Leading Consumers Down a Dead End? Learn from Tesla


Thought leaders from select Path to Purchase Institute partners give voice to the member perspective.

a woman wearing glasses and smiling at the camera
Gail Kay

By now, it’s old news that the pandemic has fundamentally changed shopping behavior. People flocked online to shop — and they liked it, with digital sales models garnering twice the positive customer sentiment as traditional models.

In this increasingly digital, omnichannel world, the best customer experiences have succeeded in making the right product easy to find across all channels. However, customer, media and sales data often exist in silos and cannot be easily leveraged to make agile, data-based marketing decisions. The marketing activity is not coordinated, and appears clunky, presenting as bad customer experience (CX) to shoppers. This results in more total marketing spend, less conversion and, at times, brand damage.

While it can be difficult to deliver the best customer experiences across a multitude of physical and digital touchpoints, there are examples of a job well done.

Consider the automotive industry, where the shopping, buying and owning portions of the journey are in the hands of auto dealers. Once a car hits the dealer ecosystem, the automotive manufacturer loses control of the marketing and brand presentation. In a non-ideal partnership, this could lead to damaging the brand’s perception and a clunky user experience (UX) for the end-user.

Then there’s Tesla, and an onslaught of new entrants to the automotive marketplace (Carvana, Dealer.com) that have forced automotive manufacturers to change. Tesla’s highly personalized, no dealer/no heavy-handed sales pitch and fast, easy digital purchase is making the traditional dealer model obsolete. Tesla owns the entire experience, messaging to audiences throughout their full journey, and employs organic, data-based, personalized ambassador programs that put the customer in the driver’s seat (pun intended!).

Although not every CPG manufacturer can replicate Tesla’s process exactly, there is much to be gained from reorganizing marketing spend and centralizing the command chain. Subaru, Mazda, Ford and others have pivoted during the pandemic to avoid the CX dead end that Tesla has conquered. By delivering coordinated, full journey marketing with performance at the center, they are building unified commerce ecosystems that:

• Start and end with the customer. They know what the customer needs and they give it to them.

• Enable data-based decision-making with constant measurement and attribution to sales/conversion. They know what marketing is and isn’t working, so they can quickly optimize to improve conversion and efficiency.

• Are based toward action — always testing, learning and optimizing to build capability iteratively.

All of the above enables the manufacturer to provide turnkey marketing solutions to which dealers can opt in. Attribution to sales/conversion provides proof that a coordinated, full-journey approach, with performance marketing at the core, is more effective than anything dealers can do on their own — driving more sales with the same or less marketing investment, and leaving competition without these capabilities in the dust.

CPG marketing looks a lot like automotive before the Tesla disruption. Customer, media and sales data live in silos, and marketing is uncoordinated, redundant and full of friction. The best approach is to coordinate as much of the marketing across the organization and budgets as possible, and execute marketing dollars within the retailer ecosystem. You might consider:

• Mapping the existing and desired customer experience. Identify opportunities and gaps, and prioritize them based on predicted business impact.

• Building a plan to address the prioritized opportunities/gaps first.

• Determining data streams needed to establish and measure against key performance indicators.

• Focusing on building deeper relationships with retailers for a full coordinated view of shopper behavior. Meet shoppers where they are on the journey.

By following these steps, you will be able to orchestrate audience insights using media strategy and conversion tactics, while driving incremental growth and building your brand’s experience.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gail Kay is executive vice president, managing director, at VMLY&R Commerce, where she specializes in delivering data-driven, creative commerce solutions. She has led B2B and B2C client engagements in a broad range of categories, including automotive and auto aftermarket, consumer packaged goods, industrial products, food service and OTC pharmaceuticals.