As states across the country begin reopening their economies, it’s time for many dealers to start shifting focus away from surviving the lockdown to bouncing back post-COVID-19.
At some point in the (hopefully) near future, life will return to a semblance of normalcy, even if the “new normal” isn’t exactly like what we knew before. When that time comes, customers will return to your business with an abundance of emerging needs (both to buy new vehicles and service current ones), and you’ll have the opportunity as a dealer to meet those needs.
The 3 Types of Needs
People’s needs can be broken down into three categories: revolving, leisure and deferred. Revolving needs are day-to-day essentials that never go away, like food, hygiene, staples in your home, etc. Leisure needs are the extracurriculars that could really be defined as wants rather than needs: trips to the spa or hair salon, movies, theme parks and so on. Finally, there are deferred needs, things people know they need but put off until it becomes urgent.
Buying (or servicing, depending on the maintenance needed) a vehicle falls into the last category. People have been putting off buying a new vehicle during the lockdown because they have more urgent needs that need to be met, and there’s simply not as much driving to do when there’s nowhere to go for entertainment while the economy is closed down.
But, with restrictions lifting, that will change. The deferred need of buying a new vehicle will need to be prioritized and pent-up demand will finally emerge. Dealers will be in a great position to bounce back, provided they locate and attract these potential buyers effectively.
Understanding Your Customers
The key to converting buyers in the post-COVID-19 environment will be understanding the different segments of people who make up your potential customer base.
In terms of immediate opportunity, obviously the first place to go would be the leads and prospects your salespeople were working right up to the day the lockdown hit. Beyond that, however, it’s critical to evaluate who has and hasn’t suffered intense economic damage as a result of COVID-19, and to begin devising marketing and incentives that will appeal to each segment specifically.
For example, let’s compare a few segments of your potential customer base who have, in all likelihood, experienced this pandemic quite differently. First, you’ve got hourly workers who, unfortunately, were deemed nonessential in our economy, meaning a lot of them lost their jobs or saw their hours significantly decreased.
These people are hurting, but their deferred need for a vehicle doesn’t just go away. That means you have an opportunity to stand out via customer-friendly incentives, financing options, etc. Do the research to determine what types of vehicles these demographics favor and promote offers on those models as a match for their overall lifestyle.
Second, you’ve got people who have been chronically overworked. These are the frontline workers during the pandemic: health care professionals; grocery store workers; mail, shipping and warehouse employees; etc. They’re going to be in a decent financial situation when the lockdown lifts, but they may be slow to come in all the same.
Finally, there will be those fortunate members of the working population who were not impacted much by the pandemic, either because their work was deemed essential or because they were able to make a smooth transition to conducting business remotely. Everyone from financial experts to workers in the construction industry could fall under this category, but one thing they’ll have in common is a sense of financial security to move forward with a deferred vehicle purchase.
Keep in mind, within this final group still exists a very diverse set of needs and circumstances. Once this group is identified, continue targeting further based on the individual and their demographic profile.
Once you do have action plans in place for targeting the diverse segments of your customer base, there’s one critical thing to keep in mind: marketing in the wake of COVID-19 should be focused on an empathetic approach.
This is a traumatic event that we’re only just beginning to see the other side of, and you should be cognizant of the fact that it’s been more traumatic for some customers than others. That means your marketing, whether it’s your paid advertising, social channels or targeted content, should reflect a sensitivity to what people are going through.
Demonstrate how you’re still observing all applicable safety precautions in how you reopen your business, including employee-customer interaction in your store, and emphasize your dealership’s solidarity as an essential business within the larger community. That’s the kind of messaging that will help ensure dealers come out the other side of this pandemic in a favorable position.
No one can say for certain what the future holds for us in regards to COVID-19. It’s likely that dealers will have to be very agile in how they respond to frequent changes in the marketplace, especially as we collectively figure out how to reopen as safely and quickly as possible.
But, once we do reopen, the advantage will lie with those dealers who best understand their customers and focus on their customers’ emerging needs post-COVID-19. Start planning now to be one of those dealers and you’ll be primed for a strong rebound.