He urged the audience to take more risks, do something different, fail quickly and learn from failure. To keep up with consumers – who are way ahead – not competitors. To build an engaging website that is mobile-friendly and appears at the top of search engines.
The automotive industry is traditionally slow and risk averse. Hugh Dickerson admitted: "Car finance is as dull as ditchwater."
So where is the innovation and inspiration?
At one end of the spectrum are the men in grey suits. At the other end is Ling Valentine (pictured above).
As you may remember, she is the “Chinglish” car lessor from Gateshead who famously turned down investment from Dragons’ Den in 2007.
Her website, LingsCars.com, is garish, noisy, and breaks all the traditional rules of web design. It has been nominated amongst the world's worst - and also the world's best.
Hugh Dickerson says: "Customers who stick around longer are more likely to convert. Don't be dull and transactional. Bring your website to life.”
That is what she’s done. For example…
The homepage flashes "The best FAQs in the world".
Why? - Because they provide reassurance and that’s what customers want to read.
Scroll down, and you see a big graphic and portrait captioned: "You can trust me… I am Ling!"
Why? - Because she knows the car industry has a poor reputation, and trust is one of customers' main concerns.
On the mobile site, the main navigation offers a free car. When you click the link you can access a PDF illustration to print, cut out and glue.
Why? - Because interaction drives engagement, and engagement drives brand loyalty.
Did you notice those examples are all about the customer, not about the company?
What customers think
Here is some feedback from her Twitter timeline on 29/6:
• this website wins;
• that just hurt my brain;
• the craziest website I have ever seen;
• after a busy day at work, I like to sit back and get lost in Lingscars.com; and
• By far the best website of my generation.
These people have bothered to share their thoughts about her brand – that's true social media engagement. One day, they might become her customers.
From personal experience, I can assure you that every part of the customer journey reflects Ling’s online presence.
When I asked for a quote, I was offered free cash. A Chinese note worth about 0.001p arrived in the post with a covering letter and a single wrapped mint. The letter explained that her sister had picked up the mint from the counter of the bank in China when she collected my note.
You might call that "thinking outside the box", or think it is so far out of the box that you can't even see the box from there.
I call it fun – which is not how any other car leasing experience could be described.
Fun fun fun
Congruent with her “bonkers brand”, on 29/6 she launched her interactive Sca-Ling-Tric game. If you share her sense of humour, it's hilariously entertaining (Kill the horse! Race the ice cream van!). If you don't, you'll think it's absolutely mad.
Today, she tweeted: "No one else bothers to make their website enjoyable. Everyone loves Scalextric, don't they?”
Remember, “make your site engaging,” advised Hugh Dickerson. That's exactly what she's done.
But does it work?
In the spirit of openness and transparency, Ling publishes her gross profit figures on Twitter.
On 30/6: "Half of 2015 down and my invoicing is at £430,000 ex VAT. I'm going to have to push harder to hit that £1 million."
On 29/6: “I wish more motor dealers would be open about sales/profit figures. They very rarely are. Top-secret, apparently."
Help customers choose
Some of the information Hugh Dickerson shared at the conference:
• 80% of people need help deciding which car to buy;
• 40% purchase a brand that was not their favourite at the start;
• finance options can change their minds, for example, residual value might mean the car is cheaper than their original perception
Ling handles that by providing an interactive fruit machine petrol pump called the ‘Car-U-Like-Ator’ to help customers choose a vehicle.
How helpful is your site? Do you use gamification (games)? What about video? Do you explain the jargon that the industry is riddled with, but that confuses customers?
That’s the minimum expectation of today’s Internet users.
The future is now
Let's end with another quote from Hugh: "Today is the slowest rate of technological change you will go through in the rest of your life. We are living in the future right now."
Are you ready?
If not, you might find disruptors like Ling have leap-frogged you.
Jackie Barrie is a ‘writing without waffle’ copywriter, trainer, speaker and author based in the UK with clients all over the world.
She can be found at jackiebarrie.com or follow her on Twitter @jackiebarrie
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