Consumers own the dealership of tomorrow, today... so get to know your new boss! Monetizing social networking is the challenge of the day and automotive advertising agencies that hope to serve their auto dealer clients need to apply new technologies and consumer-centric solutions to put their customers to work for them.
One constant in the auto industry is change, and since human nature is also a constant, most productive change is driven by technology. New technology driven solutions are able to integrate proven real-world selling systems with efficient and scalable online platforms to sell more vehicles and service with less staff. Auto dealers know they need to leverage social media and the viral marketing messages that it generates, but they don't have the resources or skill sets to do it; yet! Salespeople and brick and mortar dealerships will always have a role in the sales process, however tomorrow's virtual dealerships are already being built. Automotive advertising vendors have developed a variety of customer-centric online applications that blur the line between the real and the virtual world allowing dealers to use C2C comments to market to social networks from the inside out vs. B2C that does it from the outside in.
The explosive growth of Internet based digital marketing by auto dealers has been fueled by dealer's needs vs. their wants as advertising budgets have been reduced in synch with reduced sales volume and profit margins. The initial investment for many dealers was limited to building their online virtual showrooms as consumers replaced their local car row with the Internet Super Highway as the place to shop for a vehicle. The consolidation of brick and mortar facilities may have been accelerated by a shrinking economy and government dictates however, the writing has been on the virtual wall for some time. Technology has always served as the catalyst for change and the Internet has proven to be the platform to introduce the next evolution of the auto industry.
From the auto dealer's perspective, Internet based social networking was initially perceived as the virtual version of a Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, Community Event, Fraternity, etc., etc. linked by technology that serves as a central communication and distribution tool. This limited understanding and application of social media was based on the presumption that B2C marketing messages were the objective as dealers attempted to replicate proven real world selling processes translated onto the World Wide Web as an extension of their virtual showrooms.
Relationship based selling processes in the real world were presumed to be transferable onto the World Wide Web, but based on experience; not so much! Dealer-centric messages relying on the fact that people like to do business with people that they like are diluted when filtered by the glass wall that isolates the customer from the dealer. The logic to -- Sell yourself, sell the dealership, sell the vehicle and then justify the price -- is an accepted wisdom based on the one constant that has survived in both the real and the virtual world -- Human Nature! Unfortunately, human nature also drives the need for consumers to seek the path of least resistance when looking for information to satisfy a need -- like purchasing or servicing a vehicle -- and the next generation of consumer-centric social networking and C2C marketing satisfies that need better than an auto dealer can; or ever will.
Internet based social networks represent an online community of likeminded consumers who have a strong influence on their online friends. Auto dealers recognize that they must invest and involve in these online communities as people, not as an auto dealer. However, they will always be perceived as an outsider with self serving interests no matter how much they try to join in on the conversations. Their best intentioned efforts to prioritize the interests of their online friends to earn their trust and consideration when they need a new vehicle -- or service for their present one -- will always be suspect.