It was a movie scene that predicted the future.
In the 2002 blockbuster film Minority Report, Tom Cruise played a police officer on the run from a frame-setup. And as he walked through a mall on this near-future Earth, sensors scanned his retinas to tailor ads specifically for him.
At the time, this sort of digital mind-reading felt creepy, but it turned out to be remarkably prescient: since then, the world has moved toward personalization online like never before. We may not (yet) scan retinas at brick and mortar stores, but customized marketing is already in full swing on the internet and via mobile phones as people move through stores and malls.
Personalizing Customer Service
Thinking historically, personalized product, marketing, and customer service is really just the next step in a long transformation of the relationship between products and marketing. The mass production of the late 1800s was exactly that: mass (think the model-T) with no real customization to market segments, let alone individuals. With time, marketing shifted to differentiating products and messaging (think “his & hers” products). As the 1990s wound down, products began to focus on the customer experience and expressing identity. Think of Apple, which began its dominance at this time: Do you remember the feeling of seeing the first iPods and white MacBooks in the first decade of the 2000s? Opening those packages? There was something absolutely thrilling about the experience of using those products– and buying into, or resisting, the identity they represented.
As the new century turned to its second decade, sensitivity to customer experience gained a tremendous tool: big data and machine learning. Under development since the ‘90s (remember, Amazon was on the web in 1997), the maturation of these resources allowed for quantum leaps when it came to personalization and customization. The result: amazed customers, soaring profits, and the eradication of billions of dollars of “old school” marketing budgets. Recall how good the Netflix and Amazon algorithm was by 2012. Weren’t you amazed at those suggestions, looking at them with your friends or significant others? Remember how surprised and creeped out you were the first time you were retargeted by an ad that “followed” you on the internet?
And that was only the beginning.
Today’s Concierge Economy
Today, e-commerce has mainstreamed this approach to marketing, with most people no longer thinking twice about the precision of suggestion algorithms, or wondering why they’re being followed by an ad. We know these new tools can be used for bad, and for good. In all cases though, tailoring online is now simply part of our lives. In this sense, we have truly entered the age of the concierge economy: products and services– to be followed soon by more radical fields like medicine and groceries– in person and online, are customized and available on demand. In this market, sellers must recognize a critical idea: today’s customer expects not only an amazing product, but also an experience that is nearly completely customized to their personality.
Automotive and the Concierge Economy
In the automotive world, dealership marketing has adapted to the concierge economy in some ways, but not all. On the one hand, by the standards of brick and mortar retail, the showroom customer experience is quite stunning. Visitors are engaged quickly, the showrooms are clean and beautiful, the cars sparkle, the lounge is stocked. This is fantastic.
On the other hand, the concierge approach to digital marketing has not yet reached its potential. In some cases, visitors to dealership websites encounter relevant, tailored messages that adjust as they engage on-site. But unfortunately, shoppers are just as likely to encounter this:
With simultaneous, mismatched messaging, this website is confusing and overwhelming– and certainly does not address individual needs the way customers expect. Compare this experience to, say, the experience of buying a Tesla. Their website is all about customization and personalization, directing customers immediately to choose the vehicle and features that are perfectly suited to their personal needs.
The Challenge of Implementing a Concierge Approach Online
The major reason that the concierge approach lags on dealership websites is that implementing the necessary infrastructure for true personalization remains a real challenge. The machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) tools that can actually execute on data for dealerships– tracking and synthesizing user data in real-time, and making personalized decisions for each customer– can seem daunting and complex. Moreover, they’re still slightly ahead of the curve where most dealerships are looking for their marketing solutions.
However, these tools are becoming more and more accessible. New products are emerging that can deliver AI marketing tools that seems like science fiction– but, in very real terms, can offer dealership customers a truly personalized online experience that is both tailored and respectful. It is easier than ever to implement a concierge economy on dealership websites– and to reap the benefits in convenience and profits that it offers.
The dealerships of tomorrow should be actively researching and experimenting with AI and machine learning tools. Dealerships that successfully integrate these tools into their digital selling environment will benefit from lower cost of sale and greater monthly lead haul. Most importantly, they’ll have customers who feel that they both had a fantastic experience in researching a car, and were catered to exactly according to who they are and what they want. That’s what the concierge economy demands– and that’s what will keep dealerships ahead of the competition.
Author: Aharon Horwitz
Aharon Horwitz is Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of AutoLeadStar. Aharon is an entrepreneur committed to building and developing technology for modern digital marketplaces. He speaks and writes about innovation regularly, and has presented at automotive conferences including Digital Dealer 21 Conference & Expo. The companies and technologies he has developed have been covered in Inc. Magazine, The Next Web, and LifeHacker, and featured by leading marketing companies in and out of the automotive industry such as Mailchimp, Infusionsoft, and Dealer Magazine.