May 19, 2020

The Auto Dealer’s Recipe for Relevance During the COVID-19 Crisis

By Dave Cesaro
Categories

A pandemic as novel as COVID-19 is accompanied by several unknowns. New information constantly arises, necessitating a continuous sharing of information from experts to the public.

That applies, as well, to the industries and consumers this pandemic continues to affect. The automotive industry, for example, is one that’s always relied upon sharing a steady stream of information with potential car buyers, especially now. Information breeds credibility with customers and makes the provider a valued resource to the buyer.

To reach customers now and earn their business later, auto dealers need to be transparent and knowledgeable vendors that go out of their way to stay connected to customers during uncertain times. How is that done? Here are three ways to start:

1. Communicate

Most auto brands aren’t going to see much movement on their lots until consumers have a bit more confidence about the future. Most auto brands are — and will continue to stay — in the same position until some certainty returns. The result of this standstill will be shoppers getting inundated with the same message from competing dealers across all their media channels. That similar messaging and clutter does nothing to set your brand apart during the pandemic or after it passes.

A better approach is to communicate and deliver your message more precisely using the battery of available market-targeting capabilities. For example, we partnered with a dealership whose intent was to boost its sales during a major three-day weekend. This involved sending targeted direct mail, digital display, and email messaging to households that previously showed intent to buy. The result: An additional 1,000 website visits, and more than 100 additional vehicles sold.

Instances such as the one above prove that tailoring your message to the right consumer, with the right message, and with performance media will deliver better results. Adjust your filters to customize strategies to a sub-ZIP Code level to account for different dealer operations. Honing your approach in this manner helps your brand stand out among the homogeneous messaging that is surely penetrating all media channels and resonate with the public.

2. Educate

Auto dealerships have always had a consultative role with customers. They can do price checks, counsel on maintenance, and act as peace of mind for car buyers and customers. That role of educator will be significant in connecting with buyers during and after the pandemic.

Brands and dealers need to illustrate the reality of what vehicle sales and service will be post-COVID with several educational online resources. Many are relying on online-mediated sales, vehicle delivery, and online scheduling for maintenance in the interim, though those features could turn into more permanent staples, as could virtual car demos and 360-degree videos highlighting a vehicle’s best amenities. Integrate these into a tutorial for your audience to educate them on the car buying and maintenance experience in the era of social distancing.

Whether or not this new reality becomes a temporary or permanent alteration to the shopping experience, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and dealers that take this step become invaluable in the eyes of buyers.

3. Re-Launch

Communication and education allow brands to take an almost startup-like approach. With so many car shoppers putting their plans on the backburner, taking the time to connect with and educate consumers can aid in the re-launch that many dealers and OEMs are facing. Essentially, dealers and OEMs need to re-introduce their brand to potential buyers and long-time loyalists to remind each of why your vehicle is the one they need to purchase right now.

Take the insights gained from the previous two steps to inform your re-launch. It’s crucial to craft a tailored message to your most engaged audience — be it local, regional, or national — across all media platforms to educate them on what’s new and how you can be of service in this new landscape.

COVID-19 will continue to shape the present and future for consumers, particularly car buyers. As it does, be a transparent and relevant resource that buyers can come to rely upon, even after the dust settles.

For more information on how Valassis can help you put this auto recovery plan into action, download the “Fueling the Dynamic Automotive Shopper” e-book, or visit us here.

Stay In The Know

Subscribe to get our insights and news straight to your inbox