Whether you own a car dealership or aspire to do so in the future, you’ll need a diverse set of skills — including leadership, financial, and customer service skills — to run your business optimally. But if you want to be a true frontrunner in a highly competitive industry, and supercharge your return on investment (ROI), you’ll want to add automotive digital marketing skills to your toolbox.
Combining your passion for cars and your business acumen with a solid automotive digital marketing strategy can help drive traffic to your car dealership website and rev up online sales leads — including potential buyers outside your dealership’s local market. Automotive digital marketing, done well, can help you create more interactive and lasting relationships with your customers, too.
Car buying trends are always evolving, but the pace of change has been increasing rapidly in recent years. Many car buyers, especially digitally savvy millennials and Gen Zers, now fully embrace the online car-buying experience. They’re conducting detailed research and comparison shopping before they purchase a vehicle. Many are completing their entire customer journey online, in fact — never setting foot once in a car dealership showroom or even taking a test drive.
In the past, many consumers shied away from making a big-ticket purchase, like a car, online. But the pandemic experience changed that, making many car buyers, out of necessity, more open to the idea of shopping for cars on the internet. Several online-only vehicle retailers have been taking full advantage of this trend — and generating billions in annual revenue.
Looking to the future, why would many consumers opt to continue buying cars online — or at least conducting much of that process via the internet? Three key reasons:
The challenge for the automotive industry and, of course, car dealers, is to make sure they don’t miss out on reaching these buyers. Even as more consumers return to car lots so they can actually “kick the tires,” it’s a good bet most will still use the internet for some aspect of the car buying process. A robust automotive digital marketing program that includes online advertising is vital for motivating these consumers to think about buying a new or pre-owned vehicle, and for engaging them through their entire customer journey, even after they take the wheel as official car owners.
Digital marketing for car dealerships is an area ripe with opportunity, but it’s also a very competitive space. Leading auto retailers have long understood that to improve the customer experience in the automotive industry, they must optimize that experience at every touchpoint in the buying journey. And in today’s world, obviously, many of those touchpoints are now digital.
If you’re a car dealer who has little or no experience with automotive digital marketing, where do you start? The following list can serve as a guide. It provides an overview of the three basic elements you’ll need to start building an automotive digital marketing strategy that can help you gain an edge in a crowded field — and boost your business ROI.
You’ll need to create and maintain a professional-looking site that, at a minimum, reflects your branding, is easy to navigate, and features detailed, relevant, and accurate information about your dealership. That includes details about the people leading and supporting your business and the vehicles and services your dealership offers. Think of your website as your virtual dealership, and let your ownership pride come through.
Just as you need to advertise your car dealership to tempt customers into the showroom, you need advertising to help drive traffic to your website. Your automotive digital marketing strategy should include deploying a range of paid media formatted for online and mobile viewing. Paid media is marketing you pay for, of course, and in the world of online advertising, it includes everything from pay-per-click advertising such as paid links on Google to video marketing on platforms like YouTube.
Organic marketing doesn’t rely on paid marketing tools. Digital marketing for car dealerships, on a basic level, includes an array of organic marketing activities, like building and maintaining email distribution lists, posting to social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter, and fine-tuning your website content for search engine optimization (SEO) to deliver traffic to your online presence naturally. As you develop a more formal and cohesive automotive digital marketing strategy, organic marketing tactics will help to support it.
Once you have the fundamental elements of your automotive digital marketing strategy in place, how do you use them to tap into the car buyer journey and grow your business? Here are some measures to consider:
Building on the recommendations outlined in the previous section, you’ll want to invest the time and resources to create a website that is informative and helpful to your customers. But if you want to earn the business of car buyers and keep them coming back, you need to develop a website experience that is compelling. Increasingly, that means offering video content — and more.
With the growth of online video technologies and virtual reality (VR), web design has moved well beyond static images. For example, many sites now offer virtual test drives, which range from simple dashcam-style videos to actual VR experiences and 360-degree graphics.
Your website should also help customers get quick answers to their questions. At the very least, contact information should be prominently displayed throughout the site. Also, because many customers are looking for immediate help, including outside of your car dealership’s regular business hours, consider using virtual intelligent assistants or chatbots. These computer programs use artificial intelligence (AI) to simulate human interaction, and they can help answer customers’ questions any time of day and keep their car buying journey moving forward.
Today, a competitive website is one that’s optimized for viewing on a mobile phone, computer, or tablet. You don’t want to turn off mobile customers with a website that delivers a poor mobile experience. It can definitely impact your bottom line: Just consider that three in every four dollars spent in online retail is transacted through a smartphone.
So, at the very least, be sure to test drive designs on multiple operating systems to make sure e-commerce and m-commerce prospects enjoy a similar experience when visiting your website. Even if they can’t buy a car directly through your site, you should still invest in providing a good “retail experience” for all customers engaging with your car dealership digitally.
While many consumers now do much of their automotive research online, the phone call remains a critical part of the car buyer’s journey. In fact, 61% of automotive consumers are likely to call a dealership when making a purchase, according to the 2021 Invoca Buyer Experience Report. They may call to schedule a test drive, order an add-on, check on inventory, or simply have a question prompted by content on your website or social channels.
Dealerships receive thousands of calls per month, and each call contains valuable third-party data that car dealers can use to refine their marketing outreach and identify leads that sales professionals can follow to boost sales closing rates.
The key to unlocking this data is conversation intelligence. This solution uses AI to analyze phone conversations between sales agents and potential customers and through the analysis of first-party data, detect strategies at scale to enhance the customer experience, focus media spend, and move customers further along the buyer journey.
Here’s an example of how conversation intelligence can help car dealers nudge customers toward a purchase: A caller to a dealership asks about a parking assist feature in a Hyundai Sonata but doesn’t schedule a test drive or inquire about car availability. Tracking this data via conversation intelligence allows the dealership sales team to personalize follow-up outreach to the caller — for example, sending an email with a link to book a test drive and details about available Hyundai Sonatas. They could also retarget the caller with digital ads promote special financing offers for Hyundai Sonatas.
Invoca also provides valuable data to inform a dealership’s overall marketing spend by helping automotive marketers attribute which campaigns are driving phone call conversions. Prior to using Invoca, many companies can only track online conversions. But Invoca’s attribution allows them to see their full ROI, including phone call conversions.
This insight allows automotive marketers to make smarter spending decisions that increase total revenue — both online and over the phone. Arriving at such decisions using conversation intelligence through call tracking can help focus marketing campaigns — and, in turn, reduce dealership CPL (cost per lead). CPL is the amount of money it takes to generate a new prospective customer for your sales team from your marketing campaigns. And at a time when dealerships are facing increasing costs to generate sales leads, lower CPL can be a powerful competitive advantage.
Invoca also integrates with marketing tools like Google Ads and Search Ads 360, so teams can use the call attribution data to improve their bidding strategy. This helps them increase their ROI further, because they are optimizing their efforts accordingly based on the total picture of online and phone call conversions. It also helps them more effectively prove their results to leadership.
Once a car buyer decides on the make and model, the next step is to find a dealer nearby with the right inventory — and searching for that dealer will likely include an online search. That means a strong local SEO strategy is imperative for car dealerships today.
A local SEO strategy includes having a physical address on your dealership website and consistent information about your location and contacts in online directories. Earning positive reviews on Yelp and Google or other review sites and mentions on third-party websites, such as the Better Business Bureau, should also be core to your strategy.
Your automotive digital marketing initiatives should feature content that can provide value for consumers at various stages of the car buyer journey. But compelling content designed to reach consumers when they’re in the earliest stages of that journey can really help your dealership to stand out. After all, consumers aren’t just investigating what vehicle to buy — they’re also trying to decide who they should work with to make that critical purchase.
Some strategies to consider include:
It’s not enough to create and implement an automotive digital marketing campaign. You also need to confirm that it’s working by consistently tracking and measuring results. Based on what you learn, you can continually refine your strategy, boosting what’s working and changing what’s not.
Some of the main digital marketing metrics to keep an eye on are:
An automotive call tracking platform like Invoca can help with measurement, including when you’re using phone lead attribution in automotive marketing. With Invoca, automotive marketers can attribute which specific campaigns are driving phone call conversions. They can move beyond tracking online conversions only and finally get a full view of ROI. That, in turn, allows them to make smarter spending decisions that help increase total revenue, both online and over the phone.
Invoca also integrates with marketing tools like Google Ads and Search Ads 360, so marketing teams can use call attribution data to improve their bidding strategy. Seeing the total picture of online and phone call conversions lets automotive markters optimize their strategy accordingly to drive a higher ROI. Even better: It helps them prove their results to leadership.
Want to learn more about how Invoca can help you improve your automotive marketing strategy? Check out these resources: