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.

Customize and Synchronize

Through technology, dealerships and lenders have unprecedented knowledge of their customer needs before they ever enter the showroom. For example, many popular auto-review websites require consumers to fill in personal information in exchange for free tools such as vehicle reviews, trade-in values and loan calculators.

Dealers and lenders who access this information have a huge advantage, as they already know the buyer’s purchase timeline, the make and value of their trade-in vehicle, the specific models they are interested in buying and the channel by which they prefer to be contacted (email, phone, or text message).

Another example is customized online advertising. Using techniques such as remarketing, marketers now can tailor advertising to particular customers based on the vehicles in which they already have signaled an interest. For example, if a consumer ran several Google searches on various types of sport wagons, you can make sure ads for your own sport wagon begin showing up in sidebars and Facebook feeds.

It’s also possible to start advertising to online customers who have not yet signaled an interest, based on models created by defining ideal customers for lenders, OEMs or dealers.

If, after running relevant advertising, you decide to follow up with a direct mailing, the consumer already is familiar with your product. Suddenly, the ad experience has become more personalized, powerful and tangible.

By listening to your consumers and noting their preferences, it is easier to market to them. Not only do you know vehicles of interest, but you also know which channels they frequent and how they prefer to be contacted. This allows for powerful, synchronized messaging across all channels.

Finding the Right Blend

In today’s changed marketing landscape, integrating your messaging across a variety of channels – email, websites, social networks, direct mail, phone and dealership contact – will provide the greatest experience for consumers, and the greatest success for you.

This is the essence of customer-centric marketing: Speaking to consumers about what interests them, using customized messaging based on individual needs, and all via their preferred channels.

Remember that marketing is like coffee – your consumers will have a variety of tastes and preferences, and you can’t just brew a single pot of Breakfast Blend and let it sit.

By constantly monitoring the results of your current marketing approaches, you can produce fine-tuned campaigns that are highly targeted to the tastes of your consumers and, like that double latte with soy, much more satisfying as a result.

Kamal Tahir is vice president-Client Strategy at Datamyx, a provider of data-driven marketing in the financial services, automotive and insurance industries