An opportunity to learn from someone with over 27 years’ experience in the automotive industry is a rare thing indeed.

Marcus Hodgkinson, Managing Director of data-insight company sophus3, gives Reevoo founder Richard Anson his thoughts on the car industry – both then and now. His predictions and his analysis in this podcast make for really interesting listening.

Marcus Hodgkinson started off in a company providing analytics services to the car industry. The company focused on optimising dealer networks by analysing data to work out where the best place for dealerships would be. This was to achieve the optimum level of consumer interaction with the fewest physical dealerships. Later on he opened the European office of sophus3 and started up the first car auction site, which they went on to sell to Mercedes-Benz Finance.

In a March 9 event centred around ‘Value Creation through the Digital Journey’ at the Automotive Forum, Marcus will talk alongside Richard about the digital face of the consumer journey, how it is being shaped and how it can best be understood.

Is online the be-all and end-all?

Marcus had previously calculated that, by the year 2000, all purchasing journeys for the motor industry would begin and end online. He admits that this particular prediction hasn’t come to pass.

Instead, consumers are better able to equip themselves with information via the internet. It is now simple to ask questions, and answers are a mere click away. Cars are still sold by dealers in physical dealerships, for the most part, but dealers have learnt, along with the manufacturers, to use the internet to excite and entice customers.

Manufacturers’ websites are visited 20 million times per month. At this point, customers are completing cursory research. This allows consumers to be far more switched on – and often more knowledgeable than the salesperson. And if this consumer is at the showroom after all their online research, they are far nearer the end of their buying journey than they typically would have been less than a decade ago.

Marcus’s particular interest lies in companies having a better understanding of data and the various points at which the consumer journey can start; be that with online articles or reviews, the brand’s homepage or the dealership’s website. Once this journey is better understood, he concludes, the companies best able to trace these multiple paths will make the journeys smooth and seamless, and more customers will convert.

A key role for the internet is also to create excitement, engagement and encouragement for consumers to interact with brands and products. This is seen particularly in the strong use of user-generated content and advertising campaigns focused around user involvement, such as viral campaigns.

A key role for the internet is to create excitement, engagement and encouragement for consumers to interact with brands and products. - Highlight to share -

What now for offline?

Currently, the biggest issue of contention in the industry centres on the role of dealerships or showrooms in a web-heavy world. Although the debate is continually evolving, there is a strong feeling that dealerships can play a key role and that they aren’t necessarily going to disappear.

One way that dealerships can maintain a position in the marketplace is to level the playing field. The idea of sharing data is often a scary one and Marcus cites the difficulty in getting an original client base for sophus3 and in persuading companies to relinquish some control over their data. However, only that kind of information sharing will allow for innovation in the industry.

Find out more about the March 9 event ‘Value Creation through the Digital Journey’

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27 years on, what one automotive expert got right... and wrong