The automotive industry has long maintained a complicated relationship with the internet. An acceleration of efforts to shift to digital retailing, due in part to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, is seeking to resolve the complications. That is the key finding of research Winterberry Group recently released in partnership with Treasure Data. The research, The Drive for Data: The Future of Automotive Marketing in a Customer-Centric World, can be downloaded here. Earlier this year, we kicked off the research to identify how auto marketers are using data in innovative ways. Shortly after we began, everything changed, and so did the research's focus. What did we find? Most notably, automakers have, at unprecedented speed, shifted to digital retailing. They've done so powered by data to create and deliver the new showroom to build, market, and sell vehicles. Based on interviews with more than 30 automotive marketers in North America and Europe representing global brands including BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, General Motors, Hyundai, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, and Volkswagen, the research found: COVID-19 Accelerating Shift to Digital Retailing. The COVID-19 economic crisis has vastly intensified the auto industry's embrace of ecommerce as a platform for new car sales and aftersales functions. Online channels now represent the centerpiece of auto marketing and sales efforts. While virtually all stakeholders say that dealership experiences will long play a prominent role in the sales process for many consumers, the rapid expansion of activity on digital retailing channels over just a few months has many rethinking which touchpoint-online or in-dealership-will represent the real centerpiece of tomorrow's auto buying experience. Poor Online Experiences Undermining the Full Potential of Digital Shift. Lackluster digital retailing experiences-characterized by misalignment of dealer and OEM offers, absence of real-time inventory access-may stunt burgeoning consumer interest in online buying. Virtually all auto industry stakeholders are aligned: better customer experiences-whether purely digital or reflecting a hybrid of interactions across online and real-world touchpoints-will require a more productive, more accurate understanding of the customer and their needs. But how to assemble that insight? And who should take the lead in doing so? Those are among the essential questions that will face the industry as it addresses the challenges of the customer experience battleground over the coming years. Fragmenting Paths-to-Purchase Shining a New Light on the Importance of Marketing Attribution. Many automakers remain steadfastly committed to TV and other traditional media, even as customers migrate their attention, interest, and buying activity to digital channels. The auto industry's pivot to digital retailing, and the growing buying power of digitally native consumers, have fundamentally disrupted the path that many take to researching and buying a vehicle. Buyers now come from more diverse backgrounds-with needs, motivations, and brand interests that are more individually unique than ever before. Today's savviest auto marketers are looking to break free of that mold. But doing so requires more than merely migrating spend to digital channels or improving the functionality of digital buying platforms. Data will play a more prominent role across the marketing suite, with the emergence of chief data officers and similar leaders. In addition, there will also be a more disruptive path altogether-restructuring whole marketing departments (and media mix allocations) to respond more nimbly to what data reveals about customers and their response to various promotional touchpoints. Data is Plentiful, But Siloed Approach to Managing It Is Inhibiting Insights, Activation. Manufacturers and dealers maintain a bewildering array of distinct repositories for the customer, transactional and marketing performance data at their disposal-undermining its usefulness. Technology provides an alternative path, with data management tools-highlighted by customer data platforms (CDPs)-growing more sophisticated in their ability to ingest, manage, and activate data, apply unique administrative rights to users and intelligence to other marketing technology platforms and dealer management systems, across a myriad of use cases. Current Disruption is Challenging Auto Marketers to Rethink Their Approach to… Everything. The pandemic-sparked economic crisis has intensified the impact of systemic changes that were already upsetting long-standing norms governing how consumers buy and use cars. The auto industry has long been a harbinger of changes that would soon come to define the state of our economy and way of life across multiple dimensions. It should come as little surprise that in a world amid so much change, the auto industry is already confronting a series of disruptions, which are likely to dictate the design, manufacturing, marketing, sales, and service of cars for generations to come. What’s Next? Can the automotive industry transform on its own? For most auto marketers, the answer is no. Manufacturers and dealers are facing an unprecedented mandate to transform how they manage customer insights-and apply them to a renewed marketing effort. The auto industry will need to leverage a diverse marketing partner network for assistance. For more information on the changing landscape of the auto industry, read the full research report, The Drive for Data: The Future of Automotive Marketing in a Customer-Centric World. To find out how a customer data platform can help global automakers and dealerships better understand and connect with consumers, request a demo today.