How to Make the Most of Your Dealership Advertising Budget

The auto dealership industry spent approximately $8 billion in advertising alone in 2014, according to an NADA DATA report. With that kind of money in play and the necessary return on investment required, dealers must take a strategic advertising approach. This has become especially true as buyers’ online research has increased and purchasing habits have changed.

It used to be that someone buying a car would visit dealerships and ask the salesperson questions about a particular vehicle. Now, consumers are more likely to use the Internet to find answers. In fact, those that use the Internet during their vehicle research process spend 75% of their total research time online, according to a Polk/AutoTrader report.

With that in mind, a positive online experience and brand interaction must lead buyers to the dealership’s physical location, and influence them to make purchase decisions in person. Without an online presence, dealerships are losing potential sales opportunities, so their advertising budget should be invested in a website, social media presence, and online ads.


A dealership’s online presence starts with its website. Hosting information from location to vehicle details and dealership history to staff, dealership websites certainly vary in size.

When you consider what your website should look like and say, ensure that it’s mobile-friendly. In a study from Google, researchers found that 35% of auto shoppers use their smartphone or other device to conduct online research.

Also remember that car buyers are starting their research on search engines like Google or Bing, and having a website gives your brand an opportunity to appear early in their research.

Social media

CMO Council stats report that 38% of consumers said they will consult social media before making their next car purchase. Further, 23% of car buyers use social channels to share their buying experience.

Dealerships need to have a presence on social media platforms, not only to engage with and encourage potential buyers but also to listen to the opinions of past customers that chose not to purchase. This feedback can help you improve your operations and sales approach.

Social media is a great way to promote offers on the lot and build a brand identity (more on that later). Offer your followers advice on caring for their car or share staff news. This will build relationships and trust, which is more important than just pushing sales.

Online ads

Online advertisements through pay-per-click (PPC) are an incredible opportunity to raise brand awareness and drive more potential customers to a dealership’s website.

PPC also offers ways for dealerships to retarget shoppers that have been on their website already but moved on to do research elsewhere. You can effectively remind them of your existence, and bring them back to your site.

From online to in person

The on-lot shopping experience is the step in the process that often immediately follows the online shopping experience. It’s also the most important phase because it directly precedes the customer’s decision on whether or not to purchase. It’s up to the dealership to create an in-person experience that makes shoppers feel comfortable, confident, and in control.

Research has shown that an offline purchase decision is most heavily influenced by the in-store visual merchandising and the ability of the sales staff to assist customers in navigating the purchase. By building a strong dealership identity and effectively merchandising a showroom and inventory, dealerships are setting up their staff to close sales more often.

Dealer identity

You will find that most people are loyal to car brands, but not necessarily the dealership. By building a brand identity for a dealer, it becomes differentiated from the competition.

An identity is developed by using consistent iconography, imagery, spokespeople, and personality throughout all marketing materials. While customers move through the sales process, this identity will become repetitive and help to recall and reinforce the brand value.

Lot/inventory merchandising

With customers spending more time researching online before stepping onto the lot, it’s important that the visual elements of the dealership replicate the virtual experience and brand identity that they find online. This means organizing inventory in a manner that will allow customers to easily navigate, search, compare, and select vehicles.

When consumers research cars on your website, they can conveniently find important information on the vehicle with one click. This same idea should be applied to in-person visits. Clearly display details of the vehicle on each individual car.

Helpful staff

According to Lab42, 81% of car buyers say they are less likely to purchase a vehicle if a salesperson is too aggressive. In today’s environment, shoppers want to feel informed before beginning a conversation with a salesperson. With that in mind, dealerships should train their employees to create a welcoming setting that allow customers to approach them when they’re ready.

Advertising and marketing are incredibly important aspects of owning a successful auto dealership. It’s vital to reinforce the dealership’s brand identity before customers step onto the lot, throughout the sales process, and at the point of purchase. Bridging the gap between online and on-lot shopping will help achieve this, and will also extend the dealership’s sales opportunities.

John Wingle is the founder and CEO of LotMonkey, a provider of software technology solutions for automobile dealerships and dealer groups to brand and merchandise inventory and showrooms. Wingle founded LotMonkey following a decade of experience creating and franchising OnSight Solutions, an in-dealership merchandising company.

John Wingle

1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    Igor December 08, 2015

    I think that keyword research also has it’s word in planning a ppc budget. Last time I was working on a PPC campaign we used serpstat to filter out the keywords with a perfect balance of low competition/high visibility and decent CPC, it worked great for that particular case, but I can’t say that it works every time, not enough data 🙂 Do you have any experience in that, how do you chose what keywords to advertise?


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