As we continue in our tenth year of supporting our dealer-clients, we reflect on the combination of automotive experience and a consumer-focused mindset we bring to the relationship. We understand their business challenges and opportunities and appreciate what dealers are up against in terms of the monthly sales cycle, their metrics, and the business objectives that must be met. We consider it our job to help attract and keep the consumers needed to meet these dealership business objectives. We do this by thinking like today’s consumers.
What is the role of 3 Birds Marketing?
We bridge the gap that can exist between dealers and consumers. If we focus on the needs of both the consumer and the dealer, then we can create a partnership where everyone wins. This is especially important to a program we’ve named The Road Back and in reconnecting with consumers who might feel nervous with any part of the vehicle lifecycle experience since the pandemic. We’re all on the road back now.
BRIDGING THE GAP
Dealerships are complex businesses and there are so many areas in which a dealer is expected to be an expert; marketing, content, customer communications, data management, and mining are just a handful of them. So our goal is to do our part to lighten the load by being good partners by either providing a turnkey solution for the dealers that don’t have the bandwidth or internal resources to do and be it all, or being a resource for those who want to learn more and find better ways of working or, ideally, both!
BEST FOOT FORWARD?
We've often witnessed dealers caught in a transactional sales cycle with a short-term focus of this month, this week, this weekend, or even this day. Picking up your chin to take a longer view can seem difficult or even impossible. They don't always have systems that help them get a good grasp of their audiences, identify their highest-value customers, or help them tailor relevant, high quality messaging. Instead, they deploy marketing with a scattershot approach of more is more. The customer experience becomes a distant second to simply getting something out that is focused on the dealership’s immediate objectives.
We know that almost every consumer is an internet consumer. In fact, almost every single vehicle purchase and more and more service interactions start with online research, so it's critically important that dealers think about the way that they're holding themselves out online and communicating through digital channels. Their virtual dealership includes their website, the various review sites, social media platforms, and all the different pieces of digital real estate under their ownership. A dealer would make sure that their physical facility was immaculate. But it's harder to appreciate that a broken link on their website, an expired special, or tone-deaf messaging for their big sale to someone who just bought a car last week is essentially the same as having a broken pane in their store window. It's not putting your best online foot forward and it's not creating a friction-free consumer experience.
HIGH TECH AND HIGH TOUCH
Our focus has always been on improving that online consumer experience and to humanize the dealership by spotlighting the people behind the cars, making the human connection, and allowing the dealership’s individual brand and personality to shine through. Some are part of a large automotive group with advantages to working with them while others are family-owned and have been a pillar of the community for 50 years. Some provide a very quick and efficient buying experience and others sell one price with no hassle. These particulars matter to consumers looking to form a relationship with a dealership beyond the vehicle purchase.
It’s important that we unlock this kind of branding and communication for our clients with technology that will do the heavy lifting so they can focus on the human connection. It's the combination of good marketing, upper-level consideration, and nurturing leads all the way down to presenting low-funnel purchase intent and passing the baton to letting the good sales process and the store take over. The combination of the digital channel, the data that you're collecting, the intelligent use of the data, generating additional data, and enhancing your own first-party data - controlling what you can control - and then still having the human component that happens in the store.
CONNECTING IN SPITE OF DISTANCING
One of the challenges with COVID-19 has been, “How you do that?”. How does the store maintain that vital human connection during a time when people might be laying low and are hesitant about coming into the store. They might know that their local dealership is an open essential business but may be putting off a necessary service as a result of not driving as much and staying safe at home. How do we get them back into the store?
We saw dealers making quick operational pivots to harness their digital tools and piece together with their internal process to provide a level of consumer confidence and safety for their own staff in response. Fundamental to this was a concerted effort in communication despite the required social distancing.
Creating valuable and engaging content and then extending it to multiple channels can seem like a difficult task under normal circumstances, yet whenever I walk into a dealership I see great content everywhere, whether it's a photo of a special community event or pet adoption held at the store or a thank you letter from the local little league team. Dealerships across the country went above and beyond to support their staff, customers and communities during the quarantine, but with everything else going on in the world and with the dealership it can be overwhelming for dealers to share those stories.
Connecting through content became even more difficult in relation to the COVID crisis as it became critically important to ensure a level of reassurance for the customer and to demonstrate ways the dealership was still active in their neighborhoods by providing rides or delivering groceries to those in need, for example. As pillars of the community, they deserve this kind of spotlight but are sometimes left to toot their own horn. Other times they just don’t realize it’s anything that is significant.
PERSONALIZATION WITH PURPOSE
3 Birds helps create that extra level of personalization with the realization that the more people are informed about what happens at the dealership through the human elements, the more the dealer can facilitate that connection. By using that data and what the dealership learns about its customers, they can tailor their messaging accordingly by the use of technology. We have a turnkey solution for automotive dealers that was built with agility for longevity to become a staple within the dealership’s operations through all the peaks and valleys of business.
What I currently see happening in the industry is an acceleration in so many different areas and a moving forward at so many different levels in an attempt to leapfrog ahead of the current slowdown. Whether it’s a consideration towards digital retailing or using the conversion tools, systems, and staff that are already in place to help facilitate a perceived demand for touchless transactions and enhancing the ever-important customer experience.
Our philosophy has always been in thinking about the consumer experience first, immersed in the idea of simply treating customers like human beings in order to overcome the historical preconceived notions that the sales process is going to be oppositional instead of collaborative. We really break down those walls and highlight the way dealerships are big members of their community.
At the most fundamental level, our goal is to be a true partner and trusted resource to our clients. Having agility in technology allows us to not only scale solutions but it frees up bandwidth so our team can roll up their sleeves to offer even more assistance when a situation requiring more specificity or a greater contribution does arise.
As 3 Birds has gone through this crisis along with our dealers, we’ve done so standing side-by-side and working with them as the kind of trusted partners they tell us now they didn’t know they needed. We think that’s reflected in how we’ve been able to retain each of our own customers. A common phrase has been that ‘we’re all in this together’ - we really do believe and carry ourselves by it. From supporting our clients with special messaging and helping them with crucial customer communication checklists to conducting a mini-audit all their digital channels regardless of the provider to ensure their message is appropriate, consistent, and that nothing fell through the cracks. I’m humbled that so many clients have since reached out to tell us that they don’t know how they would have done it all without us; that we thought of things they wouldn’t have with so many other things on their mind. They could rest assured that they had a partner and a system that they could lean on during a difficult time.
SOLUTIONS THEN AND NOW
The early challenge was in overcoming rampant uncertainty; the lack of clarity around how long it would go on, how long we would be locked in our homes, and also the different safety measures would be taken on a state-by-state basis. We were all unsure what would be considered an essential business and whether people could still set foot in the store even if by appointment only. As the country began to reopen there were certainly assorted approaches taken to answering those types of questions. As a result, consumer confidence also varied by region and by the level of saturation with having been quarantined as well as the degree of personal risk people were willing to take.
What we’ve seen be very successful, especially early on, is the generation of proactive messaging around making consumers aware of steps being taken, alternative hours of opening, keeping them updated on what services were available, and what new programs and protocols were being implemented and what additional things they might be offering. Today, these same topics may no longer be as elevated of a concern, so we’re speaking to our dealer clients and asking them what worked well, what customers respond to, and what components will they continue to offer moving forward.
PERSEVERANCE AND AGILITY
The dealerships that have maintained as much of their physical presence and marketing as possible are the ones that seem to be coming through this better than those who shut down taking more of a ‘wait and see’ position. Astonishingly, we have a number of clients reporting having their best months ever. I believe it can be attributed, in part, to having strong operations and strong partners with the agility to adapt as the circumstances change.
For instance, we might be helping our clients in the New York and New Jersey areas a bit differently than we are helping our clients in Texas because our powerful automated marketing communications management platform has been created to be highly configurable, giving us the ability to help make some of those adjustments. It's not hardcoded, it doesn’t require a lot of development, and it’s changing content so we’re able to be flexible and respond appropriately.
By focusing more on segments of messaging and mining a dealers’ own database - looking for those opportunities - our objective now in using our solutions designed to help them do more with less and to be prepared to adapt to changing market conditions. While we all hope that the gradual emergence will continue to grow steadily and more quickly again, we do so with our fingers crossed. We recognize that it might not be a straight line to the right from a market-based level, but there will probably be a number of twists and turns along the way. The ability to scale up or down, to be able to lean on partners, and continue to respond and respond appropriately in order to keep things progressing along despite the market conditions will be critically important for dealers, especially moving forward.
We invite you to reach out to us to schedule a strategy session to learn more about 3 Birds solutions.
CEO & Co-Founder