Friday, May 1, 2009

Auto manufacturers need to embrace social media more than ever

With Chrysler going into Chapter 11, it's not news that auto sales are suffering. Dealers are competing for ever fewer car buyers.

Despite the economic downturn, auto companies still need to invest in marketing, and online marketing has shown better ROI than offline.

Selling cars is image-driven, like fashion and apparel. And not like buying functional, less emotional products like a printer. That's because the car you drive offers self-expressive benefits.

I love Lexus. Will that change in this economy? Probably not. At most it may defer my purchase if I was in-market now or make me a little more price sensitive. But if a brand has done its job, an emotional connection has been built that is hard to undo. The problem is that few auto brands have invested in that emotional hook. And when they have it, they should spend more time protecting it because we all know it costs more to acquire a new customer than to retain one.

So here are some ideas for all you auto dealers and manufacturers:

1. Consumers are seeking deals and many dealers are offering them. So do everything you can (outside of traditional offline and online advertising) to get the word out. Push offers through Twitter, blogger outreach, and deal/money-saving sites.

2. Consumers are holding on to their current cars longer and spending money instead on maintaining them, so proactively monitor and engage in forums and Twitter to offer tips and maybe deals in your Service Department. (I know that won't sell cars today, but you will surprise and delight consumers and you can bet they'll tell their friends --- word of mouth in action!)

3. On a related note, while you're monitoring online conversations, also focus on complaints about your brand. Set aside your "sell, sell, sell" mentality and focus on customer service. If a customer complains online, due to the power of Google and permanent archiving nature of the Web, the number of people who read that thread will grow each day. If a car owner is complaining on Twitter or a forum, jump in and offer to help right away!

4. Financing is tough now. If you have a good financing deal, push it out through Twitter, outreach, and money-saving sites. And if you have a useful financing calculator (or any useful widget for that matter!) on your site, distribute it on the Web, right there next to those deals to show how affordable buying your car actually is.

5. Car owners are a fanatic bunch and represent a very large online community. And few OEMs have successful communities. Take VW. VW Vortex is not affiliated with VW. Go participate in conversations in OUR spaces. Don't expect us to come to your website all the time (frankly, I don't remember the last time I went to an OEM site after my initial car purchase research). Find useful (not salesy) ways to participate since those sites have already collected the eyeballs!

6. And please, please do not continue to build one-off, short-term "profiles" on the major social media spaces, such as a 3-month Facebook page only to support a new model launch. You know who you are!

Not all of this may translate entirely to immediate sales, but an auto manufacturer finally has a chance to establish better direct consumer relationships, which traditionally were between dealer and consumer, and would build more brand advocates when the economy turns around.

End Note: Granted, for some consumers, car ownership is less about image. Hyundai’s Assurance program speaks to the trend of practicality and fiscal responsibility. But this practicality and less image-driven mentality does not mean you can't use social media to create an emotional hook. It is honesty and usefulness that garners trust and that becomes the hook.


No comments:

Post a Comment