In this post:
The global pandemic changed car buying forever by driving home to countless consumers that the internet is a place for purchasing vehicles reliably, cost-effectively, and with speed and ease. For many consumers, the internet is now an integral tool in their car buying journey, serving as a critical source of information for everything under the sun about all types of vehicles — including how and where to buy them, online or offline.
This is positive news for car dealerships that want to expand their customer base beyond their local area and grow more revenue. But the pressure is on for these businesses to create a dealership marketing strategy that will stand out in this new and challenging frontier. Auto dealers also face more competition than ever before, including from car manufacturers, like Tesla, which can now conduct direct sales, in some form, in more than half of the United States, including in California, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.
What type of automotive marketing tactics do auto dealers need to employ to attract customers in today’s complex marketplace? Read on to find out.
Despite increased profitability for auto dealerships in 2021 and 2022, the pandemic has created significant challenges for this sector of the automotive industry. Manufacturing and supply chain bottlenecks are among the top issues. And, as noted earlier, competition has been heating up dramatically, with dealerships in local markets now vying for market share with car manufacturers and big-name car retailers with broad reach.
But it’s consumers’ evolving preferences that are perhaps the most game-changing dynamic for auto dealerships. In short, it’s become essential for auto dealers to step up their digital marketing efforts and engage with target audiences across various platforms. Consider automotive marketing statistics from Google that show 95% of auto buyers conduct research online — and 2x as many automotive consumers start their research online versus at a car dealership. Also, increasingly, consumers use mobile devices for their searches and then dial up dealerships straight from their smartphones.
Now that it’s clear why you need a solid dealership marketing plan, how do you develop one? Here are five main steps to help get you started:
What kind of buyer is your car dealership trying to reach? This may seem like a simple question, but it’s important to define your target audience for dealership marketing from the outset. Costs per customer have been rising for automotive marketers, even across digital marketing platforms. So, pinpointing exactly where to direct your investments will benefit you in the long run.
An honest assessment of what space your brand holds in the market and how it sits in the minds of your customers is critical to developing a successful dealership marketing plan. This process includes determining what differentiates your brand and understanding what needs your target customers have and how your business can address them.
What are your competitors doing in the digital marketing space? Who seems successful and why? What appears to be working for them? Look closely at keywords in dealership advertising and other relevant content used for automotive marketing so that you can hone your own search engine optimization (SEO) efforts and further refine your brand positioning.
Automotive dealerships might use business metrics such as new customers added, sales units, or timing for inventory moved, or financial measures such as revenue growth, to assess the effectiveness of their car dealership advertising and marketing efforts.
Don’t overlook using KPIs to measure the impact of your digital marketing efforts, too. Metrics such as increases in organic traffic to your website or click-to-call rates can help your marketing team enhance existing efforts or craft new initiatives.
Two metrics especially useful for tying your marketing efforts to revenue and sales are:
Learn more about CPL and CPA and their value to auto dealership marketers here.
Auto dealerships have a wide array of tactics — traditional and digital — they can deploy as part of a formal marketing plan. For example, will your dealership invest in paid search campaigns, boost its presence in social channels, expand radio advertising, or all of the above to achieve its objectives?
One desired outcome of automotive marketing strategies is to increase revenue, of course. A strong dealership marketing plan can help you grow revenue by making it easier for your business to:
Expanding sales is essential to driving revenue. To increase sales, you need to gain new customers for your auto dealership, but also, ideally, drive repeat business from previous customers.
With an effective marketing strategy, you can reach customers at every stage of the car buyer journey. You can use car dealership advertising to raise awareness about your business, draw in buyers by alerting them to special promotions and providing targeted offers, and encourage existing customers to use your dealership for other services, like maintenance. And, when the time comes, you can use dealership marketing to motivate customers to buy their next new car from you.
A well-developed marketing plan, executed effectively to reach and resonate with the right audiences at the right time, can also improve the brand reputation and recognition of your car dealership. You can generate new business, but also increase the likelihood of repeat customers with targeted marketing efforts that help build brand loyalty.
Greater efficiency is another benefit of cohesive auto dealership marketing. It can help you identify and eliminate ineffective strategies so that your sales and marketing teams can focus on work that will have the maximum impact.
Auto dealership marketing can involve many elements and tactics, depending on your marketing objectives. Following are some that you’ll likely want to include in your dealership marketing efforts.
Make your website appealing to the eye, easy to navigate, and fast. Visitors will leave and not return if they encounter a poor user experience. Also, be sure to optimize your website for mobile viewing.
Fill your site with information relevant to your buyers, avoid marketing-speak, and make sure contact information and click-to-call buttons are prominent. Consider using multimedia resources such as high-quality videos and photos to drive user engagement.
Finally, treat your website like your auto dealership and make it friendly, informative, and helpful. If possible, your site should feature an intelligent assistant or chatbot that can initiate contact with visitors, answer basic questions, and guide them to other resources and contacts.
Paid media campaigns can help car dealerships drive traffic to their websites quickly and efficiently. Paid search tactics for dealerships include testing and placing ads on search sites like Google, multimedia platforms such as YouTube, and social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.
As you develop your ad campaigns, look at what keywords your competitors use and incorporate them if they’re relevant to your business. Also, avoid using keywords that could drive the wrong traffic to your site. (If, for example, you only sell a luxury car brand, you probably don’t want words like “affordable” showing up in your online ads.)
Make sure to test and retest designs and ad copy for maximum impact and don’t be afraid to remarket campaigns that see success. Move fast to ditch or rework campaigns that don’t test well.
Optimizing content and formatting your webpages to be SEO-friendly is another smart tactic that will deliver more traffic to your site. Remember that SEO doesn’t just mean paying close attention to content and keywords. URLs, page titles, and meta descriptions all need to be reviewed for SEO.
If you have a blog on your dealership website, make sure that posts are reviewed periodically and SEO-optimized, if necessary. Even old posts might drive traffic with updated SEO — and everything helps when it comes to generating website traffic.
Localize SEO by adding Google Business and other listings and a location/contact page that includes the dealership address and perhaps even a “How to Find Us” map. This will help your dealership website stand out to prospective buyers who have done their initial research online and are now looking for a local dealer who might have the make and model of the car they want.
Remember, dealership advertising doesn’t need to be static. Consider incorporating video into your marketing efforts. Google estimates that the amount of time prospective car buyers watch test-drive videos on YouTube has grown by 65% in the last two years.
Radio still matters to dealership marketing success — a lot. The growth of streaming radio, available on desktops, via mobile devices, and in cars, has expanded the radio universe dramatically, providing further opportunities for auto dealers to reach target audiences.
This medium isn’t extinct, either. Ever notice how many billboards are on major roads today, including digital billboards? Stats suggest that 81% of travelers — not just drivers — have noticed a static or digital billboard and 8% will make a phone call to a number featured on that billboard.
Direct email campaigns can help your auto dealership reach and engage with a hyper-targeted audience, especially if you incorporate elements such as advertising for special promotions, loyalty program information, customer reviews, and referral programs.
Holding contests and events can help you build your brand and increase customers’ brand loyalty. (Looking for inspiration? Here’s one recent example: Jeep’s contest to name its latest Wagoneer electric model and win $40,000.) Contests and events can also help you expand customer lists for email marketing campaigns.
How do you know if your marketing efforts are resonating with customers and helping to grow your dealership? You measure their performance. Following is an overview of commonly used online metrics and dealership metrics that can help you gauge the effectiveness of your marketing strategy:
Online metrics you may want to track include traffic (both organic and paid), number of click-to-calls and appointments scheduled, the amount of time a visitor stays on one of your webpages and the bounce rate, how many customers leave a review, and how quickly your team responds to online queries. You can also measure cost per click (CPC) and cost per acquisition (CPA).
61% of customers call dealerships to set appointments, inquire about inventory, and answer questions they couldn't find on the website. If you're not tracking how many phone call conversions your digital advertising drives, you may be significantly underreporting your ROI! That's why leaders in the automotive space like AutoNation use Invoca call tracking to prove — and improve — the impact of their marketing dollars, both online and over the phone.
Metrics at the dealership level that can help inform your marketing plan include:
Another key metric is the Customer Satisfaction Index score (CSI), which is often used to determine the quality of the car dealership customer experience. It’s vital to the long-term success of your business to boost your dealership CSI score, and that includes figuring out, through tools like CSI surveys, what it is about your experience that keeps customers coming back, or drives them away.
A well-executed marketing plan can elevate your car dealership’s brand and improve the overall automotive customer experience. There are additional tools available to automotive dealerships that can help you amplify your marketing efforts, including Invoca’s automotive call tracking solution.
Invoca provides dealership marketing teams with first-party data from incoming calls to the dealership. This conversation intelligence data enables your marketers to gain complete visibility into the campaigns driving those calls. Conversation intelligence also provides the insight they need to adjust campaigns on the fly and create more personalized and targeted campaigns. It also helps your marketers attribute incoming calls to specific campaigns.
Additionally, conversation intelligence enables the dealership to route calls to the appropriate department, providing the opportunity to convert more calls to car buyers — regardless of whether a customer’s outreach was motivated by a digital ad, a billboard, or any other tactic in a dealership marketing campaign designed to prompt a call.
Want to learn more about how Invoca can help you improve your automotive marketing strategy? Check out these resources: