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Auto Dealer Marketing Messaging During COVID-19 – Mid-May Update

Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be the most complex marketing environment in our lifetime. There is no precedent for what to say. There is no road map for what direction to take and the situation is changing so quickly that today’s message may be irrelevant tomorrow.

At the beginning of April, CBC shared its outlook on marketing message strategy during COVID-19. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, click here to read about auto dealer marketing messaging strategy during COVID-19.

In that article, we laid out 4 “phases” of marketing message strategy, each based on where we’re at as a nation and each with its own messaging style and goals. Based on what we’re currently seeing across the country, we believe that as of today we’re currently in Phase 3, which we call “Coping with New Realities” (click here to read about auto dealer marketing messaging strategy during COVID-19). But as we all have seen, the situation remains uncertain and changes seemingly daily.

With all this uncertainty, consumers are looking for leadership. They don’t know who to trust or where to look for answers. This presents an opportunity for us, as marketers, to provide those answers and to build a foundation for long-term brand gains, increased brand affinity and ultimately brand loyalty. To effectively message in this environment there are a few critical things to remember:

– Put people first. Staff, customers, your community; how you act today will have great influence on the relationships you have with them tomorrow.

– Show how you’re helping. The time has passed for heartfelt, “we’re here for you” messages. As consumers look for answers, you must provide the products and services that make their lives easier or somehow help get us back to some form of normalcy. Keep your promises and illustrate how your business benefits the consumer and the community.

– Don’t disengage. Control the dialog. Consumers will create their own narrative in the absence of one and it will almost always be negative. If you have been a regular marketer and suddenly disappear from the landscape, consumers will notice, and their assumptions will race to the worst possible scenario. Additionally, if your competition has a voice and you don’t, they will be the ones to reap the benefits of brand affinity, trust and loyalty once the world returns to a ‘new normal’. Click here to read about controlling your dealership’s marketing narrative during COVID-19.

Consumers want you to continue to provide the products and services you always have, but with an eye to safety, convenience, reliability and a continuing attention to the situation and how you’re adapting to it. Being the “steady-hand” will drive customer choice now and into the future. Your messaging should provide real information and real solutions. It’s not enough to say, “we’re helping”. Instead, say, “here’s how we’re helping”. Talk about your altered business hours, the steps you’re taking to ensure customer and staff safety and any charitable or community-aid efforts you’re backing. Keeping these promises will build the trust consumers are looking for and continue to build brand affinity. Proceed cautiously with overt “buy now” messages that try to get into consumers’ pockets. There will be a time for that, but with the current economic crisis, messaging like this may come across as tone-deaf, self-serving and may do more harm in the long-term.

It is certain that the pandemic will change the way we do business in many ways. The actions you take now will have far-reaching implications for the future and how consumers perceive your brand. It is an unprecedented opportunity to build trust, grow awareness and ultimately dominate share-of-mind with consumers. We’re in a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself with smart, thoughtful messaging that shows you understand the situation and are providing solutions. Consumers will reward you at the finish line with their trust and loyalty.

When the time is right to discuss your marketing plans for during and post COVID-19, let’s have a conversation.

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