Dealer Focus 2024: Digital Marketing

By 12 Min Read


The digital landscape has been transformed over the past decade with dealers focusing increasingly on digital marketing  compared to traditional marketing channels.

The systems and processes that can be put in place are more consistent and deliver superior outcomes for dealers.

They are also trackable and diverse, ranging from Dealer Management Systems (DMS) to Customer Relationship Management (CRM), from contact centres to video, finance, digital plays a growing role.

We got in touch with some of the key players in the sector to get their take on where the market is going for dealers asking them to identify the key digital trends coming that will impact dealers over the coming 12 months and also any specific area dealers need to focus on in the 12 months ahead to boost profitability.

Darren Sinclair, CCO, iVendi, said when it comes to digital, the key task facing dealers is adapting to changing market conditions.

“While the new and used car sectors both remain relatively healthy, the falling values that we have seen in recent months are a strong indication that the post-pandemic boom period is ending, and we are returning to something that looks more like a ‘normal’ market.

“What that means is more competition and where dealers need to concentrate their efforts digitally is in attracting the attention of buyers and maximising the resulting leads. They first need to ensure that the basics are in place – covering everything from bulletproof SEO to presenting stock ever more attractively online – but we are seeing some key developments in our area of core expertise, which is the online consumer journey.

“In recent years, it’s been broadly accepted that the standard model for car retail is a hybrid journey that includes elements of showroom and digital, but we are starting to see evidence of a move towards the latter.

For John Hogan, co-founder and CEO at RWA Automotive, the key digital challenge for dealers is to boost efficiency in key areas. Basically, make the most of what you’ve got.

“With new and used car sales reverting to pre-pandemic volumes and margins, there is a need to find more efficient ways conduct the same level of business.

“As people is our biggest cost, we need to look for efficiencies through technology. Fortunately, technology has come a long way since the start of the pandemic. There are new tools available to better funnel website and phone enquiries into the business, more tools to respond and make appointments and more to make the processes more streamlined. AI will augment these systems and processes by increasing the relevance of the responses to digital enquiries which will deliver more sales.”

For Hogan, automation is growing in importance. Put the systems and processes in place and dealers will get better results. Insurance companies have already shown that AI emails in contact centres deliver better performances than people.

“After the cars are sold, there are now ways of automating the paperwork. There are new or enhanced tools to automate service and MOT reminders, self-check-in for a service appointments and to follow up on deferred VHC work. The intelligent application of these tools will allow the dealer to do more, with less people,” he said.

Simon Donegan, commercial director at Carwow, believes when it comes to digital we are now in the volume business. The trend for digital interactions will accelerate this year. There is going to be lots more of it and it is increasingly Omnichannel. Its own research bears this out.

“When surveyed, consumers visiting Carwow say they feel increasingly comfortable researching and comparing cars entirely online (45% in 2023 versus 30% in 2020).

“Furthermore, 28% of those who bought a new or used car in 2023 said they had completed all aspects of their purchase journey online, including payment, compared to just 13% in 2020. And this isn’t just a trend among consumers either.

“We’ve seen sales in our daily online auctions grow 68% year-on-year, putting over 125,000 vehicles back onto dealers’ forecourts, so we know dealers are buying more used cars online too. We anticipate that this trend for digital interactions and transactions will grow further in 2024.

Jeremy Evans, chief executive at Marketing Delivery, is another supplier who believes data-driven decision-making and communications will play an even bigger role in conversions and retention. And Omnichannel is the name of this particular game.

“It’s clear that customers want an omnichannel experience, and they want any communications to be timely, relevant and personalised. Meeting those expectations is only possible if customer and vehicle records are readily accessible, accurate, up-to-date, and if data can be exchanged between critical back-office and customer-facing systems.

“We recently visited the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) conference in North America, where there was a new focus: inventory-based decision-making utilising intelligent technology. As we progress through 2024 and beyond, intelligent technology is going to be a growing asset for many companies to help enhance the customer experience.

“We know that the conversation around AI has been equally split between mistrust and potential over the past 12 months, but there is no getting away from the benefits and functionalities that AI, used correctly, could bring to many industries and customers, including those in the motor retail sector.”

While Carwow and Marketing Delivery emphasise volume and variety, Martin Dew, digital solutions director at Autoweb Design, thinks customisation is a key trend this year.

“Software development methods and tools have come such a long way, even since I was programming software at university 20 years ago. This has led to the emergence of highly specialised software companies who focus on creating software that does one thing really well. In some cases, like us, they may produce a few pieces of specialised software but not one monolithic solution. Outside the automotive sector it is commonplace to set up software ecosystems that are unique to a company that uses it, but when broken down is all widely used software with architecture that makes it talk to other software easily.

“From the dealer’s perspective, they might be used to seeking a software provider to cover everything they want to do. The reality is that one vendor can’t specialise in everything to the degree that they are best in class. We advocate for an approach of integrating (hopefully) our solutions with world-class providers of business process systems.”

Carol Fairchild, chief operating officer at CitNOW Group, believes many dealers will need to invest in their digital customer touchpoints across sales and aftersales to increase competitiveness. He touches on key points of greater volume and more channels as examples.

“The latest digital tools will be key to driving this, with Artificial Intelligence (AI) set to play an increasingly important role in content creation. For example, Auto Imaging’s AI technology analyses images for used car listings to ensure they reach the highest OEM and network standards, ensuring consistency across retail groups while reducing time to web and improving staff efficiency.

“The importance of video continues to grow for motor retailers – it bridges the gap between customer and retail teams and enables faster approval for work identified in aftersales. In a recent survey conducted by CitNOW Group, 70% of retailers indicated that their aftersales teams are not maximising all revenue opportunities, and many have already increased their use of video to help address such concerns. CitNOW saw the overall use of video increase by 11% across sales and aftersales during 2023 compared with the previous year, enabling a record-breaking 12.9 million videos in just twelve months.

For Keyloop, connectivity is the key trend for dealers. Graham Stokes, VP sales for UKI and APAC, Keyloop, said: “The seamless connection of customers with vehicles and services is easier than ever before through the use of apps and dedicated platforms. These allow for an enhanced and more tailored customer experience, and we expect adoption of such tools to continue growing over the coming year.

“Connectivity is also being improved within vehicles, allowing valuable insights on performance and consumer behaviour to be shared directly with dealers and OEMs – who are also benefiting from improved data and knowledge sharing through digital platforms.

“Another topic of growing interest within the industry is artificial intelligence – with potential uses including improving customer interactions, both through personalised experiences and enhancing operational efficiency for dealers.

“In a rapidly evolving industry, retailers and OEMs must recognise and harness the potential of technology to effectively navigate and support their transition towards a promising future.

Organisations that successfully leverage these digital trends will gain a competitive advantage and be able to position themselves for success.”

So there you have it, number crunching data, omnichannel, connectivity, efficiencies and customisation are key digital trends dealers can expect to see more of in coming years. The future is hybrid with AI looming large across the sector.

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