The automotive industry must write our own rules to continue growing.
We need to let go of the assumptions that served us well for years but will hold us back in the face of changing consumer behavior, emerging technologies, and new business models. No rule for successful marketing is sacred, including the time-honored principle that auto brands should master the four Ps of marketing to win customers: product, price, place, and promotion.
The four Ps still matter, but not the same way they did when they caught on decades ago to form the four pillars of the popular marketing mix. I believe we need a new four Ps: product, price, place, and person.
Times Have Changed
According to the traditional four Ps, for marketers to succeed they need to promote a desirable product at the right price and convenient place. For decades, auto dealers have applied them to propel an industry that has been the bedrock of the American economy.
But times have changed. The consumer’s car shopping journey touches multiple places before and after the point of purchase on your lot. Consumers are also affected by the best experiences they have in other industries, such as Zillow.com for finding a home, and Lyft and Uber for getting personal transportation with complete transparency regarding price as well as the driver. These new platforms have changed retailing – brands are now utilities and must provide transparent, useful content in context of each consumer’s needs.
As a result, useful features such as price contextualization and consumer reviews more effectively meet shoppers’ needs than “look at me” promotion. And the payoff is one person selling a vehicle and then building a relationship with another person.
In the digital era, automotive retailers must now prioritize a new fourth P – person — as they go beyond promotion to create meaningful connections that fuel growth.
Power to the People
People drive automotive sales. The path to purchase ends with a person working with a person. The two most crucial people in the automotive purchase decision are shoppers and salespeople – people buy from people.
Even as consumers have access to more digital tools to research what they want, the final decision about buying and servicing a car still comes down to a shopper’s interaction with a person. That interaction is more essential than ever as the purchase decision becomes more complicated. Each year, more than 30 manufacturers launch more than a thousand make, model, and trim combinations. Automobiles have evolved into sophisticated mobile computers, providing more features and options than ever before. So it’s no surprise that more than 97 percent of consumers would like to select a salesperson before they visit a dealer.
The direct shopper/salesperson interaction creates sales. Dealers tell us that their most valuable leads consist of people talking with salespeople directly, either face to face on the lot or on the phone. As discussed in the recently published DealerRater Guide to Online Reviews, auto dealers have an opportunity to highlight their own people through tools such as reviews of their salespeople on their own sites, on the lot, and on third-party sites such as Cars.com. We know that consumers will read reviews and ask for salespeople by name given the chance. (And we’ll soon announce one way we’re going to make it easy for dealers to create increased visibility and connections via those reviews.)
Product and Price
One of the reasons that third-party research sites have exploded in popularity is that consumers want more detail about their purchase. Product and price are still two essential bedrocks of the four Ps. What’s changed is that consumers want more in-depth information about what they are buying and for how much, including price comparison tools and visually stunning product features using rich media. And, oh yes: they want reviews from other consumers.
Your digital vehicle detail page (VDP) on a site such as Cars.com is where price and product become increasingly essential to help consumers make the right decision on what to buy. Consider these data points:
- Product: 70 percent of Cars.com shoppers are undecided on what to buy. Cars.com connects your inventory to consumers in the moments that matter.
- Price: 61 percent of shoppers cite pricing as the most useful content from third-party websites. Cars.com creates pricing transparency that fosters trust between your brand and the consumer.
Price is about what the consumer can comfortably afford based on resources and financing options. Price also includes variables such as increasingly complicated optional features. In other words, price is increasingly contextual, and by providing transparency into that context you can grow trust with consumers and win customers.
As dealers respond to the consumer who navigates across multiple touch points throughout their decision-making journey, our notion of place has changed. “Place” no longer means the lot exclusively. Place includes everywhere in the online/offline world where consumers research their purchase decision. Dealers must be present with the right content and experiences at the right time to attract shoppers to the lot.
In addition, the on-the-lot experience has changed: with their mobile phones, consumers are bringing the digital world with them to your lot. They’re showrooming competitors’ lots and researching reviews while they interact with your salespeople.
It’s time for auto dealers to stop over-investing their digital advertising resources into blindly promoting their own websites and brick-and-mortar dealerships now that consumers have the power to block digital ads and find what they need elsewhere. Smart dealers are thinking of place in context of the experience that people have wherever a shopper finds a dealer – in a search result, on a review site, in an article, and on the lot. And they’re training their salespeople to know how to interact with the mobile, multi-tasking consumer on the lot, too.
Cars.com Helps Dealers Reach Consumers with the 4Ps of Automotive Marketing
Cars.com delivers connections that fuel growth for our partners by providing the best possible experiences for consumers. We are creating market-leading innovations to enhance the consumer experience and empower consumers with all the information they need — what to buy (product), what to pay (price), where to buy (place), and who to buy from (person). In coming days, Cars.com will show you how we have responded to the advent of the new four Ps by creating a new experience on our site. Stay tuned. And let me know how you are responding to the emergence of the new four Ps.
 DealerRater Introduces CustomerConnect, April 27, 2016.
 The Cars.com Guide to Converting Leads to Sales in the Digital Era, July 2017.
 Cars.com Consumer Metrics Study, June 2017.
 JD Power 2016 New Auto Shopper Study, 2017.