How has the pandemic shifted priorities for automakers? And how has it changed expectations among buyers, especially millennials? At the recent Reuters Automotive Retail Event 2021, a CMO panel discussion focused on what automakers (OEMs) are doing now to leverage customer data and personalize the car shopping experience. Moderated by Scotty Reis, founder of a Girls Guide to Cars, the panel included: Andy Thomas: VP, Marketing & Communications from McLaren Automotive Ltd; Angela Zepeda: CMO, Hyundai Motor America; Allyson Witherspoon: US CMO, Nissan North America; Melissa Grady: CMO, Global Cadillac. Big Lessons in the New Normal Not surprisingly, the importance of digital marketing and customer data were repeated themes throughout the discussion. And each panelist shared their key takeaway from the past 15 months. Angela Zepeda focused on adapting to the unexpected obstacles and challenges while keeping data at the center of quick decision making. Andy Thomas shared his experience of revealing a new super car online to bigger audiences than any previous launch. Melissa Grady stayed nimble by leaning into data and shifting to more digital. Allyson Witherspoon observed that leveraging data to build segments and sub-segments led to shorter time to purchase. Breaking the Traditional Car Buying Experience. Millennials have been credited with disrupting many major industries-and the automotive industry is no exception. Prior to Covid, traditional car ownership wasn’t a priority for many millennials. They were leaders in the shift to “mobility,” favoring alternative transportation, including ride sharing, scooters, and public transportation options. But with the global pandemic came concern about sharing space-and rides-with anyone outside your household. Millennials, especially those with families, started to think about car ownership in a new way. For maybe the first time, they started to think about it as a means to freedom. While millennials said yes to cars, they said no to the traditional, often uncomfortable, car-buying experience. Instead they want an experience custom-tailored to them. Car buyers today arrive at a dealership with their research already done. They know which vehicle they want to buy and how much they should pay. For the final step, they really just want to drive the car. And they want the experience to be pleasant, frictionless. “The buyers want to control the conversation,” Andy Thomas said during the panel. Big brand awareness campaigns and “one-size-fits-all” messaging used to be the formula for success for auto manufacturers. That’s no longer true. Long before arriving at a dealership for a test drive, consumers expect personalized, digital engagement from automakers. They expect to receive the right message at the right time. To do this, automakers need to understand who their consumers are-not in the broad sense of a target audience-but specifically. Who is close to making a purchase? What exactly are they looking for? And just as important, who is metaphorically “kicking the tires” but nowhere near buying. With this understanding, you can start to tailor the conversation to individual consumers-but you need data to do it. Accelerate Automotive Marketing with Data. Every brand has so much data; too much to know what to do with it all. Historically, OEMs built marketing models based on past experiences and gut reactions, but now they are looking to modernize those models. With the explosion of data and the ability to manage it better, marketers can use predictive models to better target customers. These new models allow for greater granularity in targeting, which increases the chances of success. Before you can get started, the first challenge is to gather customer data from across your organization. Advanced marketing technology, like Customer Data Platforms (CDPs), eases this otherwise daunting task by creating unified customer profiles from multiple, often siloed data sources, and removing duplicates. Once that’s done, the next challenge is putting those unified customer profiles to work. Today, you can find customer data just about everywhere. For example, more and more vehicles incorporate connected features. By using data from current owners, the telematics from their cars can also tell you a lot about what people are doing in general. Are people driving more? Are they going on weekend trips with families? By using this connected car data, these insights can help improve communication with current customers, providing them with the right service recommendations and cross-sell and up-sell opportunities when the time is right. Back to new car shoppers, a common first use case for customer data is figuring out who you want to talk to. More importantly, who wants to talk to you? Precise targeting and personalization helps tailor each conversation with the consumer. Not only will the message be targeted to the prospect, the channel in which it is communicated will be optimized. With CDPs, automakers can serve a completely unique offer to different consumers through the channel that has the highest chance of success for them. In addition to targeting the right prospects, automakers can also avoid wasting ad spend on the consumers least likely to buy. More and more “test drives” are happening on YouTube instead of at dealerships, and these virtual experiences can heavily influence prospects. So brands need to have the right content in the right places. Where are consumers researching, what are they viewing, and how can brands use this data to keep the right people engaged and give them the information they want at the right time? And it’s not just about selling cars. Data-driven communications can be used to build brands, improve the ownership experience, increase service, or optimize just about any spot in the shop-buy-own cycle. Quantity vs. Quality Don’t panic when you start to apply data to find the right customers. You could notice a decrease in the number of leads or traffic. However, the leads you know have are higher quality prospects, with faster conversion and better FICO scores or household incomes. The corporate mindset needs a hard reset when the giant flow of leads slows. In essence, you are only getting rid of the people who weren’t really interested in the first place. The data will force you into a new era of quality over quantity. You don’t actually want leads for leads sake; you want high quality leads that are going to actually convert towards your brand. So put your money (marketing investment) where the quality leads are. Looking Ahead Automakers who want to stay ahead of the competition are prioritizing data initiatives-stitching data together, connecting all the dots, and keeping their consumers’ personal information secure. “It feels very futuristic, but the future is here. All of that is based on data,” said Angela Zepeda, CMO, Hyundai Motor America. With data, we can understand what people want in their cars, and then deliver that experience back to them. That is the future of innovation-both throughout the entire shop-buy-own cycle as well as in the product itself. To watch the full CMO panel session at Reuters Automotive Retailing 2021 on how leading OEMs are modernizing marketing with data, click here. To learn more about how Treasure Data CDP is reinventing the car buying experience, visit our Automotive Solutions page.