 3s online, with 82% of its customers foregoing the test-drive completely.

Not every dealership shares the same customer demographic and brand affinity as Tesla, but this much is true: People are buying cars in the midst of a pandemic. In fact, they’re looking to online sources for information about the latest available models and are increasingly amenable to making a purchase entirely from their computer. Armed with the right information, potential buyers see the value in taking control of their own purchase and having the vehicle delivered right to them. What’s essential is fully replicating the online buying paradigm by personalizing the experience for the individual’s needs, preferences and wants.  This includes creating an easy-to-use platform that provides transparency in pricing and is backed up by strong customer service.

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Dealership 2.0

As we move into the final quarter of 2020, it’s clear that each dealership’s sales strategy will be affected not only by demand, but by regional and local quarantine and public health measures as well.

The move to a stronger online strategy in 2020 provides marketers with the opportunity to further elevate their marketing efforts. 

The first area of focus should be to provide a seamless transition from online to in-store customer experience. When a customer can take charge of their next purchase by initiating the process online, then walk into a dealership if they so choose, and receive the same level and quality of service, the dealership’s sales capabilities skyrocket. 

Second, emphasizing personalization is critical, as it tailors the purchase for every individual customer. Dealership should be able to recommend options and individualize the purchase experience for every customer based on both their needs and wants.

Third, the online tools that help customers arrive at the right purchasing decision need to be utilized by the dealerships themselves for in-store sales and for engaging their in-store customers. 

Creating continuity between online and in-store sales channels and bringing in personalization will change the way dealerships market their vehicles, but it will also create a stronger, more unified sales and marketing approach beyond 2020.

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