Automotive Industry State of the Union

AdvertisingCustomer Experience

Over the last year, I’ve been doc­u­ment­ing my own per­son­al car-buy­ing expe­ri­ence with­in the con­text of oth­er con­sumer expe­ri­ences. Now I’d like to take a step back and pro­vide sort of a ‘State of the Union’ for the auto­mo­tive indus­try based upon what I’ve learned.

The idea of a state of the union is sim­ple: let folks know how every­thing is going. In actu­al­i­ty, though, it’s not that sim­ple. Often in pol­i­tics, what politi­cians say they’re doing and what the peo­ple feel is actu­al­ly get­ting done are quite dif­fer­ent. This is the dif­fer­ence between per­cep­tion and real­i­ty, which is a good start­ing point for this dis­cus­sion.

In gen­er­al, I don’t believe the auto indus­try realis­es it has a prob­lem. Time and resources are focused mere­ly on brand­ing with lit­tle con­cern for the customer’s actu­al expe­ri­ence when inter­act­ing with that brand. The rea­son I believe this is that, despite the auto industry’s efforts to improve the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence with­in spe­cif­ic silos, there doesn’t seem to be any real impact on the over­all cus­tomer jour­ney.

Cus­tomers feel like the infor­ma­tion avail­able dur­ing the dis­cov­ery phase is unstruc­tured and over­whelm­ing, while OEMs are doing very lit­tle to make it eas­i­er for peo­ple to fig­ure out the best solu­tion, based on their unique cir­cum­stances.

OEMs seem to take lit­tle own­er­ship over the rela­tion­ship between the cus­tomer and the deal­er, and this has detri­men­tal effects on both. Vis­its to the deal­er, test dri­ving a car, and oth­er con­tact points are seen as stress­ful for the cus­tomer, cre­at­ing a grow­ing sense of dis­trust that extends beyond the deal­er direct­ly to the brand.

At the same time, deal­ers feel the OEMs are not giv­ing them enough sup­port so they can pro­vide a tru­ly first-class expe­ri­ence. While OEMs pride them­selves on sophis­ti­ca­tion in the engi­neer­ing of their prod­uct, they are woe­ful­ly behind in the adop­tion of mod­ern dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing tech­niques and adver­tis­ing prac­tices. Their large IT infra­struc­ture can be an obsta­cle to imple­ment­ing a dynam­ic approach to the cus­tomer, and a cul­ture of tak­ing risks needs to be pro­mot­ed over mak­ing siloed invest­ments with­in the sta­tus quo.

The data cap­tured by the OEMs dur­ing the infor­ma­tion dis­cov­ery phase isn’t lever­aged and shared with the deal­ers to cre­ate a bet­ter expe­ri­ence, yet the deal­ers don’t have the resources to cap­ture it them­selves.


The after-pur­chase wait for deliv­ery is per­haps where the OEMs are most fail­ing the cus­tomer. This should be a time of grow­ing excite­ment and con­tin­u­ous cus­tomer con­tact that cul­mi­nates in the deliv­ery of the car. Instead, OEMs are putting their cus­tomers through a per­son­al pur­ga­to­ry. This phase has become a time of increas­ing dis­ap­point­ment and grow­ing appre­hen­sion.

OEMs are lit­er­al­ly send­ing out prod­uct adver­tise­ments with­out even know­ing that the cus­tomer has bought a car, leav­ing cus­tomers con­fused and won­der­ing if they should have even made the pur­chase in the first place. The poten­tial to turn the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence around in this phase is stag­ger­ing, yet OEMs are doing noth­ing to address this glar­ing gap in the expe­ri­ence. Deal­ers need to be lever­aged as a con­tact point to enhance the cus­tomer rela­tion­ship and dri­ve new oppor­tu­ni­ties for the OEM.

Final­ly, post-deliv­ery expe­ri­ence is fail­ing, both at the OEM and the deal­er lev­el. OEMs are dis-incen­tiviz­ing cus­tomers from pur­chas­ing after-mar­ket acces­sories through offi­cial chan­nels with poor adver­tis­ing and delayed deliv­ery time­lines. This means they’re miss­ing out on the crit­i­cal long-term rela­tion­ship-build­ing that would allow them to cap­ture that customer’s next pur­chase, or pur­chas­es over a life­time.

Now, while this state of the union may seem depress­ing, things aren’t all that gloomy. Luck­i­ly, dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing is some­what eas­i­er than fig­ur­ing out how to man­u­fac­ture a lux­u­ry per­for­mance vehi­cle, and there are busi­ness­es out there that are best in class at it.

OEMs just need to lis­ten to their customer’s needs and pro­vide them with the car-buy­ing expe­ri­ence they are tru­ly look­ing for. They need to bridge the gaps between their siloed opti­miza­tion efforts and focus on improv­ing the cus­tomer jour­ney as a whole. They need to democ­ra­tize data across the orga­ni­za­tion and ensure that all touch­points with­in the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence are being dri­ven by the same insights. This will nor­mal­ize tone of voice, and enable the tar­get­ing of spe­cif­ic cus­tomers with opti­mized offers and mes­sag­ing. Com­mit­ting to this cus­tomer expe­ri­ence in the same way they com­mit to the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence when dri­ving the vehi­cle will go a long way toward allow­ing the busi­ness and the deal­ers to take advan­tage of mod­ern adver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing tech­niques.

Advertising, Customer Experience
Axel G. Heyenga

Posted on 05-26-2017

Join the discussion