Data privacy and big tech. It’s a topic that likely lived on the backburner as you’ve run your dealership over the past few years. However, it’s been top-of-mind for technology companies and, more importantly, consumers for several years. And in 2021, it’s front and center as big tech takes headline-grabbing actions to position themselves as advocates for consumer data privacy. Why does that matter to automotive? These actions have immediate and long-lasting impacts for your dealership advertising and how you engage the customers you desire to serve.
The Big Picture
Before we get practical, let’s dig into the overall picture for a brief moment.
Since Facebook’s data-sharing practices came under scrutiny in 2018 following reporting on Cambridge Analytica, consumers and legislators have focused their attention on big tech’s use of data. Meanwhile, big tech has taken a varied approach in rolling out efforts over the past few years to proactively address the shifting landscape.
Although most of the recent talk about privacy and big tech has focused on third party cookies — mainly because the biggest player, Google Chrome, will put the final nail in the third party cookie coffin by year’s end — the conversation is much wider reaching. Every player in the technology space is assessing their approach to consumer data and how they do or do not use it for advertising.
If it feels like the ground is shifting for everyone connected to the digital advertising space — it is, to a degree. And it is culminating with the biggest players making big efforts to make known their positions on privacy and the actions they are taking to protect it. In January, Apple announced an App Tracking Transparency feature with the spring release of iOS 14.4. This gives consumers the ability to grant permission for apps to share data across websites and apps. And it was met by pushback from Facebook. In March, Google announced plans to move away from technologies that track individual people across the web and group people based on shared interests. This too was met by pushback, with other tech companies alleging that the solution is more about fortifying Google’s dominance of digital advertising dollars than protecting consumers.
I’m not trying to get us caught in the big tech swirl. What I want to make clear is no matter how the big tech companies position themselves, we know there is a high level of uncertainty around what the next phase of digital advertising will look like as these changes take root. And any big (or small) tech company that says they are perfectly positioned for the residual impact of what is a rapidly evolving landscape is not being honest with themselves, or with you.
How It Affects You
So, how does this impact the decisions you are making at your dealership?
At the center of all we’ve discussed is people. People who are increasingly wary of companies tracking them across the web, gathering personal data and using it in a manner they believe benefits business at the expense of their privacy. People who increasingly care about trust and transparency in every purchase, especially big purchases like buying a car. People who are willing to exchange data for a preferred customer experience.
People are not stagnant. Technology is not stagnant. Both are vibrant and ever-changing. What is important for your dealership to recognize is that to win with consumers (and grow your business), you need a data-driven marketing approach, but it must be one that puts consumers first and builds trust for your business.
What should be central to the marketing strategies you implement and the partners you choose, is making sure all parties are thinking like a consumer. With 2020 still in clear view, your dealership likely made significant shifts to do what’s best for the consumer. Whether it was incorporating digital retailing tools for prospective buyers or implementing pick-up services for service repairs, your efforts paid off. Over and over again, we saw customer satisfaction rise and consumers paying more for an experience that prioritized safety.
Similarly, your data and marketing partners should be recommending solutions that are actively working to gather as much data as possible to enable a personalized experience in a way that honors current and anticipates future consumer privacy standards. Your dealership must power your marketing efforts with data that is intentionally structured to give you a competitive advantage while protecting consumer privacy.
As important as privacy is, thinking like a consumer does not mean reverting back to delivering irrelevant mass media messages. Yes, consumers are pushing for privacy, while they simultaneously increase the amount of time they spend engaged online, in apps and in streaming services. Consumers still want a relevant experience, especially when they offer their info. This can be submitting lead forms or engaging with a digital retailing widget on your website. It also includes engagement with your marketing that gives your dealership (or marketing partner) the ability to personalize the experience. Your partners must be able to thread that needle. It is critical for delivering customer experiences that sell cars and drive gross profit for your dealership.
After all, isn’t that where you need to be spending your time — investing in the people and processes that lead to car sales, a strong service drive, and overall profit for your dealership? I think so. It’s also important to stay aware of how market and economic dynamics, shifts in consumer behavior, marketing trends, and technology advances can impact your business. We’re just beginning to see the story of data privacy and big tech play out.
Jonathan Lucenay is Client Command’s founder and CEO.