Marketing cars in a downturn….show me some innovation (or even basics)

Let’s face it, few dealers have ever admitted to business being brisk – a ‘cup half empty’ mentality pervades the industry and always has done. Given the knocking the industry has taken over the years (block exemption, emissions-based company car taxation and showroom tax to name just a few) it is hardly surprising that many dealer principals go around with a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp. Manufacturers continue to make greater demands in return for supporting deals and one starts to wonder where it will all end….

For premium brands, the imminent VAT increase is already having a positive effect in pulling forward business. Meanwhile volume brands have to discount the current VAT rate to get signatures on dotted lines. ‘There will always be a better deal around the corner’ has rightly been the attitude of many consumers when faced with increasingly desperate offers in the marketplace. But are we about to reach the limit? A quick trawl among the UK’s top dealer groups reveals the following offers that are typical in the market:

• You can also PAY NO VAT* and ZERO INTEREST** on all Ibiza ST models and selected Exeo and Exeo ST models.
• Once in a Blue Moon offer – 2 years 0% APR, £0 deposit & £0 Road Tax!
• 60 Plate Winter Stock Clearance! Save up to 42% off RRP

The discounts just get bigger. Only Peugeot seem to have shown any sign of innovation with their ‘Just add fuel’ offer.

But just as important as the message is the medium. I am a petrolhead who willingly hands over personal details when visiting showrooms. I have worked at national, regional and local level within car marketing. I KNOW I am on databases. But these valuable details don’t even get me included on a blanket mailing. Smarter manufacturers/dealers are using social media, text/SMS, email marketing and other low cost, measurable media to get their messages across. But I clearly haven’t met any.

I have a 4-year old diesel hatchback and could do with a change. It is serviced regularly with the local franchised dealer who periodically reminds me I need a service/MOT. Their sales colleagues obviously don’t speak to them though: there is no ‘cross-functional’ use of the database. In times like these it is more important than ever to ‘sweat’ the database and utilise the available resource wisely. My point is, if marketing was applied correctly would the current level of discounts be needed?

So, what about other means of building awareness of the deals available? TV is the modern opiate of the masses – after all, who can afford to go out much anymore?! But if you didn’t book months ago you stand no chance now with the inevitable pre-Christmas rush from High Street retailers/brands. Perhaps we need to look in this direction for some inspiration: as Matalan conclude in their current TV campaign: ‘who says this can’t be the best Christmas ever?!’

Now that is what I call a ‘half full’ attitude.


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One Response to Marketing cars in a downturn….show me some innovation (or even basics)

  1. Andrew Howells November 24, 2010 at 10:05 am #

    Car dealers don’t need to rely on dinosaurs like ITV – not that they ever did anyway. Broadcasting video live via the internet is already having significant impact in the market.

    Take CarShop. In October they did 113 live demos to customers who had enquired about a particular car. They sold 66 cars as a direct result – that’s a 58% sales conversion. This is the reason why Trevor Jones (ASE Global), legend in his own lifetime, runs profit clinics recommending C It Now as a sales efficiency tool.

    Phil Drury at Stafford Audi (Swansway Group) has a rule for his salespeople do a demo a day. Nice rule Phil. Over the last three months Stafford Audi have had over 700 unique video views every month – Phil is well over his sales and profit targets for 2010. The other interesting insight; the busiest time for viewing car videos on their web site is between 9:00-10:00pm.

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