Ask the average consumer to describe a car dealer and some common themes and stereotypes would probably emerge.
The stereotypes may or may not be justified. But one thing is certain: consumer trust is still a big issue in the automotive market.
For such a big ticket purchase as buying a new or used car, customers need to feel they are in safe hands during their buying journey. Where manufacturers and dealers develop a reputation for trustworthiness and care for the consumer, their businesses thrive.
In days gone by, those who ran businesses at the heart of the community would know everyone who walked through their doors. The local convenience store owner knew that Mr Jones from down the road liked to come in every day at 8.30 to buy a newspaper, a pint of milk and a loaf of bread. For Mr Jones, a familiar face greeting him and understanding his needs made for a comforting and convenient service. It meant he stayed loyal to that retailer, even though other stores tried to tempt him away with discounts, rewards, and other enticements.
The dealer experience: making it personal
I recently took my car back to the dealer for a health check (something they had invited me to do, free of charge). On arrival, I was greeted by the same sales person who sold me the car more than four years ago. He treated me like an old friend, asking me how my family was and showing a genuine interest in my life since I bought the car.
Now, he may well have quickly scanned my notes before I arrived, or maybe he did genuinely remember me. Either way, it was a pleasant and heart warming experience. In fact, it left me feeling a sense of pride to be a customer of that particular car brand. When I got home that afternoon, an email was waiting in my inbox asking me to review my experience that day. It was signed off by the same salesperson. Of course, the email was automated. But simply seeing the salesperson’s name at the end made me feel as though that relationship was being continued.
My point here is simple. Consumers buy things and stay brand-loyal when they trust who they’re dealing with. If you don’t feel comfortable with the person tasked with selling you a product – be it a car, mobile phone or a bottle of wine – you won’t be inclined to part with your hard-earned cash.
From a car dealer marketing perspective, this presents one big challenge: how to demonstrate that trust and credibility on a wider scale, to attract customers in the first place.
Leveraging your team’s expertise
We know the current climate is difficult, with a host of revolutionary changes, such as electric vehicles (EVs), going through the auto sector right now. These issues are now front and centre in consumers’ minds when they come to a dealer. And people want to learn about these issues from sources they can trust.
So the marketing opportunity should be obvious: build trust and credibility by demonstrating the expertise of your dealership’s team and developing close, personalised relationships with consumers.
Here’s a case in point. While I was at the dealer for my car’s health check, I asked my salesperson what his view was on the EV market. I wanted to hear his thoughts on whether now is a good time to buy one. He gave me some great, impartial advice. It boosted my trust in him further and reinforced my view that I was dealing with a credible expert in the field.
Building trust in automotive marketing
Here are a few points that automotive marketers should be focusing on right now to build consumer trust around your brand.
1. Grow your credibility by publishing expert content
Businesses that build strong relationships with their customers and clients often do so by becoming visible thought leaders and experts in their field. The salesperson I asked about EVs clearly knew his stuff, and left me feeling well-informed on the matter. As a marketer, you can achieve the same effect by creating stand-out marketing collateral – such as expert blog content around consumer-focused issues. This will help your dealership build its reputation as a go-to source of knowledge and expertise in that area. By having your salespeople author content that aligns with their expertise, you’ll build their personal profiles and their own credibility, too.
2. Link up the physical and digital customer experience
Dealerships that successfully join up the online and offline customer journey create a seamless customer experience, and play into the preferences of the modern day consumer. Returning to my vehicle health check experience, I’d booked my car in for the inspection online. It was an entirely web-based process. But somewhere along the line, the salesperson who sold me the car originally was allocated as my point of contact on the day. When I left the dealership, an email was automatically sent as a follow up, with tailored ‘next steps’ aligned to my personal needs. I even got a text message while I was waiting in the dealership, with a link to watch a video summary of my car’s health check. It all felt very joined up.
3. Maintain relationships at every communication touchpoint
The familiar face of the local shopkeeper, who knew everything about their customers, may be becoming a thing of the past. But the benefit of applying this ethos into business today is clear. By cultivating the relationship between a consumer and their preferred salesperson, you’re laying the foundations for brand loyalty that lasts for years to come. Where one person is the ‘face’ of all comms with a particular customer, the trust factor continues to grow and the opportunities for upsell, cross sell, and more become far greater. If the salesperson I dealt with contacted me today and offered me a test drive in a new vehicle, I’d be far more inclined to take up the offer.
While I was waiting for my car’s health check to be completed, another customer came into the showroom and asked to speak to a specific salesperson. “I only want to deal with him,” said the customer, who clearly had a great deal of trust and respect for the salesperson he wanted to see.
It reinforced the point that, in the automotive world in particular, trust in your brand really does hinge on your people and their ability to form strong, long-lasting relationships with customers.