Consumers are demanding better experiences from brands that sell through dealer networks

When it comes to selling products and services to customers, brands have several methods to choose from. They might sell online or through big-box retailers, or a less talked about channel used by many manufacturers, is through a dealer or distributor network.

For years, manufacturers have relied on dealer/distributor networks to sell their products and to be the local face for their brand. As such, dealers and distributors represent that local or regional relationship with customers that manufactures simply cannot handle at scale. But the experiences that customers are demanding from brands are rapidly evolving and many manufacture / dealer experiences are less than optimized to keep up.

Here are several areas for brands to focus on to better optimize their dealer channel marketing in 2022.

Dealer Channel Marketing is More than a Dealer Locator

Most manufacturers and brands have dealer locators on their corporate websites guiding potential customers to local dealers to purchase products and services. In most cases it will show a dealer’s location, contact info, hours of operation and a website URL. The hope is that as consumers navigate the corporate site, they will organically find their way over to the dealer closest or most convenient to them. But in today’s world that’s simply not enough. Brands and manufacturers need to be proactively marketing on behalf of their dealers through all forms of digital media. Pushing local strategies to drive local traffic. In this model, dealers are not only benefiting from traffic being driven to the corporate website, but they’re also benefiting from dedicated programs and campaigns driving traffic to each individual dealer.

Not only does this benefit the dealer, but also the manufacturer since they retain control of the brand, messaging, frequency and channels that the marketing is showing up in. The manufacturer also has a good sense of performance at a dealer level and can easily track the effectiveness of each program within specific locations.

In this manufacturer lead approach, you gain efficiency of scale in managing many locations and overall larger budgets which assists in optimizing consumer generation programs. It allows for more sophistication and enterprise level technology compared to what a local dealer might be able to afford or have the skill to manage and run. Brands should initially focus on developing three diverse types of programs for their dealers to “opt in” to.

  1. Lead Generation program to acquire Net New prospects to the local dealer
  2. Lead Nurture program to nurture those prospects acquired to purchase
  3. Loyalty program to solicit review, recommendations and make additional purchases

Branded Dealer Experience

More demand is great, but what is the experience?

In some cases, brands will help drive additional consumer demand and simply turn that interested consumer over to a dealer’s website. The challenge with this is that the dealer site is not optimized for your brand or the specific items that a potential consumer is looking for. This can be resolved by the following:

  • Branded Dealer Microsites – specific microsites that the brand controls from a look, feel and tone perspective, but local dealers can update to make personalized and local. This ensures that as potential consumers start to navigate away from corporate experiences and into the local dealer experience that it’s consistent, but still has aspects of the local presence.
  • Product Availability – consumers—especially younger Millennials or Gen Z—typically start their product search online, but in contrast to popular opinion, often complete the sale at a brick-and-mortar location (in this case a local dealer). By displaying local inventory on your Dealer Microsites, you are enriching the experience that consumers have and making a seamless transition from online to retail sale.
  • Online Scheduling or Ordering for In-Store Pickup – another crucial option that has accelerated coming out of the COVID pandemic is the ability to schedule appointments online to meet with a local dealer which again, helps to facilitate as much of the experience online before transitioning to the in-person interaction. This also includes the ability to place online orders from the local dealer microsite for pickup instore or curbside.

Sales Data Integration and Loyalty

In mature dealer channel marketing programs, dealers share back sales data to the manufacturer. Why? Because it assists in the ability to provide value added experiences to that consumer over time increasing their loyalty.

Sales data integration allows corporate brand programs to analyze and make future recommendations on what products and services that a dealer supports may be best for a particular consumer. It also allows the brand to analyze and determine what strategies and offers are working best in the marketing programs. Without the critical feedback loop of sales, it can be difficult to tell if marketing is driving any value for a dealer or not. Here are several key elements that come into play when dealers share their sales data with manufacturers:

  • Integrated Systems – the biggest challenge in sharing data is that not all dealers tend to use the same point of sale (POS) technologies. While this is a technical challenge it is easily overcome with master data management practices at the brand level. The brand can invest in technology that can take source data in many different formats and transform it to be consumed in a common way.
  • Data Privacy – some dealers may not want to give up their sales data or believe that it will only benefit the brand. But the reality is that good dealer channel programs benefit both the dealer and brand and it takes shared data to create value for both.
  • Data Quality – Incomplete or bad data can be a challenge, but again, with the right technology investments by the brand, data quality challenges can be overcome.

How Can Manufacturing Brands Start a Dealer Channel Marketing Program?

The best place to start is with a pilot of your best dealers. The dealer that already exemplifies your brand beliefs and culture. These will be the local leaders that are committed to helping get a program off the ground and making it successful. As success is proven and supported by these initial tiers of dealers it will be easy to onboard the remainder.

Starting small with a pilot is good for many reasons. Fewer political battles between dealer groups and often less technology issues to deal with out of the gate. Starting small will allow you to get to market fast and show results that will fuel additional investment and participation of your dealer base.

The Takeaway

Boiled down, be sure you’re focusing on the end consumer’s experience. If you can show dealers the improved experience that their customers will have, they’ll be much more likely to invest in the program. It’s often easiest to start with programs focused on growing existing consumers, as data is often more readily available, and segmentation and personalization of the experience can be easier to execute than lead generation programs. With many of our own clients we advise them to start with one strategy and one digital channel, such as email and get to market. You can’t show dealers incremental value if you don’t have any programs in market. So don’t worry about being perfect. Instead, focus on speed to market with experiences that focus on the end customer.