Why car brands can’t advertise their way out of this one

There’s something inherently wrong with the two least-trusted professions - car salespeople and adlanders - trying to convince people to make the second biggest purchase decision of their lives, writes Taryn Atkinson.

Atkinson: A radical rethink is required

Competitive and cluttered, the Australian automotive industry is hurtling towards a decade of massive disruption. Ready or not, every player will have to navigate rapid advances in digital and tech as driverless cars, car-sharing, electric vehicles and online purchasing become standard.

But for marketers, another more critical issue needs to be addressed which will determine whether their brand is going to sink or swim in this new environment: trust.

Released last month, Roy Morgan’s annual Image of Professions survey found car salesmen (and women, presumably) have the least trusted profession in Australia. You can’t fault their consistency – they’ve held the bottom spot year-on-year since 1976.

Car salesmen have not been gifted with great representation

None of this is news to marketers. Most people in the auto marketing industry already believe dealers are the weak link in the chain. The approach to this issue has long been ignorance. It’s best to simply turn a blind eye and instead focus attention (and budget) on creating killer ad campaigns with the aim of generating enough consumer desire to overcome the often crappy dealership experience at the pointy end of the purchase journey.

With new car sales hitting record numbers in June, this strategy may be reaping short-term results but car brands aren’t going to be able to advertise their way out of this pending disruption, because do you know who comes in second at the bottom of the least trusted list? You guessed it: advertising people.

The Roy Morgan survey found the trustworthiness of people working in the advertising industry has dropped to a record low, with only 5% of consumers rating them as high or very high in ethics and honesty. And given consumers don’t trust advertisers, it’s no surprise they are skeptical of advertising – according to a 2016 study, a whopping 73% of Australians believe advertising can’t be trusted.

Whether or not perception equals reality, it’s a pretty dire situation. What good can come from the two least trusted professions partnering to convince people to make the second-biggest purchase decision of their lives?

Rebuilding trust

Distrust in cars salespeople and advertising industry execs stems, at least in part, to both being motivated by an unspoken agenda (commission, sales targets, bonuses) that doesn’t have the consumer’s best interests at heart. This is compounded by the fact that these days, more so than ever before, no one likes to feel as if they’re being ‘sold’ to.

While industry-wide trust isn’t going to be regained overnight, the brands that succeed in this climate are those willing to radically re-think how they do business as well as what they spend their increasingly strained budgets on.

The answer isn’t to stop advertising entirely. Instead, it pays to recognise ads alone aren’t going to solve a brand’s problems. If agencies and marketers really are experts in consumer behaviour, they need to look at the bigger picture and take the lead in redefining the entire automotive experience.

Every touch point of the customer experience needs to be reviewed. From the 900+ digital interactions on the path the purchase, the approach to CRM and loyalty, to partnerships, sponsorships and activations, it all needs to be re-thought with the view to establishing and regaining trust.

It would help to stop thinking of this as being a business-to-consumer transaction. Advertisers are communicating with humans, not a data segment, while car sales people need to make the shift from seeing leads to seeing people.

The death of the dealership

While some people claim the dealership is dead, I’m not ready to call it just yet. A radical re-think is required, though. The traditional ‘build it and they will come’ approach does nothing to demonstrate to consumers a brand has considered their needs or wants. Instead, it perpetuates the negative industry stereotype and reinforces the lack of trust.

In recent years, there has been an encouraging demonstration of auto brands dipping their toes into the world of retail pop-up stores. The initiative provides a compelling commercial case with pilot programs delivering significant increase in the number of enquiries a dealership usually sees.

In terms of long-term sustainability, rather than these being head office-led initiatives that risk the cannibalisation of dealerships, the dealers themselves should be the ones motivated to seek out new marketplaces in the search for ways to break down traditional barriers and make buying more convenient for customers. This is how trust can be rebuilt.

Furthermore, by evolving the model from sales people to subject matter experts, people’s distaste in being sold to can be counteracted. Tesla’s implementation of this approach has contributed to its rapid growth and higher than average levels of consumer advocacy and trust. It works by demolishing the unspoken agenda of targets and commissions establishing a more authentic and even platform on which to form a relationship.

Right now, automotive sales might be growing year-on-year but as we stare down the face of untold disruption, the two groups of people doing the selling need to address these trust issues otherwise the future looks increasingly uncertain for automotive brands.

Taryn Atkinson is the client services director at brand experience agency Neonormal

Mumbrella’s Automotive Marketing Summit is a new conference for marketers and retailers working in the automotive industry. The summit will bring together leading local and international experts who will navigate through the complexities and disruption facing car brand marketers, retailers, media, creative and digital agencies, PR professionals and the complex ecosystem that supports it. For more information, or to purchase tickets, click here



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