Working with our clients through COVID-19 has been a great learning experience. Extreme changes forced upon individuals or businesses trigger fight or flight, causing extreme responses. Some companies quickly adapt, seeing the situation as an opportunity to take market share with the knowledge that others will be hesitant. Some business owners retreat, cutting expenses to cover lack of short-term revenue while still focusing on sales. Both can be effective but communicating change to customers is key for long-term success.

Those who follow my writing know many of my clients are automotive dealerships. These businesses were heavily impacted, especially in the Northeast where showrooms were closed initially, and then only open for one-on-one appointments. I’ve previously discussed how their internal processes needed to be changed. For many, the restrictions have lifted, and now the key is to communicate any further process changes to their customer base in a manner which is not only clear but cuts through the noise.

Google “Change Management” and hundreds of articles will appear. Most of them focus internally on the organization, what needs to happen in order to align all of the staff with the new vision of the company. One article, although written a few years back, laid out a few issues businesses have with change that can be applied to marketing to a consumer base.

A good example of communicating a new way to do business in the automotive space are Carvana and Vroom. Even before this shutdown, these two stood out. Their message strategically focused on two main areas. First, customer experience. They promised ease of choice, ease of selection and ease of delivery. In their commercials they had the tractor trailer stopping right in front of the elated customer’s house to drop off the vehicle.

The second part of the message, implied by the ease of use, was the added benefit of saving time. All of us who have purchased a car over the last few years have had the same thought mid purchase: “Why is this taking so long?” Other industries we interact with for big purchases do not take this long, or at least make an effort to constantly move the process forward. So once a new process is in place to change the perception that the automotive industry takes too long, what should a business be marketing?

In automotive, allowing consumers to begin the sales process online can be a huge advantage. In my research and experience with digital retailing, I see that very few individuals are looking to complete the whole purchase online. A car is a very personal item and people need to drive the vehicle and connect to it emotionally. How they feel when driving or how they feel others will view them driving it usually is the push towards purchase.

If we believe, as I do, more consumers fall into the category of saving time versus full purchase, how do we let potential customers know your dealership provides this solution?

1. Leadership

Prior to any marketing efforts, there has to be a full commitment from the top of the organization that the change is happening. One of the biggest problems for change management internally is wishy-washy commitment. How will the marketing be effective if the interaction between consumer and employees is not what was promised? More damage can be inflicted on the brand than if you never changed at all.

What to do: Commit. Begin with the experience you want your customers to receive then focus on the actions your employees must execute in order to deliver this experience. Document it so everyone is working off the same process. Make sure to build the processes and train the employees on the new changes. Lastly, continue to monitor the execution of the new process to make sure employees do not drift back to old habits. You will move to creating your new messaging but without your process locked in, you are heading for disaster.

2. Communication

As with any change, communication internally is key. But just as you will be communicating change to your employees, a similar message must now be crafted and communicated out to your potential customer base. Just having the new process in place, hoping the customers realize the change is foolish at best. Everyone needs to be told what has changed so they are aware and can look for it.

What to do: name the new process. This helps it stand out in the customer’s mind. Some of our clients call their process “FastPass,” “FastLane,” “Express,” “EasyPass,” “Shop at Home,” and others, focusing on the time savings we discussed earlier. Next, create visual branding assets for the website as well as internal branding in the dealership itself.

The goal is to have a consistent visual message consumers see connected to your business name. They see it on TV, on mail pieces they receive, billboards they drive by, on your website, in your email signature and when they arrive at your location. Connected Marketing. This gives the consumer reassurance they are in the right place.

3. This is How We do Business Now

Part of the marketing message is explaining how your process works. No one wants to spend any time guessing how something works, nor can you assume they will find it, even if it is obvious to leadership. If customers are frustrated, they will move on to another website or business in hopes of a better experience.

Once your process is named, explaining how it works in plain English is the best way to put customers at ease with participating in your new purchasing process.

Perhaps more importantly, the second part is telling the consumer what is in it for them–how these steps save time and how completing steps online will allow your staff to pick up where they left off for a seamless transactional process. Many dealers incorrectly assume that having a name or a short catchy tag line is enough. It isn’t. Take the time to create content which explains the process as if you were explaining it to your mother or grandmother. It works.

4. Everyone Past & Present Needs to Know

Once the marketing naming and assets are created and the content on the website is completed, then a strategy needs to be put into practice where this message is sent to not only potential customers, but all of the customers who interacted with your business but did not purchase. Letting them know there is a new way to do business may resurrect some interest in your organization.

Collect all of the contact information of consumers who were interested in your dealership but either never engaged or never purchased. Create an email or marketing piece solely focused on the new process. Send it to these individuals and track who engages or opens the email, using that information to proceed to the second step of your process.

Another option is to give these names to your digital marketing agency and have them create a social media ad campaign to show them an ad focused solely on the new process. Do not combine this with an ad for a product. This ad should be in rotation with other advertisements, but its goal is to share your brand new way to do business in your market. This same strategy can be used for other forms of marketing like direct mail or specific remarketing campaigns.

5. Training for Consumers

This may seem strange but just as you need to train your employees on the new process, so should you train your potential customers. We discussed previously the potential risk of frustrating consumers due to lack of branding or explanation of the process. Showing your potential customers how to use your new process is the extra edge you need to maximize the impact.

What to Do: Create a series of videos for both the website and as marketing assets for Social Media or TV/Cable use. Create a video explaining the process. Explain why the process changed, and emphasize that it was based on customer feedback in the interest of improving their experience.

Make sure you are focusing on customer testimonials to verify the success of the new process. Marketing how the process will save time is great but will fall flat without verification from consumers. Written testimonials as well as short video testimonials can be leveraged in your marketing to validate your claims. This will be the final piece to your success in the marketplace.

Change is not easy. Many dislike changes even if it is good for us. We need to be sold on the value, what’s in it for us. The key for leaders is to treat potential customers as if they were staff and explain, train and monitor the new process. The consumer will let you know how the new process is working more honestly than your staff, so include them as part of the change and process.

If I can help in any way, please let me know. I am always available for a call. If you need help implementing a strong Digital Retailing process for your dealership or business, then please click here for more information on our 60 Day DR Consulting Program. I personally work with you to help you create a brand message, marketing assets, streamline your website and create more engaging customer sales processes.

Glenn Pasch

Glenn Pasch is a Partner and CEO of PCG Digital. Glenn continues to author articles for multiple industry publications, blogs and forums as well as continuing his writing online at www.glennpasch.com.

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