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Leveraging Technology to Improve Customer Experience and Marketing Investment

Jenny Watson, VP-Digital Marketing & Direct, AutoNation

Marketing has shifted fundamentally in the last few years away from traditional brand and media to digital media, ecommerce capabilities and data-driven decision making; this phenomenon has existed in the .com arena for more than 15 years but has only started getting serious traction in more traditional businesses in the last 3-5 years. With this shift, Marketing professionals are becoming increasingly technical with the need to partner with the CIO on the strategic direction, infrastructure and support needed to deploy marketing strategies. Technology and marketing are now inextricably intertwined where Gartner projects that the CMO will spend more than the CIO by 2017. So what does this new landscape look like and how do we navigate the new norm?

Transformation of the Auto Retail Industry

As the VP of Digital and Direct Marketing at AutoNation (the largest automotive retailer in the US and a Fortune 200 company), we have invested deeply in the use of technology to develop our websites, in-store tools, implement marketing automation and deployment as well as performance measurement and analytics. Technology is being leveraged to transform an industry that has done business in a similar way for a number of decades with advanced analytics as well as digital marketing fundamentally changing the auto research and purchase experience.

  The next evolution of marketing is based on customer insights, behavior and customizing the research and shopping experience based their specific preferences  

The vehicle purchase process is the second largest purchase (behind the purchase of your home) and is a complex transaction; the selection of make/model to suit your lifestyle, the pricing and reservation of that vehicle, the valuation of your trade-in, the decision to buy or lease, and the credit application. Integrated online technology and marketing campaigns help deliver the online and in-store processes and help adapt to the changing customer preferences. The customer may now complete many of those tasks online, on any device, in their own time and then pick-up where they left off once they arrive in-store. We aim to simplify the entire experience.

Marketing & Technology Landscape is Fragmented So Where to Invest?

The marketing technology landscape is increasingly fragmented and difficult to navigate so partnering with the CIO, marketing analytics and key strategic vendors, is key. As the customer’s expectations are evolving and especially where IT and marketing resources are scarce and at a premium, there are a couple of core areas to consider for investment. At a macro level, this is agnostic to the industry you operate within.

1. Understanding the Customer;

Implementation of a centralized view of the customer for marketing purposes that ties the transaction to the individual and to a Household. Deep integration with operational systems, website behavioral data and in the case of auto-retail, vehicle ownership data is critical.

2. How to Track the Customer Engagement;

Includes the implementation of a Tag Management System across our universe of website properties, the use of web tracking keys (amongst other things) for full funnel reporting.

3. How to Target the Customer & Invest in the Right Channel;

Implement media mix modelling to model different scenarios can help on how to optimize your marketing spend and make more informed decisions. Invest in historical RFM (recency, frequency, monetization) models and predictive or trigger based models to segment and target customers based on their behavior and inferred knowledge to personalize the messaging.

4. How to Measure the Impact of Marketing Investment;

Implementation of dashboards to manage each of the marketing channels including full funnel attribution models with linkage to sales. Based on the size and scale of the business, utilize alerts that trigger based on anomalies in the data which makes it easier to manage the extremes of data, access to real-time or close to real-time data to manage campaigns and ability to change direction if the performance of the campaign is not ideal.

5. Automate & Deploy Marketing Content at Scale;

Building of dynamic landing pages that change based on referral source of traffic, automate the generation of display banners and ads utilizing templates and live inventory feeds, activate marketing triggers based on actual website, in-store behavior or changes to inventory and automate the deployment of campaigns based on customer journey cycles.

Key decisions around the marketing team organizational structure including centralization or not, alignment by product vertical or by marketing channel will affect how you go to market and should be carefully considered.

So Where to Next?

We will continue to focus on the customer experience both online and in-store, carefully navigate the mar-tech and ad-tech integration and improve user identification capabilities as well as cross-device and cross channel tracking. All of this is to maximize the impact of our marketing spend. Other considerations for auto retail are connected vehicles, car-sharing services and how to address changes in consumer behavior (i.e. anti-showroom customers). We believe the next evolution of marketing is based on customer insights, behavior and customizing the research and shopping experience based their specific preferences.

This is often a multi-year journey and regardless of your business model, close collaboration and alignment with forward-looking and innovative IT and Analytics teams is critical to the future of effective digital marketing.

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