When it comes to automotive marketing, the Internet has been a game-changer.

According to a recent Google study, 83% of car buyers go online first, checking out dealer and manufacturer websites and comparing cars and prices on their mobile phones, often right from the showroom floor.

As a result, showroom visits are decreasing, with more consumers comparison-shopping inventory online and only swooping in to buy after their minds are made up. Dealerships no longer can rely on in-store visits to drive sales. They need to have the most powerful online presence wherever dealer or vehicle selection is happening and work far harder to keep customers close throughout the ownership cycle by using every retention-marketing tool possible.

But in the rush to adopt new techniques and channels, it’s easy for the marketing process to become disjointed. In many cases, online marketing departments have been set up to be entirely independent from their established, traditional-marketing counterparts. Such a division can be harmful, as it can lead to a dual-track marketing strategy, with each track going off in a different direction.

Let’s take a look at what can happen using this “dual-track” marketing method.

Say your offline marketing department launches a direct-mail campaign offering selected customers a special, discounted rate on a car loan. Interested customers call to confirm the offer. But as they hang up the phone, they receive an email from your company, offering an even greater discounted rate.

When they call back again, they find the agent on the phone knows nothing of the new offer. And when they respond to the email, they are told to disregard any previous offer made through direct mail.

Frustrated and confused, the customer in question likely will turn off – not only to this offer, but also to your future offers.

Lining up Your Tracks – and Messages

Mixed messaging, miscommunication and inter-departmental turf wars can quickly undermine the efficacy of any marketing campaign, and marketing jargon might be partially to blame.

There are many terms out there: cross-channel, multichannel, omni-channel and more. Instead of getting bogged down in definitions, the focus should be on the ability to show the customer a unified face.

To make this happen, it’s critical to discard the old paradigm of separate online-and-offline strategies in favor of a coordinated approach – a single track pointing toward a horizon of closed sales.

It’s also necessary to pay attention to customer needs. What are they interested in? How do they prefer to be contacted? Answering these questions will lead to a strong, positive relationship and much more effective marketing.