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Understanding Global Differences For Effective Digital Marketing

by Loknath Das

Digital marketing today extends to every corner of the globe and businesses are using it in new and innovative ways to change how customers are served.

The automotive digital marketing space — an industry I’m particularly familiar with — provides a good example of the myriad of ways people now buy, sell and market cars around the world. The age-old scenario in the U.S. would typically involve consumers browsing inventory at a car dealership, getting input from friends and uncomfortably negotiating the price after a test drive. Today’s buyers have shifted direction and are using online resources to their advantage — with the goal of getting the best selection at the best price and value with fewer trips to the dealership.

Progressive automotive dealers are adapting to engage more effectively with this new breed of customer. But what works in one country or geographic region doesn’t necessarily work in another one. In fact, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution because digital marketing is evolving at various speeds and in unique ways around the globe.

For example, with the emergence of rideshare business models, the digital revolution has altered how we approach automotive transportation. This dynamic is significant, in part, as a result of the skyrocketing cost of living in dense urban areas, where parking commands an increasingly greater share of disposable income. It has also come about as millennials appear to hold less of an emotional attachment to car ownership, which is simply not the status symbol that it used to be. In fact, since 1983, the percentage of people with a driver’s license has steadily decreased, with less than 25% of 16-year-olds in the U.S. now licensed to drive.

Despite these changes, automotive sales are still big business and, for the many individuals looking to purchase a car, there is more access to information online than ever before. When it comes to the car buying journey, consumers spend 59% of their time performing online research before ever visiting a car lot to speak with a salesperson.

Online Shopping Experience: Opposing Approaches

In the U.K., car buyers typically order their cars with the specific features they want before even venturing to a dealer. This dynamic allows U.K. dealers to accurately predict car inventories months ahead of time, which plays well with their business model to keep fewer cars on their lots than their counterparts in the U.S.

As such, in my experience, automotive marketing is performed differently in the U.K. than in other regions. There, automotive websites focus on configurations that allow for maximum feature customization. In addition, dealer groups may have multiple contiguous stores, meaning the dealer group is marketed first, as opposed to individual store locations within the group.

It’s quite the opposite in the U.S., where dealership websites feature information on model inventory, vertically driven products (e.g., SUVs and trucks) and individual store locations. That means an American collective automotive group with a dozen stores might need a dozen separate customer-facing websites that feed into a group site. To further drive traffic to their lots, U.S. auto dealers also turn to mobile marketing in a big way — using smartphone alerts and more — to promote price specials, deals and events.

Mobile First In The Developing World

In the U.S. and much of the Western world, marketing campaigns and website designs have historically been aimed at the desktop computer and secondarily adapted to suit smaller, portable devices, such as mobile phones, tablets and laptop computers. This development process is the opposite in other parts of the globe. In developing countries, including most of Latin America and Africa, there is often limited or no access to broadband or DSL connections, while mobile phones act as the primary channel to the online world. That’s why, in these regions, mobile platforms take precedence over the desktop, and marketing campaigns are often heavily focused on encouraging recipients to call or visit their local dealers — and less on driving traffic to a dealer website. Although Western countries do encourage calls and appointments as part of their mobile campaigns, fueling website traffic has become equally, if not more, important.

Finally, I have seen global regulations impact businesses differently around the world. While North America is governed by CAN-SPAM laws, in Europe, restrictive data policies make email marketing more challenging. That’s why companies there place higher importance on social media marketing. It gives marketers access to target specific messages to its users, and the ads can even influence prospects who may not necessarily be searching for a car yet.

Develop A Deep Understanding Of Each Geographic Market

At my company, as we’ve grown globally, we’ve been very careful to develop a deep understanding of each geographic market as we devise client strategies. For example, we know that in Tokyo, a car purchase requires proof that the buyer has a parking space. And in Saudi Arabia, fuel is so inexpensive that mileage characteristics do not usually affect the buying decision. Both examples are important facts for a marketer to know and these are just the tip of the iceberg.

The point is, dramatic global variances in digital understanding, approaches and regulations dictate that marketers need to be knowledgeable, nimble and adaptive to address the specific requirements of the markets they are targeting. After all, what works in Detroit may not work in Tokyo. Ensuring your strategies are backed by global knowledge, local insight and expertise can be the key to success in doing business around the world.


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