Change or be changed

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Reflecting on changing consumer expectations in the digital era


Earlier this fall, I attended the 11th Annual Google ThinkAuto conference in Toronto. Held at Massey Hall, the event had all the makings of a really cool concert, including a last minute door-opening to create excitement, a countdown clock, ThinkAuto t-shirts for all guests, and a live band on stage who played rock cover after rock cover. I wouldn’t expect anything less from Google.

ThinkAuto’s dynamic speaker lineup provided insights and data on topics such as the principles of the car buyer’s journey, the power of YouTube, the search engine provider’s annual review of OEM websites, and what it means to “Be A Change Optimist.”

ThinkAuto is now a hot, sought after ticket and garners the attention of Canadian OEMs, dealers and lenders who want and need relevant automotive Canadian data. It helps them analyze their existing digital sales and marketing strategies, and if necessary, redesign them.

This year’s mantra was “Be a Change Optimist,” and in that theme, I wanted to share a couple of things that struck me at this particular conference that solidified this idea.

Knowledge is power

When I looked around the room I estimated that there had to be hundreds, if not thousands, of years of combined automotive experience in that concert hall. Dealer Principals, General Managers, Sales professionals, Finance and Insurance (F&I) experts and key stakeholders.

So I asked myself, “What has changed in our industry when a technology company can attract all of these automotive players and industry giants to come to hear what they have to say about how we should be selling more vehicles to our customers?”

I mean, what does Google know about selling cars? I’m not sure I know the answer to that question. What I have learned is that humans have collectively produced more data since 2009 than we have cumulatively since the dawn of time up to 2009. That amount of data is staggering.

Canadians spend over 13 billion hours online each year. As an example, 22 million Canadians are on Facebook, and 17 million of them use the social networking site on mobile an average of 17 times a day.

Bloggers post over 53.8 million blogs on WordPress alone every month, producing incredible amounts of content, which of course, is translated into all sorts of data. That is why Google can tell us with an enormous amount of certainty what will work and what won’t for us and for our automotive customers.

Knowledge is power and with all those insights under its belt, Google is now looked to as an expert in our field, especially when it comes to using data to determine digital sales and marketing strategies.

Embrace the change

Andrew Assad, Manager of Strategy and Insights for Auto at Google Canada, referenced a moment at another conference in the spring of this year that had stuck with him.

During the Q&A period in one of Assad’s earlier presentations, a dealer asked, “When can we stop changing for the customer?” I also had attended that conference and specifically remember that question because it struck me as odd.

Assad’s answer at the time, which he stands by today, was “I think we are being forced to change, sorry.”

Beginning with the Industrial Revolution, great thinkers were all about finding a better way to bring quality products to consumers faster. This was based on their own desire to create a better business model for their industry.

Not long ago, we had the Kodak camera, the Sony Walkman and the Motorola phone. Now we have a smartphone.

It’s because someone asked “Hey – what if we did x?”

Those aforementioned brands spent an enormous amount of time thinking they were competing with their traditional competitors, only to get side swiped by a guy named Steve Jobs who they didn’t recognize as a competitor.

See where I’m going with this? We’ve evolved from the horse and buggy, to the Ford Model T, to the minivan, to the connected car, and now today we are at the cusp of seeing self-driving cars on our roads.

Radio ruled as a medium in the early part of the 20th century, only to be surpassed by TV in the 50s. And now, 50 years later, we know that online video has surpassed TV as the most watched medium on the planet, and that soon enough will be surpassed by mobile video.

Everything changes. The difference is that we have become accustomed to it moving at a fairly slow and steady pace. The challenge for us now is that “the technology of things” is advancing so quickly that the changes are occurring at a lightning speed and we are now challenged to keep up.

You could argue that 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago, these changes were occurring because visionaries were coming up with new ideas to bring the wow factor to their customers.

The power of the customer

Consumers have an enormous amount of influence so they are the ones demanding change, so much so that they are dictating how we need to market to them.

They want an optimal customer experience and they know it exists. With innumerable options available, why would they settle for anything less?

The demands of a better customer experience, coupled with the advancements in technology, have given birth to the industry rebels. Uber exists because customers demanded a more efficient, service-oriented experience than the taxi industry was providing.

Amazon recognized the consumer demand of time-saving shopping so they took the task online, and others followed. In the winter of 2012, Airbnb overtook Hilton Hotel with nights sold in only their fifth year of business.

It’s only a matter of time before someone comes along and turns the automotive industry on its head.

AxE the fax

Digital changes are taking place so quickly that if you don’t understand the fundamentals, you probably feel like you’re falling behind. Google’s case of video is a prime example.

In just three years, YouTube has become a major influencer in the automotive space. With over one million auto videos viewed on the channel every day, plus a 13 per cent year-over-year growth in time spent watching videos, this medium has become the online destination for automotive shoppers.

And it will just keep growing from here. Nine out of 10 shoppers are online.

Why is our industry so slow to adapt?

Case in point: Why do we still use fax machines (circa 1987) when we have so many advanced technologies at our fingertips that would make things so efficient for us, and ultimately, for our customers?

This is where “Being a Change  Optimist” comes into play. Accepting and embracing the newest technologies will only showcase you as a leader in our industry.


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