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How Automotive Chatbots Are Bringing the Car Dealership Experience Online

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Here is how Ford and Renault, some of the biggest automotive brands, are leveraging marketing chatbots to engage their audience.

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A visit to a car dealership has traditionally served as the first touchpoint of the customer journey for automotive brands. But not anymore. COVID-19 has created massive disruptions in the industry. 

You’re targeting auto buyers. Let’s say Mark is your ideal customer. He’s thinking of switching to a more eco-friendly car. He used to go to the local car dealership to learn more about vehicles. But since COVID-19 is around, he’s trying to minimize contact with people, and the thought of spending his afternoon at a dealership seems a bit exhausting. 

So, how do you engage him now that the pandemic has turned the auto sector upside down?

COVID-19 has created significant challenges for the automotive industry. Manufacturing was shut down, leading to supply chain issues and vehicle part shortages. Car dealerships had to close their doors and bring the physical showroom experience online. Auto marketers had to reimagine their customer journey and shift to digital marketing. 

The pandemic has also changed consumer habits. With the majority of people spending more time outside and discovering the pleasure of cleaner air, the demand for electric vehicles is now booming. The competition to win market share is fierce and requires auto brands to educate customers about electric cars. In a digital context. 

One thing is certain: the new auto consumer behavior is sticking. Consumers are back to buying cars, but they are doing it differently. Engaging vehicle buyers now starts online, not in the car dealerships. 

This shift in automotive consumer behavior unlocks new business opportunities car brands should not miss out on. 

The message is clear. Auto brands need to engage their prospects on digital channels. But everyone is tired of advertisements. So, how can automotive companies reach their target audience when they see ads so many times that they stop paying attention? 

The secret is simpler than you think: by creating meaningful, personalized, two-way conversations. And this is where conversational marketing can make a real difference. 

Why? Because it takes that more personalized, consultative approach you used to have in dealerships and brings it online. It’s the best of both worlds. It helps you build personal connections with your customers where you get information that matters to personalize their experience. You can offer a personal tour of the car and its features based on their preferences. But you can do it at scale. On digital channels. 

Here is how Ford and Renault, some of the biggest automotive brands out there, are overcoming the obstacles posed by the pandemic and leveraging marketing chatbots in the automotive industry. 

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How Automotive Consumer Behavior Has Changed

During the pandemic, vehicle consumers have become more comfortable with online shopping, and now they increasingly use online channels to discover, research, test, and even purchase new cars. 

Prospective car buyers are less inclined to talk to sellers at a car dealership. In fact, 53% decide on new vehicles online. 

Buying vehicles online or evaluating them before visiting a dealership has become the new norm in the industry. So, it’s time for automotive brands to adapt their messaging accordingly.  

They need to offer the same experience customers have visiting a dealership. But that experience has to be online. 

Conversational automotive chatbots are one of the best channels for this, allowing auto brands to bring the experience of a dealership to digital channels. With a conversational bot, prospects can interact with human-like digital assistants. 

Mark is interested in eco-friendly cars. He runs a quick search on Google and checks out the latest electric models of one of the major auto brands. He wants to learn more, so he starts engaging with the company’s digital assistant right via a conversational display ad campaign. With the help of the bot, he learns about new vehicle models and features based on his preferences and driving behavior. He can customize his dream car. Or even book a virtual test drive. This is how the dealership experience goes online. 

Below, we’ll walk you through how automotive brands can benefit from marketing chatbots by showing actual use cases from some of the world’s biggest car brands.

Acquire More Qualified Leads with Automotive Chatbots

Visiting dealerships, auto shows, and test-driving vehicles were critical parts of generating leads in the automotive industry. What initially drove traffic, however, is no longer efficient enough. 

These days, brands must meet and convert consumers on the digital channels where they already are. But fierce competition for attention and increasing ad fatigue challenge marketers to find new ways to engage and convert their target audience. And it’s no different for automotive brands. 

With so many advertisement pop-ups, attention spans and conversion rates are getting lower and lower. Let’s admit, there is a big gap between the conversion rate you want to achieve and the one you actually generate. 

It’s no surprise customers don’t pay attention to ads anymore. What they want is instant, personalized interactions. And this is why conversational automotive chatbots have huge potential as they deliver a 1:1 personalized experience. 

Renault France experienced a lot of these challenges and wanted higher conversion rates from digital channels. Their main goal was to increase lead generation, encouraging prospects to book a test drive on their website. They launched a conversational marketing strategy with Spectrm that allowed them to generate over 500 micro-conversions in the first campaign.

They created a conversational ad campaign addressing car buyers’ preconceptions on electric vehicles and highlighting key features of the new ZOE model. The conversational assistant built with Spectrm could adapt to each car buyer’s preferences in real time to personalize product education and drive lead acquisition for the new vehicle. 

The ads proved cost-effective and got uniquely high engagement from in-market buyers! Interested in how they achieved a 36% lower cost per micro-conversion than comparable campaigns promoting electric vehicles? Read the full story here

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Offer Personalized Guided Shopping to Overcome the Messy Middle of the Purchase Journey

Vehicle shopping is fast becoming digital-first. Consumers are increasingly looking for high-priced items, such as cars, online. This means that the customer journey is now beginning online for many auto buyers. 

According to a recent study conducted by Facebook, 78% of new car buyers are comfortable using social media when deciding on a new vehicle purchase.

But since automobile purchase is a high-value, big decision, they often need technology-assisted tools to help guide them through the journey. Marketing automotive chatbots recommend products based on personal needs and preferences while delighting customers with a fun shopping experience. 

This helps address customer needs by giving them assistive shopping experiences that help them discover more about what matters most to them.

It also solves a big challenge for digital marketers working in automotive. The “messy middle” of the digital purchase journey. 

Purchase decisions online, particularly for big-ticket items, have convoluted and fragmented buyer journeys. A guided shopping journey can accelerate consideration phases and also bring the journey into a single channel.

Customers can learn more on their own terms. Marketers get deeper insights into every stage of the buying journey. And even a channel to re-engage their prospects one to one. 

As one of the leading automobile manufacturers, Ford quickly recognized the need to engage potential customers in the digital sphere. In order to do that, they needed to bring the experience of the dealership to customers online. 

How? With a car-finding Facebook chatbot built with Spectrm that offers personalized guided shopping. 

The Facebook Messenger bot allows drivers to customize their dream car and take it for a virtual test drive in this interactive buyer journey. Thanks to the guided shopping tour, customers can now find their ideal vehicle in fewer steps. Using Spectrm, Ford was able to drive traffic, build their audience, and capture leads for new car sales. Read the whole success story here

Conversational Automotive Chatbots Ford AdLingo
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Automotive Chatbots to Drive AI-Powered, Human-Like Engagement

With the rise in demand for social messaging, consumers expect communication with brands to be fast, convenient, and effortless. For businesses, keeping up with inquiries and offering 24/7 support is challenging. 

This is where chatbots usually come into the picture. The only problem is that chatbots are often scripted to respond to frequently asked questions or perform simple, repetitive tasks. If only they could have meaningful conversations with prospects. Well, they can, if conversational AI and well-designed guided shopping journeys fuel them. 

Ford needed an innovative way to boost favorability and purchase intent of their Ford Ranger vehicle in the context of increased competition in Thailand. 

As a solution, they collaborated with their media agency GTB to build a conversational assistant with Spectrm. It introduced the new Ford Ranger model and customized customer journeys using real-time customer insights gathered about their preferences. 

Thanks to AI technology, they were able to test, learn and optimize interaction in real time to create meaningful conversations. This campaign was delivered at scale via Spectrm’s conversational display ads. The campaign was so successful that Ford now uses Spectrm for its conversational marketing strategy across Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, South Africa and more.

How do we know that Ford’s digital assistant really feels human? Customers spend more than one minute on average in the conversation interacting with the bot.

Get Valuable Insights Straight from Customers, Not Third Parties

In our privacy-first world, relying on third-party data is not an option anymore. Instead, brands need to build direct relationships with their audience by investing in first-party data or declared data.

Declared data is information volunteered by customers in a direct interaction between the customer and the brand, rather than purchased from or accessed through a third party.

Conversational marketing chatbots are one of the best channels to collect declared data as they enable two-way, personalized interactions, encouraging consumers to share valuable zero-party data with brands. Bots learn customer preferences in real-time conversations, and these insights can be later used to better understand and target prospects with personalized offers.  

We know that not everyone converts on their first interaction, especially if the product is a high-value item, such as a vehicle.

By leveraging declared data, marketing chatbots can effectively retarget customers and provide them the right offer for a vehicle on their preferred channel, based on their preference and budget. To support this with data, Messenger open rates are around 80%, and CTRs are 30% for Messenger retargeting messages on average. Definitely a big lift compared to email, which averages only 20% open rates. 

The Takeaway

The COVID-19 pandemic and fast-changing consumer behavior have shaken the automotive industry. The customer journey for auto buyers now typically starts online. 

Brands that want to survive (and thrive) in the fierce competition must adapt their messaging accordingly and meet their customers on their preferred digital channels. 

Conversational automotive chatbots unlock great opportunities to create meaningful, personalized, two-way conversations with auto buyers. 

One-to-one conversations on messaging channels beat ad fatigue and drive lead generation. 

With online guided shopping, customers can find their ideal vehicles and take action in fewer steps. 

AI-driven marketing chatbots create human-like experiences, encouraging customers to interact with the bot and share valuable insights. 

Relying on third-party data will not drive your marketing performance anymore. Instead, the future of marketing is all about investing in first-party and zero-party data collected by marketing chatbots straight from customers.

Want to learn more about how brands like Ford and Renault drive long-term business value with conversational marketing?

Book a demo with one of our conversational marketing experts to learn how Spectrm marketing chatbots can help you grow your auto brand at scale. 

Want to know more about conversational chatbots? Download this D2C Conversational Marketing Playbook for Ecommerce to learn how to build, measure and optimize a marketing chatbot.

An automotive chatbot automates one to one conversations between an automotive brand and a customer on messaging channels. They are designed to guide customers, understand responses, personalize experiences, offer recommendations, and drive business outcomes.  

Automotive chatbots can also be used to qualify leads and capture contact details. Automotive bots that drive marketing performance the most are able to understand natural human language, using conversational AI to understand customer intents and respond intelligently.

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