There was great interest from South African motor industry stakeholders in digital marketing, which was the subject at the 2017 CAR Digital Dealer Conference held at the Kyalami Conference Centre on the opening day of the WesBank Motoring Experience (September 1).
The actual theme was very topical: The digital economy - How dealers need to adapt to align with consumer buying trends.
The various speakers covered a wide range of topics around the digital communication space, but the underlying thrust was that this is not something that lies in the future; it is happening right now. There is no time to waste.
The conference, which was sponsored by the Innovation Group and Altech Netstar, attracted almost 300 delegates. This was double the number of people who attended CAR's first digital dealer conference, held at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in 2015. These digital dealer conferences alternate with CAR's industry conference that has been staged biennially since 1996.
"We were delighted by the positive response to this year's conference as it highlighted burning issues that have the attention of all involved in vehicle marketing and especially the sales aspects," said Neil Piper, Group Publisher of Ramsaymedia.
Dave Duarte, the founder of Treeshake, a digital innovation consultancy and programme director of the CAR digital dealer conference, was not only an able scene setter but also made a very impactful personal presentation, titled "Navigating the digital retail landscape."
He got the audience's attention from the start when he said that just over half the companies that had been on the Fortune 500 list in 2000 had disappeared from the list by 2017, according to Pierre Nanterme, CEO of Accenture. This shock statement certainly underlined the need for companies to re-invent themselves to meet the challenges in an environment that is changing rapidly on many fronts, with the internet being the major driver of the new order.
Other interesting facts provided by Duarte were that 75% of millennials questioned in a survey said they wished they did not have to go into a motor dealership when buying a car, preferring to conduct the whole process online. Another important fact from Duarte is that e-commerce in South Africa is growing at 30% a year so successful companies must be part of South Africa's digital revolution.
The founder of Treeshake also stunned the audience when he concluded his presentation by saying that he had not owned a car for the past three years, using Uber, Taxify and rental cars instead.
Bruce Allen, the chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), stressed the need for dealers to provide quick service to customers who nowadays want to spend less time in a dealership, even at those with free Wi-Fi and coffee in the waiting area. Customers also want any problems sorted out right the first time.
Allen added that there was a real need to integrate the various systems - such as the capturing of customer details - in the IT networks of brands and group dealerships as another way of making life easier for customers.
One of the highlights of the conference was being able to listen to Madhu Nutakki, the Chief Digital Officer of Nissan Motor Corporation, who is based in San Francisco.
Firstly, he reminded the delegates that times had changed and customers were now in control and needed to be treated accordingly.
"The frustration level of the millennials is just below the surface and any treatment from a dealer that does not make them happy - such as a lack of personalised communication - can result in them switching brands.," said Nutakki, using an anecdote involving his daughter and her car-buying experience in the US.
The Nissan executive gave some amazing statistics about South Africa and the internet to show how important this medium has become, such as the fact that 28.7-million people in SA - out of a population of 55.2-million - have access to internet and 45% of these people are active on social media.
He added that brand loyalty was no longer playing such an important role in the purchasing decision compared to only a few years ago. "These days the customer experience and special offers are often more important than the price of a product," explained Nutakki.
"The global motor industry certainly has to up its game because its 6-10-year product cycles are seen to be lagging when compared to a company such as Facebook, which updates the software on its website twice a day!"
Dylan Kohlstadt, CEO of ShiftONE, a creative integrated digital marketing agency, who is a real guru on her subject, made two presentations, both of which proved most interesting. The first was "Building a competitive advantage using powerful owned, earned and paid digital marketing strategies" and the second was titled: "Identifying and breaking bad (digital) habits and the tools to fix them."
Kohlstadt said that paid advertising was battling with credibility from the millennials, while earned publicity, such as customer blogs, selfie photos and videos were seen as more believable by social media followers. "People connect easier with other people than with brands."
Some other gems from the CEO of ShiftONE were: "Simplicity (in digital communication) is cardinal"; "Remember there are only four seconds to make an impact when somebody opens your website," "Every time a person has to make another click when surfing a website you lose visitors", "Emotion drives 95% of decision-making", "Persistence gets an audience (on social media) and consistency keeps it," "Harvest e-mail addresses whenever you get the opportunity," "Personalisation is key in digital communication", "Humanise digital communication where possible," and "Hire millennials (as employees) as they are the digital generation."
"We were not only delighted with the excellent support for this conference from delegates, but also very happy with the calibre of the speakers and the information they were able to impart to the audience," concluded Ramsaymedia's Group Publisher, Neil Piper.
CAR Magazine is an official media partner to the 2017 Wesbank SA Motoring Experience.