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Auto Brands Find New Ways To Engage Consumers

April 16, 2020 Carolyn Harding

As with many industries today, automakers are experiencing unprecedented times as consumers across the globe are encouraged to stay inside their homes, avoiding car dealerships among most other public places. J.D. Power recently predicted U.S. retail vehicle sales will fall 80% this month in comparison to expectations prior to the current pandemic.

In response to the changing times and consumers’ subsequent apprehension regarding major purchases, auto brands have been forced to create new methods of selling vehicles and keeping their consumers engaged, while also making conscious efforts to ease the financial hardship that so much of their audience is facing.

Online Car Shopping & Home Delivery

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While many auto brands have been slow to embrace online sales, the closure of most showrooms has forced marketers to think outside the box. General Motors, Toyota, Ford and Tesla are just a few of the car makers creating new – or enhancing current – online buying and touchless delivery systems to bring consumers “inside.” These new buying programs allow customers to partially, if not completely, go through each step of the sales process online. The purchased vehicles are then delivered directly to buyers’ homes. “If you're on Jeep.com or Ram.com, you can go right through the process and then get connected to the dealer in your area that has a particular match that you're looking for,” said Mark Stewart, Chief Operating Officer for Fiat Chrysler in North America.

By transitioning to a digital car buying approach, automakers can drastically expand their audience reach. According to a study from Google and Kantar TNS, 90% of car buyers research online before even entering into a dealership. Additionally, once consumers are inside dealerships, 65% of shoppers continue to research on their smartphones.

Many believe the current shift to online car sales could, to some degree, become permanent. While it’s doubtful the in-person car shopping experience will ever go away entirely, online sales could become a much bigger part of the auto industry. “This is going to fundamentally change how people view buying a car,” said Rhett Ricart, Chairman of the National Auto Dealers Association. Adding, “By the end of this year, you’re going to see 80%-90% of U.S. new car dealers with full ecommerce capability in their shops.”

Car Makers Offer Special Financing Options

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In an effort to keep the sales cycle going and reassure consumers that now is still a safe time to buy vehicles, several auto brands have implemented car payment programs and deals. From 0% retail financing to 90-day deferral of payments, these programs are intended to be mutually beneficial for both eager shoppers and big name brands.

“These types of programs have been tools OEM’s [original equipment manufacturers] have used many times over in economic downturns and for inventory control,” said James Houston, J.D. Power Managing Director, Consumer Lending and Automotive Finance. Adding, “Any program that assures consumers the affordability of the vehicle they are purchasing during uncertain times and gives after-sale support for those who financed their vehicle helps to generate consumer confidence.”

  • Buick is giving 0% financing for up to seven years on the 2020 Envision and 2020 Encore, with monthly loan payment deferral also available for up to 120 days on most other models.
  • Hyundai, one of the first to offer a financial relief program, is making up to six car payments for customers who purchased or leased vehicles beginning March 14th and have lost their jobs due to COVID-19-related issues. Hyundai Motor Finance will also defer payments for 90 days at the customer's request.
  • GM is offering 0% interest, 84-month loans and deferred payments of up to 120 days to top credit tier customers. The automaker has also activated OnStar for current vehicle owners, available 24/7 to help in emergency situations and provide routing assistance to hospitals or clinics. Advisors will also connect GM owners to helpful information hosts, including the CDC, FEMA and similar public safety agencies.
  • Ford announced its “Built to Lend a Hand” program, which applies to shoppers ready to purchase 2019 or 2020 model year Ford vehicles, providing up to six months of car payments.

Car Brands Present Uplifting Campaigns & Highlight Corporate Social Responsibility

There’s no denying many consumers will appreciate special financing options and the ease of online shopping and delivery, but there is also a massive audience that is looking for brands to face the current pandemic head on. Many auto brands have pivoted their marketing strategies to stay connected with consumers through meaningful messaging, uplifting campaigns and direct contributions to those in need.

Hyundai recently pulled its regular vehicle ads to feature its Assurance Job Loss Protection initiative. With the slogan, “nothing is more important than family, especially in uncertain times,” Hyundai aims to reassure consumers the auto brand has their backs. According to Angela Zepeda, Chief Marketing Officer at Hyundai Motor America, the automaker “pivoted and turned off our spring sales event campaign” and will air the new ad in digital and social channels and national and local broadcast.

Similarly, Toyota removed its March sales event advertising and is now running a new national ad campaign, “We are here for you,” with an uplifting message aimed at easing customer’s minds. Ed Laukes, Head of Marketing for Toyota Marketing North America said the spot is “the first in a broader campaign that Toyota is developing that will keep an optimistic tone to remind people that there are better days ahead.”

Automakers like GM and Ford, on the other hand, took more direct approaches to reaching consumers and those affected by the pandemic. The two auto brands have vowed to begin sourcing supplies and speeding up the production of the most necessary equipment, like masks and ventilators. GM announced its partnership with ventilator maker Ventec Life Systems, stating the auto brand will leverage its “logistics, purchasing and manufacturing expertise.” This move from GM and Ford will surely stand out to those consumers who have a tendency to lean toward brands which exhibit strong corporate social responsibility (CSR).

The ways in which consumers shop and purchase products across all sectors has changed, and the auto industry is no exception. Many auto manufacturers have proven to be nimble enough to adapt to the current market, with tactics that were once viewed as a threat to showrooms now being relied upon to keep businesses afloat.

“While you’re staying at home, there’s absolutely no reason you can’t be online shopping like you do, whether it’s Amazon or other online retailers,” said Stewart. “We want to have a process so our [car] customers can do so as well.”

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About the Author

Carolyn Harding

Carolyn Harding is an Associate Manager of Communications at Digital Media Solutions (DMS), the fastest-growing independent digital performance marketing company. DMS helps its clients accelerate growth by deploying diversified and data-driven customer acquisition solutions that deliver scalable, sustainable and measurable marketing results. DMS performance marketing solutions connect the right consumers with the right offers at the right time to achieve the marketing objectives of our clients. DMS is continually innovating to provide new and emerging media and technology solutions that minimize waste and maximize results across the most competitive industries. Since its inception, DMS has demonstrated incredible year-over-year growth which has earned recognition on the Inc. 5000 list in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

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