TADA

Trillium Automobile Dealers Association

Serving the interest of Ontario New Car
and Truck Dealerships for over 100 years

New media are changing how dealers connect with customers

Published on Friday, 04 November 2011

In September, I attended a conference in Las Vegas called the Digital Dealer Conference and Exposition. Before I arrived, I half expected the uber-geeks and technobabble to drive me to the nearest roulette table.

Although I encountered a lot of technobabble, the central message came through loud and clear: it’s a brave new world in communicating, and customers and companies that choose to get on board will achieve greater market share and customer loyalty as a result.

One of the most consistent messages from the conference was the skyrocketing popularity of digital technologies (smart phones, text messaging, mobile marketing, location-based marketing), and how they are revolutionizing the way businesses communicate and stay connected to their customers.

For new car dealerships, this shift towards digital communications has huge implications for their businesses. Some enterprising dealers have embraced new technologies by developing smart phone apps, publishing electronic newsletters and creating conversations on Facebook and Twitter.

But the vast majority of dealers — and I include myself among them — are still finding it challenging to keep up with the latest technologies when it comes to engaging with customers online.

Dealers who continue to rely exclusively on traditional forms of advertising (print ads, radio, TV, direct-mail) are missing the boat on a growing segment of the population that feels increasingly comfortable with the notion of sharing information and doing business electronically.

In 2010, Forrester Research conducted a survey to determine the popularity of digital tools and technology among different generations. It concluded that a generational divide still exists between Boomers and Seniors, and Generation Xers and Yers.

“Gens X and Y,” the report concluded, “are setting the example of how future digitally native generations will live . . . and (are) outpacing Boomers and Seniors on almost everything technology-related.”

If further proof were needed about the influence of new media, last year Ford launched its new Explorer on Facebook and generated more traffic than a Super Bowl ad. And 90 per cent of consumers today trust peer recommendations, whereas only 14 per cent trust advertisements.

In this new digital era, dealers are trying to determine what tools will help them connect with people whose lives revolve around smart phones, text messaging and social media. That’s the question that everyone at the Digital Dealer Conference and Expo was asking.

There are many popular strategies, such as search engine optimization, smart phone apps, e-newsletters, text messaging, Facebook and YouTube. But that playing field is about to become even more crowded and fragmented as new products and services enter the market.

For instance, imagine receiving a text message from a dealership while driving past their lot, alerting you to a special “just announced” rebate offer? Or, imagine viewing a pop-up virtual billboard promoting a “limited time offer” detailing package while you’re in the middle of playing your favourite online video game?

These technologies exist now, and it won’t be long before dealerships begin experimenting with them.

Now is the time for dealers to embrace digital tools and technologies in order to stay relevant — and visible — in the marketplace. My message to dealers would be to figure out how your customers want to be communicated with and develop those channels accordingly.

Indeed, this is a disruptive period in the world of marketing and advertising. In the months and years ahead, new car dealers will be grappling with an array of new strategies to connect with their customers and prospects online.

Rather than relying on one silver bullet that will accomplish all their marketing goals, dealers will rely on a mixture of digital technologies and traditional advertising to stay connected in order to provide the best customer experience.

If readers would like to weigh in on this fascinating topic, I welcome the feedback.


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