Multi-Tiered Customer Engagement & How Chevy Enabled its Dealers to Increase Sales


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It’s easy for consumers to have great brand experiences when the marketing function is centralized and controlled – think American Express. But when brand experiences are distributed, they tend to fall apart.

Companies that operate in a multi-tiered distribution model, such as automotive, franchise retail and financial services, face unique sales and marketing challenges. There is constant tension between the corporate marketing department and the customer-facing entity, for instance, the automobile manufacturer versus the auto dealer, over factors such as who owns the customer experience and how to balance local, regional and national messaging. Add in a couple of marketing agencies into the mix and things can really get complicated.

Traditional marketing automation solutions are typically designed for either B2B or B2C communications – not B2B2B or B2B2C. To meet the unique needs of these latter models, a new collaborative marketing model is emerging for multi-tiered customer digital engagement that helps alleviate turf wars and makes sure that the end customer has a seamless, positive experience with the brand.

If the channel can’t sell, no one wins

Manufacturers – here, we’ll call them brands – that sell through channel partners are expected to provide sales materials to help the channel succeed. But what happens next varies: most channel partners would like the brand to back off and let them get on with selling. They tend to own the customer relationships, and the lists, so the brand has little influence. Yet most brands want to maintain some control over what is sent to the end customer. Who wins?

There are many reasons why the brand should win – or at least have a strong influence. Chief among them are the need for:

A single brand image;
A consistent customer experience;
Coordination of offers between the national and local level; and
Quality control.

However, in the end, the brand really only wins if it makes the channel successful, which means enabling the channel partner to make the sale. If the brand makes things difficult, the channel will often decide to handle marketing on its own, with little or no input from the brand’s marketing team.

“The thought of dealerships doing their own homemade marketing campaigns has traditionally made automotive brand marketers shudder,” says automotive e-commerce and marketing consultant Gary Marcotte, former senior vice president of marketing at AutoNation and former manager of special markets at Lexus. “In order to exert some control over the process, brands must be flexible and trust that dealers know their local market best. Successful marketing is a cooperative effort between the dealers and the brand.”

Unfortunately, traditional marketing automation tools are not designed for this type of model. Shortcomings typically include:

Assuming that one user will own the marketing process from beginning to end. This is rarely the case in a multi-tiered selling environment.

Offering limited localization options.

Complex functionality that makes it difficult for busy channel partners to learn and use on their own.

Requiring that all customer lists be shared.

Fortunately, a new class of digital customer engagement tools are emerging that are designed specifically to address these issues and enable brands and their channel partners to work cooperatively on marketing campaigns.

Selling snow tires in Florida
Digital customer engagement tools enable brands to prescribe certain branding elements such as layouts and graphics, and provide a few pre-approved choices, providing some flexibility, but also boundaries. For instance, an auto manufacturer might have templates depicting SUVs both driving in the snow and driving on the beach to accommodate geographic factors and preferences.

They also allow channel partners to select offers that will work best for their markets. A car dealership in Florida, for instance, may not want to send customers a seasonal offer on snow tires.

Importantly, this new class of tools also enables channel partners to maintain control over customer lists. In many industries, especially ones where distribution territories are non-exclusive, channel partners don’t want to share lead details with brands, because they don’t want those leads shared with other channel partners who are their competitors. It’s a key reason why channel partners in general are distrustful of centralized marketing automation systems. With this new breed of tool, user profiles dictate what type of access each user has. A corporate brand marketer for instance, can add and delete design templates, creative content and brand-sponsored offers, but does not have access to channel-provided information on lists, leads or responses – only summary data. A channel marketer can’t tailor templates or change certain offers (but has the flexibility to choose from pre-approved lists of both) and has full control over customer, lead and response data.

Case Study: How Chevy applied this model to boost dealer sales

Agency 720 is Chevrolet’s Tier 2 agency of record, handling all traditional and digital marketing for turnkey local marketing associations. In 2011, the agency implemented a Digital Engagement Platform and worked cooperatively with regional dealer networks and individual dealers to successfully plan and execute direct marketing campaigns.

Using the platform, Agency 720 provides dealers with pre-designed templates for brand-driven campaigns and offers, but also gives regions and individual dealers the leeway to incorporate local offers and modify certain content as they see fit. The dealers are responsible for assembling and sending messages, and can easily segment customers in order to more narrowly target campaigns, for instance, targeting shoppers looking at mid-sized sedans with sales material featuring that class of vehicle. The overall result is a consistent customer experience from initial awareness through post-sales communications.

Agency 720 put together a multi-wave campaign that enabled dealers to send targeted campaigns based on customer behavior and click-pattern observations in order to send the right message to each customer at the optimal time. More than 500 dealers participated in the campaign, identifying in-market consumers and then sending them an orchestrated mix of email messages in an effort to get them to purchase a vehicle before end of year. Among the impressive results:

• Unique open rates were 260 percent higher and unique click rates 65 percent higher than industry averages; and

• In the 29 days the campaign ran, it helped the participating Chevy dealers sell close to 1,000 vehicles.

Dan Smith
Dan manages Practices Communications at Epsilon, and was previously the CMO at both Outsell Corp & ClickSquared. Prior to joining ClickSquared, Dan was the VP of channel development at Unica where he managed Unica's MSP partnerships throughout the Americas. Before its acquisition by Unica, Dan was the CMO at MarketSoft.


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