After several years of choked global supply chains, a pandemic that kept millions of drivers at home, and stalled-out automotive sales and marketing campaigns, car sales are finally moving into higher gear in many markets. For example, in the United Kingdom — the second-largest car market in Europe after Germany — September 2023 marked the 14th month of higher car sales.
Higher sales demand doesn’t mean the automotive industry is back in the fast lane yet, though. Automotive market trends show U.K. car sales are still well below their 3.1 million peak in 2016.
Also, starting next year, U.K. manufacturers must meet government-imposed zero-emission targets requiring 100% of operating vehicles to be electric by 2035. And despite the country’s entire capital city being declared an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), only one in 10 car buyers purchased an electric vehicle in September 2023.
As a result of these developments, as well as shrinking marketing budgets and shifting consumer preferences, automotive marketing trends in the U.K. are evolving rapidly.
In 2022, car manufacturing, sales, and repairs accounted for 2% of the U.K.’s gross domestic product. That’s more than double the economic output of the country’s agriculture industry.
However you choose to slice and dice automotive statistics, the industry is a significant and highly competitive part of the U.K. economy. So, it’s important for everyone associated with the business, from car dealerships to marketers, to stay on top of automotive marketing trends.
To help you get up to speed, here’s a look at 15 current and emerging U.K. auto industry and auto advertising trends you should be aware of as you plan strategies and campaigns to win customers.
Consumers devour online videos when they’re online. According to Cisco, 73% of all internet traffic since 2017 has been video — and that number is rising.
Video is particularly useful for automotive marketing strategies since it can convey speed, reliability, and handling, all major factors in many car buyers’ purchasing decisions.
Videos also sell. Google reports that more than two-thirds of people who use YouTube to research cars are influenced by the channel — more so than TV, newspapers, or magazines. And research from video producer Wyzowl found that 89% of consumers were convinced to buy a product or service after watching a video about it.
One of the reasons consumers like shopping online is instant gratification. That 24/7/365 availability has now become a consumer expectation, so it’s no longer good enough for a dealership or manufacturer to eventually return a call.
Moving forward, intelligent chatbots, virtual assistants, and 24/7 customer service call centers will be invaluable in providing a satisfactory customer experience. Many companies are already employing or experimenting with these tools and methods to help ensure they deliver standout service to their customers around the clock.
Mobile apps can build robust brand loyalty with consumers, especially after they’ve made an initial purchase. Mobile apps open the door to geolocation messaging — hitting consumers with relevant and personalized ads when they are close to a car dealership, for example.
Apps can also carry rewards benefits for consumer loyalty and provide data to inform future personalization strategies and marketing campaigns.
It’s great news for automotive marketers that consumers are increasingly reliant on online channels and digital tools to help inform and shape their car-buying journey. According to AutoTrader, the U.K.’s preeminent car sales marketplace, the number of people arriving at a dealership intending to buy increased by 66% in the last three years thanks to the growing use of online research.
Digital tools that allow consumers to confirm the availability of stock, generate financing quotes and applications, and book test-drives should be included in an automotive digital marketing strategy.
Despite consumers’ use of online tools to research purchases, many people really do want to “kick the tires” before they buy a car. That means the future is relatively secure for dealerships as an ultimate destination in a buyer’s journey.
The 2023 EY Mobility Consumer Index Study shows while consumers lean toward online channels for information gathering, the in-person, dealership experience is overwhelmingly popular for pre-purchase testing and price-checking as well as the purchase.
Nevertheless, the ability to generate compelling car dealership marketing ideas remains critical if dealerships are to remain competitive and relevant in the future (and get buyers to the car lot).
AutoTrader’s aforementioned research suggests that auto dealerships should be prepared to embrace an omnichannel future. That means developing a solid online sales strategy to complement dealership sales. Omnichannel extends a dealership’s appeal beyond its local market if, for example, it has stock that a dealer in another locale does not.
A key challenge for automotive marketers is to reach buyers at key junctures throughout the customer journey. For a growing number of consumers, particularly those in the 18-48 age bracket, while they may end up in the dealership, much of that journey takes place on their mobile phone or computer. Hence the automotive sector’s huge bet on digital advertising, which is expected to reach almost US $19 billion in 2023.
One of the ways dealerships can remain relevant in the high-tech and online future is by integrating digital showrooms into their marketing strategies. This can also help address the 24/7 responsiveness we’ve outlined above and enhance the customer experience.
Can’t sleep? Why not go online at 2 a.m. and wander around your local car showroom using 360-degree video or virtual reality? If you see something you want to test-drive, you can trek down to the dealership when it opens.
One of the biggest — and most controversial — U.K. auto market trends is the move toward electric vehicles. As we’ve outlined, the U.K. government is all-in on EV, with an aggressive mandate to make 80% of U.K. car production electric after 2030, with fully electric production by 2035.
Successful automotive marketing strategies must accommodate the move to EV while recognizing that production and sales are not quite there yet.
Personalization at scale in marketing can deliver big benefits — so it pays to be good at it. A McKinsey & Co. study found that companies that excel at personalization generate 40% more revenue from their marketing activities than average companies.
Things like conversation intelligence gleaned from phone calls can help with achieving personalization at scale. You can identify those precious conversation nuggets from callers that indicate if they are just researching, or they are ready to buy. That insights allows you to to target them with more relevant ads for the vehicles they inquired about over the phone. It also allows you to route qualified callers to the right sales agent, fast.
Cars are big-ticket purchases. Leasing is expensive, too. This expense, and high interest rates, are driving one of the latest automotive marketing trends: subscription.
Think of subscription as pay-as-you-go where all motoring costs are in one monthly payment. Some programs even allow consumers to change car models from month to month.
In the U.K., manufacturers like Jaguar Land Rover, Hyundai, and Volvo as well as third-party subscription services like Wagonex and Drive Fuze offer short or long-term subscriptions allowing consumers to drive vehicles without the cost or hassle of ownership.
Another auto market trend worth watching is the rise of influencer partnerships.
For 20-plus years starting in 2002, U.K. automotive marketing was almost defined by three people: Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and “Dr. Slow,” aka James May. Today, instead of Top Gear gracing British TV screens once a week, there are literally hundreds of minor celebrities reviewing cars online every day.
Thanks chiefly to the rise of video and social media platforms, these influencers have become tremendously important for helping automotive brands to connect with consumers. As influencers’ cache keeps growing, expect them to become a major feature of many automotive marketing strategies.
The trend toward mobile has huge implications for automotive marketing, not least of which is the fact that interactive mobile ads have the potential to engage and immerse consumers at a level that static ads cannot.
Imagine, for example, viewing an ad on your phone from the perspective of the driver or being able to personalize your car choice’s color and features right in the ad, as an enterprising ad creative did for a dealership in Norway.
Most websites are now optimized for mobile too, giving mobile-first campaigns far more reach as well as impact and making it one of the biggest auto advertising trends to stay attuned to.
According to SMMT, the trade association representing U.K. car manufacturers and dealers, Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAVs) will transform the automotive industry and the lives of six in 10 people in the United Kingdom.
Most new cars sold in the U.K. already have automated safety features such as emergency braking and lane assist technology. But full connectivity means that cars can transmit, receive, and exchange information with other vehicles, infrastructure, and even devices outside the vehicle.
Fully autonomous vehicle production on a mass scale is years away, and operability is dependent on the rollout of 5G, which is ongoing in the U.K. But automotive sector marketers should start planning now for an inevitable boom in the population of connected cars.
One of the constant automotive marketing trends is budgetary. Marketing is too often forced to “defend their spend” or face budget cuts. We all know that’s tough to accomplish when attribution is so difficult to pin down. Did the buyer call the dealership to inquire about that model because of an ad we ran or was it just kismet?
Luckily, there is an effective way to prove your return on advertising spend (ROAS) if you use Invoca’s artificial intelligence-powered call tracking. Invoca captures critical phone conversion data so that marketing can achieve credit for every conversion, not just those tracked online. Accurately measuring performance doesn’t just defend the spend — it enables marketers to optimize campaigns and make smarter decisions.
The automotive marketing landscape in the United Kingdom is changing fast. The drive toward EV, the impact of higher interest rates on consumer purchasing patterns, and the emergence of alternative ownership and leasing models such as subscriptions, are just some developments for auto industry watchers to keep in focus.
Automotive marketers can stay at the forefront of new trends with Invoca. We work closely with leading businesses in the industry to help them create seamless customer journeys and ensure their marketing teams get accurate call attribution for their campaigns. Check out this case study featuring AutoNation, which uses conversation intelligence from Invoca to connect and optimize the omnichannel buying experience for its customers.
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