People often ask me what the biggest challenge the automotive aftermarket is facing as we wrap up 2011. The answer: fear. From industry events and trade shows to races and closed-door council meetings, we’ve been hearing senior members of the industry express fear on a variety of fronts: fear of change and the way digital media is changing the way we market and sell to consumers, fear that the next generation of young people won’t be interested in cars and trucks, fear of economic instability. Essentially fear of the unknown, and we quell those fears with modern education and communication tactics and an old-fashioned work ethic.
Our entire industry has been effected by the economic downturn, but a rising tide lifts all boats and most companies are seeing things turn around, while a few member companies are experiencing economic boom times, specifically those who have embraced social media and electronic sales tools that allow companies, for the first time in decades, to communicate directly with the consumer.
It’s a mistake to believe that electronic media will simply change the way companies buy ads. As social media continues to dominate the American mindset and computers make way for all-in-one handheld internet devices, the way consumers think about, research, purchase and review products will dramatically change.
The scene of car guys hanging out at the drag strip, a buddy’s garage or the local speed shop talking about what parts to buy has made way for internet forums, in-game audio chats, Facebook groups and more. Exhaust buyers browse systems on YouTube. Wheel buyers research different looks on Google Images and Flickr. Traditional (print and TV) media will have to get smarter, sharper, and work harder to be both entertaining and to seamlessly integrate marketing messages to avoid “the TIVO effect.”
Online peer-to-peer reviews and the availability of aftermarket parts on major consumer retail websites means manufacturers will have to work harder to make better products, listen more closely to consumer feedback, and act quickly if/when there is a problem. Good news travels fast… bad reviews travel faster.
Even social media itself has dramatically changed over the past six months. Facebook’s new news feed means brands will have to work harder than ever to create timely, relevant, interesting content and parse it out in a way that doesn’t cause fans to unsubscribe. Linkedin and Google+ are both launching special interactive pages for corporations.
To sum up, electronic media has and continues to totally revolutionize the way the automotive aftermarket does business. Kahn Media’s clients are on the forefront of this movement, and we are on the forefront of emerging communication technology – B2C and B2B – without abandoning traditional tactics and high-profile media outlets. The era of individual departments working on PR, Advertising, Marketing and Sales is over. To survive – and thrive – the modern company will merge all four into a single cohesive group that works to create pull for customers, push for consumers, and a meaningful dialog with the public – making every fan an individual mouthpiece for your brand.
“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
– Albert Einstein
What will pose the biggest challenges for businesses over the next 12 months? Obviously the current economic instability is making everyone in our industry nervous. When financial times are tough, consumers get nervous and it becomes harder to convince them to part with hard-earned money for non-essential items like high-performance car and truck parts. The onus lands on business owners and marketers to find ways to bridge the gap. Finding creative ways to increase awareness of every product, close every sale and make every lead count is imperative.
The video game and portable electronics industries have already forged a trail in terms of coping with the current economy and utilizing digital media to maximize sales. The auto aftermarket must catch up. The opportunities for small businesses in our industry are vast, as we’re behind the technology curve. While slower moving companies will struggle with change, those willing to embrace it will gain share quickly. We need to act fast to merge digital and traditional marketing messages into a single unified voice for each company.
We need to band together as an industry and market performance parts – from suspension to wheels, tires, engine components and restyling hardware –as lifestyle accessories that not only improve performance, but enhance individuality as well. Streamlining inventory control, working with new digital retailers, data management, marketing and sales all fall under the same umbrella – utilizing technology to stay ahead of the consumer and offer as much convenience and value as possible, rather than falling behind entertainment industries that now compete with us for every dollar.
Over the past year, the Baby Boomer generation, worried that there will be “no new car guys” in the future. We beg to differ. Driving games are still the most popular video games on the market. Events like Formula Drift, SCORE Off-Road, hill climbs, NASA and SCCA road races and local kart races are still packed every weekend. We don’t see a lack of potential enthusiasts, just need to alter the way we attract and communicate with them.
So what does that all mean? Is this one long advertisement for the agency that hosts this blog? No, not hardly. There are companies in the aftermarket right now doing a stellar job of handling both PR and social media marketing in-house. Whether you handle things in-house or hire a partner to help, the writing is on the wall: our world is changing – fast.
Magazines will always exist, but the roll has already changed – nobody gets cutting edge news from magazines anymore, they look to print for in-depth coverage and polished photography. They’re art, and that’s a good thing – it will elevate the game and those left will be better for it.
Communicating with customers has changed – companies that ignore complaints will be burned in peer-to-peer reviews and on forums. The masses used to hold the power – now it’s the individual, particularly one with a smartphone. That sounds scary, but it’s actually fantastic. We can send messages directly to that consumer, offer him products, target him by his specific interests, and follow up to ensure he gives us positive feedback, which then makes him an evangelist for the brand! It’s all about making better products and doing a more thorough job communicating with every single consumer. That takes time and effort – but those willing to expend it and use technology to streamline the process will benefit.
In the 1920s, at the tail end of the industrial revolution, the economy tanked and the vast majority of American businesses were deeply wounded. The birth of mainstream radio around the same time revolutionized the way businesses communicated with consumers, and those that embraced it grew, while those that ignored the new technology perished. We are at the same crossroads now – thrive or die. Which path do you choose?