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Fix the Disconnect in Automotive

Axel Heyenga
Axel Heyenga
Christian Barth
Christian Barth

Who knows most about today’s car buyer?

The OEM, their National Sales Company (NSC) or the dealership? The answer is none of the above. It’s data rich companies such as Google and Amazon that have a much better understanding of car buyers’ behaviors. Google Trends data shows that people are in the market for a new car on average for only 2.7 months. During this time they will have over 900 interactions in digital channels and spend 10 hours online researching their car purchase but less than four hours visiting dealer showrooms or looking at car brochures. In fact, they are likely to visit the dealership only once in their car-buying journey which tells us that they already know the exact make and model they want to buy by the time they walk in the door. Given that 68 percent don’t know which car they want to buy when they start their car-buying process, it means that everything they do in digital channels informs their decision.

How can OEMs, NSCs and their dealer networks collaborate better to have the data and actionable insights at their fingertips so they can be faster and smarter in making sure it’s their brand and vehicles that stand out for prospects during these 10 hours of research rather than that of a competitor?

All three parties have the same goals—they want to sell more. But often we find their everyday business behaviors and operational constructs do not align to achieve these shared goals.

Where is the problem?

If we look at it from the point of view of the customer, the disconnects become clear.

Awareness—who is responsible for this? We most often assume this is the job of the OEM, as their central brand and marketing teams invest in creating big brand and new product launch campaigns. They spend large sums of marketing dollars on TV spots and outdoor advertising to "show" their brand and new product to the world.

Consideration—this is where NSCs come in, in an ideal world connecting the global brand work with harder working, conquesting and sales-driven communications to generate leads.

Purchase—this is where dealers kick in to get the sale, using test drives and an increasing array of attractive finance offers to get prospects over the line successfully.

In theory it should all connect, but we have all experienced the reality – generic retargeting ads that stalk us around the internet showing a car we’re not interested in, a dealer visit where we have to provide all our contact details again and brief the dealer on the car we’ve already spent hours looking at on the website. It all adds up to a negative experience with a high propensity to seek a brand that offers us a more connected and contextual experience.

The operating models, data and technology enablement that underpins the OEM, NSC, and dealer ecosystem

We need to look deeper to see what’s missing or misfiring, and examine the connective tissue that brings this all together in a meaningful, contextual and relevant way for prospects so that it in turn unlocks value for OEMs, NSCs and dealers.

OEM-NSC-dealer collaboration (beyond the exchange of goods and payments) has trust issues on all sides, particularly when it comes to sharing customer data. Indeed, often there are contractual issues that prevent them from being able to or wanting to share data. While OEMs and dealers clearly need each other, the survival of the relationship needs to be transformed to be more collaborative and trustworthy, and where data can be seen as a currency that unlocks value for all parties when used and shared responsibly.

As services on top of the car itself continue to evolve and platforms such as MercedesMe provide insights in real time on usage and driving behaviours, as well as triggers for seeking a new service or replacement model, the imperative to connect data across the operating ecosystem becomes ever greater to ensure brands retain customers and win new ones.

We know OEM, NSCs and dealers have separately invested in content management platforms, advanced analytics, personalization and retargeting capabilities in order to connect with the increasingly discerning buyer. However, the issue is their efforts are not joined up across their operating ecosystem: the data from media is not connected to website analytics, which in turn is not connected to any dealer interactions or CRM communications. And data does not flow across the customer journey in a dynamic and intelligent way to surface insights when and where they are needed to build brand, develop leads and close sales

Hence the lack of connection creates a leaky bucket of missed sales opportunities and the schizophrenic brand behavior that customers often experience. It also means all three parties are missing out on being able to use insights around lifestage triggers such as having a baby, a new job or getting married that bring new people into the car-buying market. It also misses out on machine learning to build propensity models on next best action to nudge prospects effectively through the whole lifecycle and understand which marketing assets they need to invest in most to drive leads and sales.

And so today, the disconnect is still very much in evidence: sales people often have no historical information on previous buyer interactions with the OEM, which inevitably stalls the path to purchase, or can even lead to abandonment. On the other side, the OEM has no dealer data from interactions between the customer and the dealer. As a result, the natural triangulation of OEM, dealer and customer suffers significant loss.

For the future sales network to remain effective in the face of disruptive new players and business models it will require a ground-up transformation that  focuses on connecting the people, technology and operations of all these partners to enable them to focus on the customer and connect meaningfully through actionable insights and an intelligent platform.

When done right, this transformation can drive the business outcomes all parties want: sustainable sales growth with higher customer satisfaction and good profitability. A recent Publicis Sapient study surveyed 500 global executives and found that 48 percent of digitally mature companies (measured across six key areas) have market-leading profitability, compared with just 17 percent of digitally immature firms.¹

Moreover, the companies that are leaders in developing their digital capabilities are far more likely to be redefining the shape of their industry overall.

If you want to be in business in 20 years, investing in the connective tissue of data and technology enablement needs to happen today.

“Nearly three-quarters of digitally mature organisations say that it is “likely” or “very likely” that the leader in their industry will be a digital disruptor within five years’ time.”

Service frustration at affiliated dealers lies at the heart of the current buyer-seller disconnect.

Technology can help by facilitating a forceful push in the right direction. As research shows, at least 80 percent of customers are willing to share their personal data to get a better, more personalized experience.² ³

What’s holding OEMs back?

While the benefits of transformation are clear in principle, implementation remains a challenge. Traditional OEM/NSC/dealer processes don’t accommodate an open data philosophy; this is where OEMs and NSCs need to take over the responsibility. These leaders are on the hook to convince dealers that their very survival is dependent on a more open, trustworthy collaboration and not over-controlling on ongoing pressure towards sales, investments, etc.

Digitization is a strong enabler of collaboration

While data is being gathered, OEMs, NSCs and dealers often lack the tools they need to turn it into actionable insight. In addition, OEMs own market, trend, sales and financial data—and are collecting individual data through shared services (e.g. Daimler with car2go).⁴

Today’s OEM-dealer data silos have been reinforced for years by the continued optimization of distinct portions of the business, rather than the reimagination of entire business models. The resulting scenario hinders the ability to deliver a seamless, more personal customer experience.

OEMs traditionally combine product, service and marketing to nurture a lead. This is then passed on to the dealer (see Figure 1), at which point the OEM falls out of the picture. But in today’s digital economy, the buyer wants continued interaction through a blend of digital and physical channels, with both the OEM and dealer.

The OEM’s role has traditionally halted at the interest/sales point of the customer journey, looping back to the awareness phase. Now, OEMs stand alongside their dealers to deliver a more informed, robust customer journey. As we’ve seen in other industries (e.g. consumer package goods, media and telecom), the nature of business transformation requires manufacturers to more closely partner with their sales channel.

OEMs and dealers are starting to leverage common platforms, such as the Adobe Experience Cloud, to offer customers a richer buying experience thanks to the integration of data silos. As a result, a true 360° customer view is within reach. Such platforms have become even more capable given advances in artificial intelligence (AI), data integration and analytics.

These platforms also let OEMs use data and asset management to democratize access and action across silos—to positively influence the sales funnel with cross- and upsell capability, more effective lead generation and increased conversion rates. This leaves dealers with more time to develop meaningful customer relationships, to have more intelligent and relevant interactions with prospects and customers in order to sell the optimal model and spec, as well as extra equipment and in-car services while waiting for the customer’s car to be delivered. In parallel, OEMs are increasing interactions to grow the customer’s pre- and post-purchase brand affinity, for example by offering extra value-add services (e.g. personalized communication or extended mobility services). Hence it’s key that all these interactions are coordinated and synchronized so that from the customer’s point of view, it’s one seamless conversation and experience delivered from one platform.

Creating an inclusive ecosystem

Data management platforms allow OEMs to architect an inclusive ecosystem that supports all types of dealers. As a result, the modern dealer has the opportunity to become a trusted advisor in navigating the OEM’s ecosystem. In fact, many dealers are forgoing their simple selling nature to embrace an Apple-like in-venue experience, an intrigue prompted by OEMs such as BMW and their Product Geniuses.

The benefit of an open data scenario is encouraging both OEMs and dealers to embrace a radically customer-centric, experience-driven business. By moving their existing priority on channels and products, to customer needs and behavior in buying moments, these organizations are better equipped to design their interactions around journeys and benefits. Further OEM-investments in AI enable the delivery of an even richer experience where attention to key buying signs delivers an even more relevant journey for each and every customer.

A state of open data drives both OEMs and dealers (which have yet to be convinced of the added value that this shift promises) toward implementing the characteristics of a radically customer-centric, experience-driven business.

AI also enables the enviable 360° customer profile, which paves the way to a more personalized offering and fully integrated mobility experience that fosters deeper engagement, interaction and learning opportunities. In addition, open data platforms reveal hidden opportunities to increase both revenue and brand value. Research proves that ecosystems built upon customer experiences advance loyalty, bolster data collection streams, establish competitive advantage and increase customer share (see Figure 2).

Studies from 2007 to 2014 show that customer experience leaders (those considered to be in the top ten-rated public companies by Forrester Research) far outperform those seen by members of the S&P 500 and laggards (bottom ten) in the space. In a separate study, Publicis Sapient also found that customer experience was one of the few areas that created business value for both immature and mature firms.⁵ (Source: Watermark Consulting, 2015)⁶

This evolution requires several solution layers. The first provides the requisite  infrastructure for dealers and OEMs. Above the infrastructure layer sits a full 360° customer profile and a universal and anonymous ID drawn from the data sources of manufacturer and seller (see Figure 3). This capability is activated by the Adobe Experience Cloud – that translates the amalgamation of data into actionable insights and deployable assets on any touchpoint.

The convergence of OEM/NSC and dealer data

Disrupting the existing model of constrained data sharing and limited collaboration between dealerships, nsc and oems

We are at a unique time; the confluence of OEM, NSC and dealership data requires the creation of an entirely new operating and commercial model, we believe, that will prioritize partnership over the sometimes adversarial relationship that currently exists between these partners.

The future ecosystem will be enabled by new technologies such as Digital Experience Platforms (DEPs), new business models around electric and the sharing economy, new processes around operations, and a new mindset amongst employees.

For example, this new model may result in an entirely novel collaboration between OEM/NSC and their dealer network to create new value on both sides. Dealers will no longer need to do analytics of their own customer data in their own silo and can focus on creating insight-fueled experiences and genuinely personalized customer interactions.

OEMs/NSCs will collect huge amounts of customer data, from awareness right through to ownership and enjoyment, through which they will be able to develop new products, services and utilities that fit perfectly with the way people access and use mobility. Once established, this will be a self-reinforcing ecosystem that continuously develops assets (product, service or content), which will be most appealing to the addressed customer and generates improved revenue and profitability moving forward. 

Approaching customer centricity with a platform strategy helps organizations perpetuate a new way of working that keeps buyers front and center of everything they do.

As we’re seeing in other industries (CPG, Financial Services, Telco and Retail), new technologies are becoming critical to deliver speed, intelligence and flexibility. DEPs let OEMs streamline dealer-customer interactions while supporting the dealers’ need to deliver independent and localized communciations and interactions. DEPs also enable brands to use a common platform for all dealers—even with thousands of websites scattered across the globe—while adhering to data protection laws in different markets. Dealer productivity can be enhanced by easy access to creative assets, digital templates, analytics and continuous advice from the AI-enabled platform structure. The process of reintegrating dealers through a common platform ensures dealers remain on brand while they deliver personalized presentations to customers—both now and in the future.

Meanwhile, enhanced OEM and NSC visibility into customer relationships adds to the benefits offered by the platform’s analyses of sales intelligence and other key activities, such as retargeting. OEMs can also use the platform to help their dealers become trusted advisors rather than salespeople. When the dealer owns the customer, and the OEM provides the platform, both parties gain business advantage by delivering better, more informed customer experiences that lead to higher revenue from more satisfied customers.

In the end, this represents a complete reimagining of how the entire network of touchpoints interacts, shares data and identifies new business opportunities. By combining data, personalization, and human interactions throughout the customer journey, this new technology coordinates and delivers on the promise of digital business transformation. Let’s explore how this might play out for a customer.

Stepping into your customer's shoes

OEMs/NSCs and dealer are more capable than ever to personalize experiences given the maturing capabilities of AI and data science. The added 360° customer view enables all players to deliver the right content at the right time for sustained, optimal experiences. But how do we get from data collection to content delivery?

Phase 1: Engage, guide and get to know your customer

At the discovery stage, OEM, NSC and dealers get to know their customers and nurture the relationship. OEMs can go further by providing simple, engaging and valuable opt-in opportunities that encourage customers to volunteer their lifestyle and behavioral data – in exchange for an even more relevant experience. Equipped with even more robust information, OEMs can offer mobility solutions and services for higher engagement. Tack on a digital experience platform that tracks all of the customer’s past and current choices—along with a consistent understanding that the data needed for optimal brand experiences is in the customer’s hand—and you’re ready for phase two.

Phase 2: Make the best use of your customer’s data to make better decisions and help the dealer make the best deal

A dashboard summarizing a 360° customer view, accessible by both the brand and dealer, allows for quality consultation at the individual level while facilitating a seamless customer experience. OEMs can replace generic offers with finely tuned cross-selling opportunities based on accurate customer intelligence.

Data sharing also enables the exchange of best practices (e.g. how to identify qualified prospects or convert customers) across dealers, which can be applied to internal benchmarks, using cause analysis and concrete measurements to disseminate individual dealer experience for the benefit of all.

Phase 3: Sustain value by keeping in touch with your customers

Increasing the cadence of customer interaction, combined with a consistent and clear presentation of added value, helps customers become educated on the portfolio of products and services represented by the brand. In addition, all parties’ up- and cross-selling potential can be fully exploited.

Phase 4: Use knowledge to truly become your customer’s mobility partner and so increase customer share

Customized, contextual, connected and engaging experiences are a prerequisite to becoming a lifestyle-centric and customer-driven brand. Knowledge from the DEP, along with the symbiosis that it offers the OEM/NSC-to-dealer relationship, provides both sides with opportunities to deliver relevant customer journeys. There are, however, some things to keep in mind here if increasing customer share is the goal. First of all, each customer can have multiple journeys and they’re definitely going to be non-linear. (Remember the purchase cycle? Well, it’s more like a pretzel nowadays.)

Secondly, every step of every journey can be a potential opportunity to create value, and the customer journey is the most valuable source of insight on how to do so.

Cultural change: An absolute necessity

Effective business transformation requires cultural change. In our research, executives at digitally mature companies reported that 98 percent of employees supported their digital business transformation strategies, compared with just 64 percent for digitally immature firms. Organizational support is essential for success in transformation.⁷ There are several core attributes to successful transformation:

1. One objective:

Set an objective and communicate it so everyone sees the same goal by equipping, empowering and inspiring the OEM sales and dealer organization.

2. One foundation:

An intuitive foundation is requisite to the implementation of an integrated operating system for sharing data and insights as well as adding value services for dealers.

3. One understanding:

Deliver common learning programs across OEM, NSC and dealer networks to expand their thinking about the type of insights they can derive from sharing and connecting data responsibly. This is particularly helpful in their efforts to connect with new prospects entering the market through a lifestage data trigger (new baby, new job, new home, retirement, etc.) where they may offer tailored brand, lifestyle and product messages and nudge prospects to buy with offers at the right time and place.

Overall, common learning programs set principles to reduce barriers, give new motivators and establish triggers for transformation and help OEMs, NSCs and dealer organizations to change and restructure their businesses. As products and services continue to shift, the demand of closer collaboration and a different way of working will grow.

Becoming a symbiotic experience business starts with the customer

In today’s economy, organizations have no choice but to become experience-based businesses. As research continues to illustrate, the customer experience and digital business transformation are weapons on the next competitive battlefield. Data silos work against this vision.

Win-win collaboration begins the moment an OEM opens its data to its dealers and vice versa, as a full-cycle ecosystem is created, fueled by an underlying digital experience platform with AI capabilities. Analytics adds even more value. Car sales are important, but when dealers are equipped with data and experience management platforms, services and trusted advice assume a more influential role. OEMs also remain closer to the customer relationship, garnering a fairer share of post-purchase interactions as they reach their ultimate goal of becoming a mobility service brand.

All of this is enabled by a robust platform that leverages data aggregation and AI to react to the consumer, individually, at each and every touchpoint to deliver the right content.

Together, OEMs, NSCs and dealers can achieve the most effective type of coordinated and consistent brand experience necessary to compete in today’s economy and grow their businesses successfully – powered by deep customer insight, radical customer-centricity, collaboration and speed in order to connect authentically and contextually with customers, regardless of which life stage they are in and where they are in their customer journey. 




  1. Publicis Sapient. “Executives Reveal the Impact of Digital Business Transformation.” Released in November 2017.
  2. Columbia Business School. What Is the Future of Data Sharing? Consumer Mindsets and the Power of Brands.
  3. Capgemini. “8 in 10 Consumers Willing to Pay More for a Better Customer Experience as Big Business Falls Short on Expectations.”
  4. Motion Digest. “Daimler’s Car-sharing car2go 2016 Data at a Glance.”
  5. Publicis Sapient. “Executives Reveal the Impact of Digital Business Transformation.” Released in November 2017.
  6. Watermark Consulting. The 2015 Customer Experience ROI Study.
  7. Publicis Sapient. “Executives Reveal the Impact of Digital Business Transformation.” Released in November 2017.
  8. Gartner leadership survey 2015
Axel Heyenga
Axel Heyenga
Industry Strategy Director EMEA, Adobe
Christian Barth
Christian Barth
Senior Client Partner & EMEA Automotive Lead

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