The online vs offline conundrum for the automotive industry

The automotive industry is changing. In fact, it’s already changed. The pandemic forced a shift to digital that some say should have happened a long time ago.

Automotive marketers traditionally relied on offline exposure, where negotiations and inspiration took place in showrooms and dealerships.

Today, they’re pivoting to focus on online tactics.

“When car buyers weren’t able to visit showrooms, the traditional dealership marketing model cracked,” says Forbes. “Even before that, about 88% of prospective car buyers researched their options online before stepping into a dealership…and 60% of shoppers spent six or more months on their search, with up to 24 marketing touchpoints along the way.”

Demand for a different approach

Historically, third-party websites and publications would help in the discovery phase, and then the customer would move onto the consideration phase by dealing directly with a dealership.

Post-pandemic, consumers are looking for a content-rich experience that crosses multiple online touchpoints. In behavioural science terms, people are looking for reinforcement from a variety of sources to not only solidify their decision, but also to reinforce their memory structures about a brand. After all, taking their search online opens up more purchasing options than ever before.

“If consumers are moving around and across various channels, so should the point of sale – a single channel world is no longer sufficient.”


Deloitte surmises that in-person sales will never disappear entirely, because parts of the showroom journey – such as trust in dealer knowledge and the tactile experience of physically interacting with a vehicle – cannot be entirely replaced.

An exclusively offline purchase certainly no longer exists, but how can manufacturers offer a multi-channel strategy that creates a long-term relationship with the customer?

The answer lies in community data

For an omnichannel business strategy to be successful, manufacturers should be collecting and analysing data effectively, to give a 360-degree view of consumer behaviour. The reality is that this data is often fragmented and siloed.

Communities are the common thread that runs throughout a brand’s strategy. By “community”, we don’t just mean the data that sits in CRM, or across social media networks. The most powerful communities exist in the real world – recommendations between people that become even stronger when reinforced several times.

By analysing sales data to detect where these communities exist, car manufacturers are able to amplify their message both on and offline, through any marketing channel.

The Tesla example

Tesla is a good example of a car brand that has harnessed its communities to full effect.

“Tesla uses one of the most effective methods of marketing: word-of-mouth,” says Forbes. “Consumers tend to trust recommendations from people they know and trust — friends, co-workers and family members — more than brand-owned channels.”

The brand also builds loyalty and brand passion by cultivating communities – “the key to any brand’s success”, according to Forbes.

Having eschewed marketing strategies in the past, Elon Musk recently announced that Tesla will “try a little advertising”. By detecting where its real-world communities exist (using Herdify’s AI tool), Tesla could target its marketing budget towards those areas.

In this way, the brand would join the dots between its online and offline touchpoints, ensuring that consumers in those locations are fully informed, as well as fully primed to purchase through community recommendations that reinforce trust, consideration and brand knowledge.

(1) deloitte-uk-digital-changing-car-sales.pdf

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Ignite your brand power: Why your offline community is the real influencer

“Social communities grow more powerfully offline, yet most marketing tactics tap into the online element. 92% of word-of-mouth – the single biggest influence on consumer buying behaviour – happens offline."

~ Ed Barter, Lead data scientist at Herdify

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