Each year, the Canadian automotive landscape changes, and it’s our job at autoTRADER.ca to stay ahead of the trends. Lilian Lau, autoTRADER.ca’s VP of Marketing, has her finger on the pulse of those changes better than anyone we know. As 2018 drew to a close, we sat down with Lilian to get some insights into what she sees as the most significant developments in our industry over the last year, as well as what we should keep an eye out for as 2019 heads our way.
If you could call out one major shift that stood out to you in the Canadian automotive world this year, what would it be?
I wouldn’t call it a major shift, but it’s been more like a rolling thunder. Consumers are becoming more and more savvy. I think what’s interesting about the easy access to information in the digital age is that everyone can be on a level playing field. You don’t need to be a car expert to feel like a confident consumer. Mobile phones are a constant companion and this confidence and access has changed the dynamic of car shopping.
Have there been any developments in the digital marketing domain in general that have taken you by surprise?
The surprise for me has been less around emerging technologies and consumer behavior, but more around the noticeable shift in focus to provide advertisers data and insight on their marketing performance. I’m delighted that as marketers, we’re getting more visibility into marketing performance and ROI. We only select advertising partners who can provide transparent and actionable insight on marketing activities because we need to constantly demonstrate that our advertising efforts are effective.
What were the biggest hits and misses as far as digital marketing goes in 2018?
As mentioned, it’s so important to be able to measure performance. As a result, I think a challenge is to prove how effective influencer marketing really is. Obviously big celebrities still have a lot of influence, but that comes at a premium price if you’re not able to gain traction with those influencers organically. For those without hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising, influencer marketing is so difficult to prove effective, that it’s hard to justify making that investment.
As far as hits go, digital video has been effective for us. It’s such a different medium than TV in terms of how the format works, but we’ve had great results from focusing more on digital video in 2018.
What trends are you seeing show up that will become significant next year?
Hyper targeted digital marketing. Digital banners on sites that serve your target demographic used to be revolutionary. That’s just given now. What’s really important is serving up the right message, at the right time, for the right consumer. This is important because consumers are now inundated with so many messages all the time. The more relevant the message in the right context, the more likely that message will be to cut through. To be successful digital marketers, you need to really understand your customer’s shopping journey and those key decision moments to be present when it’s needed.
How imminent is true online retailing for Canadian dealerships?
It’ll be here sooner than we realize because consumers both want and expect this. Canadian consumers already expect to be able to complete a large portion of their shopping journey online currently. If dealerships can deliver the right consumer experience online that’s secure and relatively risk-free, consumers will embrace true online retailing quickly.
Are there any trends south of the border that you see coming our way soon?
The emergence of new technology enabling dealerships to connect cars with consumers. This new technology has emerged in the US to simplify the consumer shopping experience, whether that’s buying or selling cars.
What makes the Canadian automotive landscape so unique in your opinion?
I was in the US recently (the west coast) and noticed how much older the cars on the road appeared to be but still in pretty good condition. I looked up the stat and the longevity of a car is 12.88 years in Canada compared to 15.36 years in the US. A big difference between Canada and US for car ownership has to do with our weather. As a result, Canadians purchase cars more frequently.
If a dealer asked you three things they should know about consumer behaviour in 2019, what would they be?
1. Expanding considerations for consumers is lengthening the purchase journey. They’re taking their time to search and shop for cars, and spending that added time online.
2. Consumers use many resources to gather information on specific decision criteria but often rely on in-person dealer interaction to still help them choose a specific car.
3. The purchase journey is not linear. Consumers seamlessly transition between online and offline sources and will revisit sources multiple times throughout their journey.