3 Takeaways From Google Think Auto 2014

Google’s Think Auto Conference has become a household event for digital marketers in the auto industry. For the 9th straight year, Google has managed to bring together experts, OEMs, dealers, and agencies under the same roof to share the current state of the industry along with challenges and opportunities ahead. Presented in this article are the main takeaways from this conference.

1. Promotional Alignment

The car buying process occurs in a 70 day period in which there are three main stages: thinking, researching, and buying.

Chart by: John Byrne

The common belief is that digital marketers should have content at each stage of the buying process to answer the consumers’ needs. While this is true, it is also imperative for digital marketers to ensure promotional campaigns not only satisfy the need at a given stage, but also serve as stimulus to move consumer to the next stage of the process.

In order to do so, promotional segments cannot work in silos. For instance, it is well known that there is a strong correlation between television support and search volume. This means that digital marketers must work closely with traditional media planners, and creative agencies to ensure not just the timing of promotional campaigns, but also content, themes, and tone used.

The goal is to send a consistent message. When analysing digital strategies, marketers should ask themselves: are search, social, and display campaigns a continuation of traditional media? Do landing pages reflect the themes and tones of promotional content? Are there clear calls to actions? Is the process simple enough to prevent consumers from looking elsewhere? If one of these answers is a no, then there is a problem.

2. Don’t Let Your Sites Be Your Enemy

Good news! All time and efforts placed on branding have paid off. Consumers realize they have a need, and they immediately think of your brand. They proceed to make a quick search online to learn more about your brand and start the process of satisfying that need. This is the dream scenario of any CMO. But then comes the bad news, consumers are often turned off and decide to look elsewhere as a result of the experience they had on your website or mobile site.

The auto industry has understood the importance of leveraging online tools to help consumers in the car buying process; from providing information about different models, to actually helping moving along in the buying process. However, providing these tools is not sufficient if they do not make consumer experience simple enough. One of the main conclusions from this event is that the auto industry is below acceptable standards when it comes to website experience, particularly mobile.

As a digital marketer, you should not only be asking yourself “Is my mobile website experience great?” but you should actually put on the consumer hat and try out the site. Count how many clicks it takes to finalize an action. From an auto-industry point of view, how many clicks does it take to book a test drive? And how many times are you required to enter information that you already had to provide in the same session (hint: it should be zero).

The online experience should be all about simplicity, especially for mobile. If it takes a consumer more than 10 clicks, including postal code typing, then it’s time to revisit those mobile sites and figure out what steps must be removed to make the process faster. This sounds simple, and it is.  However, time and time again consumers are driven away from brands not as a result of competition, but as a result of poor experience. Don’t let your websites be your enemy.

3. Lessons From Dealers: Don’t Just Sale

During one of the panels at Think Auto 2014, two marketers who work for dealers were brought in to discuss how they leverage social media channels to increase sales. One of the main lessons from this session was that 54% of consumers go to a dealer knowing everything they need to know about the vehicle they wish to purchase. They are ready to buy, and so, they do not want to be sold. These marketers recognized this as an opportunity to modify not only their sales representatives’ in-store approach, but also the content of their online domains.

Instead of developing ads on YouTube, these dealers are uploading videos of every model as soon as they have them on inventory. The purpose of these videos is just to show car features, and give consumers another take on the cars beyond what they can see on the OEMs website. This is an example of speaking to consumers in terms of their needs, and not the needs of the marketer.

These dealers are also anticipating further questions that consumers would have in the researching process, and they are leveraging different channels to provide the right answers. One simple initiative both dealers use is providing inventory level information on the cars they carry. Another initiative was to optimize mobile websites to provide one-click-calls on the contact information section. One dealer went one step further and leveraged Google Maps to show not only inside views of dealership, but also inside views of the models they have on display.

Google Maps in Store View. Source: Google Maps

These initiatives are a clever way to speak to consumers in a tone aligned with their needs in the buying process. More importantly, they are small, but meaningful details that help creating a relationship of trust and understanding. Purchasing a vehicle requires a significant investment. These dealers are sending the right signal to consumers by showing that the end goal is not just a sales figure, but providing a satisfying experience that ultimately helps the brand achieve a permanent spot in their consideration set.

These lessons apply beyond auto industry. Digital marketers must have an understanding of what the consumer is really looking, and provide such information even before asked. Social media accounts, search ads, and landing pages are supposed to enhance the buying process. Failure to make the experience simple for consumer will result in a lost sale, and more importantly, a damaged brand image.

John Byrne, Paid Media Analyst at iProspect, also contributed to the post.