Why Auto Marketers Need a Better Handle on Their Mid-Funnels
MarTech Advisor | August 02, 2019 - The way consumers shop for vehicles is changing rapidly. Gone are the days when someone purchased a Cadillac over a Chevy for the stereo upgrade or power windows. Now, consumers are flooded with brands that can offer very similar features on everything from a budget brand to the highest-end vehicle. In just a few years, every vehicle will be running some form of OS based on customers’ phones, rather than the vehicles’ own systems.
So, how do you convince a consumer to purchase your logo and brand when the features are a wash? Activating on the mid-funnel of advertising enables automakers to tell stories and educate consumers.
Automotive marketers are no strangers to the dichotomy of branding and performance. On the branding front, the industry has long been characterized by its splashy, big-budget TV and video spends. Meanwhile, on the performance side, auto marketers spend a great deal of time and resources refining their tactics for encouraging people to build a vehicle, request a quote and locate a dealer. In between these upper and lower funnel activities resides content marketing—an area of increasing focus, as well as opportunity, in the automotive realm.
Today’s automotive marketers understand the important role that content plays in influencing prospective car buyers and moving them along the path to purchase. The problem is that, to date, there’s been a large gap in their understanding when it comes to the true impact of content marketing within their customer journeys, as well as their ability to prove ROI. However, this understanding is absolutely imperative to determine which stories and content assets are driving the greatest results for a brand and could benefit from greater amplification. It’s high time for the industry to get a handle on its mid-funnel.
The Content Opportunity
Marketing at the top and bottom of the funnel faces serious limitations in today’s media landscape. Up top, at the awareness level, branding via TV has become a staple in auto, but the opportunity for the type of storytelling and education required to truly drive new consideration for an auto brand is limited.
Meanwhile, marketing at the bottom of the funnel—via banners, search and social—is often focused on simple calls to action designed to drive a click at all costs. Such tactics are wholly insufficient within an industry that is now the most competitive it has ever been. Lines are blurring between luxury brands and others. Banner and pre-roll ads simply aren’t able to trigger emotional reactions within consumers, and messaging on endemic sites comes too late in the journey. Nowhere at either end of the funnel can marketers craft the narratives and deliver the much-needed education that car shoppers require to move along their often-lengthy paths to purchase.
That’s where content marketing—the true mid-funnel—comes in. Over the past decade, automotive brands have become not only prolific content creators but also masterful storytellers. Via written and video content, auto brands are building deeper consumer ties to their brands while also helping prospective buyers get a strong feel for vehicles long before they ever get behind the wheel the first time. This content resides not only on a brand’s own sites, but also across myriad partner sites and forums.
Within the mid-funnel, marketers can leverage the awareness driven via TV and other efforts to begin the real conversation with car shoppers about not only their needs and desires but also their budgets. Unfortunately, the mid-funnel is also where marketers are most blind to the ROI of their efforts and how engagement with content is driving bottom-line impact.
Taking Inventory of the Mid-Funnel
Today’s auto marketers understand the importance of storytelling and invest heavily in the creation of content around their cars’ attitudes, styles and capabilities. But very few have a holistic view of how these assets come together to guide the customer journey. To get a handle on the mid-funnel, and better understand content’s role in driving sales, auto marketers must be able to do the following:
Understand where content exists: The dispersed nature of the auto customer journey means a brand’s content is necessarily spread across a number of properties. A lot of great assets—everything from car trim package comparisons to tips for an epic road trip—exist on the brands’ own sites, but it can be tough to drive car shoppers to these materials. Other resources live across auto partner sites, within social media, on branded vehicle hubs and throughout online auto forums. It can be easy to lose track of these materials, and when that happens, the marketers’ visibility into which materials are connecting most reliably with car shoppers becomes clouded. For that reason, having a comprehensive content inventory across owned, earned and paid channels is the first step in bringing the mid-funnel into focus.
Understand what’s working: Once auto marketers know where their content lives, they can start to understand the true impact of their efforts. However, this isn’t as simple as it is for other industries. Ultimately, auto marketers aren’t trying to drive simple online impulse buys. They’re trying to drive dealer conversations, test drives and, ultimately, major purchase decisions. For this reason, marketers must endeavor to connect the dots between their online content efforts and offline activities, include dealer visits and final purchases.
Make content work harder: Once auto marketers can tie their content marketing assets to real-world impact (i.e., test drives and purchases), they’re at last in a position to optimize their mid-funnel for maximum effect. The content found to provide the most value to car shoppers on their journey can be amplified and emulated, and the corresponding storylines can be deepened.
Auto marketers will always be challenged to help their brands stand out in a fiercely competitive landscape. Their key to doing so is content marketing that is informed by a true understanding of impact. By getting a handle on their mid-funnel, auto marketers will be able to invest more deeply in developing the resources and telling the stories that truly make a difference.