DETROIT -- Marketing executives from the automotive and tech world agree: Digital is now in the driver's seat.
Once seen only as a necessary supplement to advertising on mainstream media such as TV, print and radio, digital platforms such as social media, YouTube videos and mobile are now top of mind when automotive marketing executives plan their campaigns.
Kass Dawson, head of automotive strategy at Facebook, says 2013 was the year digital "took over" as the dominant way consumers digest media.
That broad trend extends into the car shopping process. For example, Dawson cited Polk data that rated the Internet as the most influential medium people use to select a dealer when buying a new car. Consumers spend about 10 hours shopping for a car online and less than four hours shopping through other methods, Dawson said, also referencing Polk.
Automakers and their agencies are responding.
"If our agency comes with a TV spot first, that's the wrong way to go," said Trudy Hardy, vice president of marketing for BMW North America, during a panel discussion at the Automotive News World Congress last week. "They have to show us the digital ideas first, and the TV comes at the end -- supplementary."
Executives from Ford's ad agency and from Nissan North America echoed those sentiments. Mark LaNeve, COO of Global Team Ford, says the agency already has adopted a "digital first" philosophy to help Ford keep up with its customers, who he says are technologically far ahead of all marketers.
More than half of Team Detroit's employees work primarily on digital initiatives, LaNeve said. Other digitally focused practices at the agency include a global analytics practice and the implementation of a digital-first planning and measurement system for Ford's regional dealer ad groups.
LaNeve says traditional media still are important, but digital media consumption has made the traditional notion of the purchase funnel all but obsolete.
"The customer doesn't really receive digital media the way they do traditional media," he said. "They engage digital media, they consume it on their own terms and timetables, and it's nonlinear: They jump from watching a video to locating a vehicle to building and pricing a car to e-mailing their dealer."
Nissan is adopting a similar approach at its new agency, Nissan United, said Jose Munoz, chairman of Nissan North America. He says digital content gives marketers more creative freedom to tell different stories about a new product simultaneously.
"The name of the game is not whether you go [into digital] or not," Munoz said. "It's how you go there, how you get there and how many resources for this vs. other channels."