Mobile Marketing: Make the Direct Connection

The term Internet marketing is threatening to go the way of the dinosaur, rendered increasingly obsolete by its smaller, more flexible successor: mobile marketing. More and more, mobile marketing is Internet marketing.

The increase in Americans using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets as their entry point to the online world has been rapid. According to Pew Research Center’s report on smartphone use in 2015, nearly two-thirds of Americans now own a smartphone, and about 19% of them rely solely on mobile devices to access online services and information. In fact, 10% of these people don’t even have broadband Internet at home, making their mobile device their primary connection to the Web, even when not on the go.

And as go online trends such as Web commerce and banking, so go their mobile counterparts. For years, consumers have enjoyed the convenience, value, and choices available through online shopping. There is no longer a different set of expectations of or standards for mobile devices. Users now expect online shopping or financial transactions on their smartphones and tablets to be as rich, secure, and convenient as they are on a full-size desktop computer or laptop.

If there was any doubt about the increasing dominance of mobile in the online world, Google eliminated it this past April with “Mobilegeddon”—the company’s switch to search algorithms that favor mobile-friendly sites. Websites that are not optimized for mobile will return less-favorable search results. This has been the year that mobile-friendliness has gone from “good to have” to “essential for survival.”

Many auto dealerships have been on top of the mobile curve for years, but for those that haven’t, the time to optimize for and embrace mobile marketing is now. Joining us to discuss how dealerships can best utilize mobile are three industry experts with a wealth of experience in automotive and online marketing: Sean Stapleton, vice president of sales and marketing at VinSolutions; Chad Bockius, chief marketing officer at CarStory; and Joe Orr, president and CEO of DealerSuccess.

DMM: Should a dealership’s mobile marketing strategy be a derivation of its overall website marketing plan or a unique, standalone plan, and why?

Sean Stapleton: There’s no such thing as a separate marketing plan and mobile marketing plan: Dealers need one holistic marketing plan to encompass all opportunities, and a mobile marketing strategy is a major opportunity—to say the least.

Mobile is driving one of the largest percentages of change in traditional marketing within the automotive industry. Generally speaking, car shoppers expect mobile-optimized sites. More than half of users start their research on a mobile device. Most leads now come from mobile devices. Consumers aren’t coming into the dealership to shop anymore; they’re coming to buy. An integrated mobile marketing strategy ensures dealers are reaching these shoppers when and where they start their car-buying journey: online and on multiple devices.

Ultimately, a dealer’s mobile marketing strategy should be unique to his or her customers, but it shouldn’t stand alone. It should be folded into the overall marketing plan to reap the greatest results. Having a mobile marketing strategy is no longer an option. Dealers can’t afford not to.

Chad Bockius: Across all the marketplaces that we serve, over 65% of all traffic is coming from a mobile device. This means dealers need an integrated plan that provides the right information, in the right format, at the right time—regardless of the device being used. It would be a mistake to treat a mobile customer differently from a desktop customer. They are one in the same, and dealers should expect that customers will jump back and forth between their devices. Marketing campaigns should be consistent across platforms, and mobile is just one of the many channels that should be part of a dealer’s overall website marketing plan.

Joe Orr: I think mobile should be the focus. Everything should be built for mobile in mind, first and foremost. That being said, mobile is simply an extension of a dealership’s digital footprint. So, dealers should ensure that the transition from desktop to any other device is seamless. Oftentimes, consumers will begin research on a mobile phone then transition to a desktop, or vice versa.

I emphasize mobile because online activities have steadily been trending more toward mobile as these devices become increasingly advanced and convenient. MMS must be part of the overall website marketing plan—website development, landing pages, blogs, any web presence where a customer sees information relating to a dealership. Dealership content should be fully responsive on all devices, with ease of use being the primary focus.

Clear calls to action should be intentionally designed to be prominent on whatever device a consumer is on. This will help to increase dealership leads, calls, engagement, and to convert the most traffic from the dealer’s marketing dollars. Additionally, the use of geotechnology and non-app-based push notifications should be used to customize the mobile experience based on the consumer’s location, vehicle of interest, or service needs.

This blog shares some great statistics and data on the subject:

The fact is that 64% of adults own a smartphone, and 89% of them use that phone for Internet searches. 46% of users say they can’t live without their smartphone. Mobile usage is not going to disappear—so dealers must adapt their entire online presence—not just their websites—to capture all they can.

DMM: What aspects of dealership business stand to show the biggest gains from a dedicated mobile marketing strategy?

SS: All aspects of the dealership business stand to gain from a dedicated mobile marketing strategy. The vast majority of dealership customers have a mobile device, which means that all dealership profit centers need to consider how their customers do their research and how they’re gathering information. Then you want to evaluate how you deliver that experience to your mobile users. You want to make it fast, easy, accurate, and upfront.

So yes, all profit centers must be mobile-friendly, but going even further, they must accommodate the unique attributes of the mobile customer so that it’s easy for them to buy. For example, if you’re sending a customer an email with directions to the dealership, it needs to have a clickable link, because if they’re reading it from their mobile device, that same device will be giving them the directions to get to your dealership.

CB: Dealers should be striving for a way to connect online shoppers to their stores via mobile in any and all capacity. At CarStory, we see a tremendous opportunity for dealers to improve the merchandising of their inventory across mobile devices. The importance can’t be overstated, as we know consumers are walking lots with their devices in hand—either during store hours or after the sales team leaves.

Furthermore, we see the ability for dealers to build a lot of credibility and profit with the use of text-based communications from both the service and sales departments. Some examples of engaging the customer through this channel are: appointment reminders/confirmations, post-visit surveys, normal prospect follow-up, and any multimedia-rich information, such as vehicle video walkarounds.

JO: The most important thing to remember is the message, which should be clear and not gimmicky. Think like Amazon or Apple. Buyers today are smart and they like to be recognized as smart. If a dealer can think like their customer and tailor their website and mobile marketing strategy toward the information the customer is seeking, they should find customers stay on their site longer and that their conversion rates increase. Vague offers, gimmicky messages, or a lack of information will only cause the consumer to leave your site to seek the information elsewhere. Every department in a dealership can benefit from a mobile marketing strategy. It shouldn’t be a matter of which department, it should be dealership-centric and all inclusive.

The majority of website visitors are for service—service leads to car sales and vice versa. It’s about making it so easy to engage with the dealership and so easy and intuitive to connect with the dealer on their device—clickable phone numbers, text with dealer option, etc.

DMM: What current mobile marketing techniques and technologies are being most underused by auto dealerships?

SS: Without question, geofencing and geotargeting. Geotargeting enables dealers to deliver different content based on where their customers are located, whether by city, state, or IP address. Geofencing enables dealers to get even more tightly focused by sending communications directly to their customers’ smartphones based on a defined geographic area, such as a neighborhood, shopping mall, or store.

The most beautiful thing about mobile marketing and the Internet is that it’s almost 100% trackable. We didn’t have that with traditional media; I could buy a newspaper ad and you couldn’t tell me exactly who that ad reached. Now, we are able to track everything, from where the customer originated to where they received your message to what action they took after that engagement. Trackable marketing allows dealers to adjust their strategy based on customer preferences and behaviors.

CB: Mobile marketing starts with a solid foundation. First and foremost is having a completely responsive site so the customers you are trying to attract and serve can easily access the information they need, how they need it. The fact that not all website providers even offer a responsive platform is an indication of how far behind we are as an industry. This is especially troublesome given the recent changes by Google and its search algorithm that prioritizes sites that are mobile-friendly over those that are not.

Beyond that, dealers are hampered because there are so few CRM providers or software options focused on legal text-based communication with their customers. Even though we know the importance of it, the dealer can’t always do it. This gap forces salespeople to use their own devices, which satisfies the user but puts the dealer at risk.

JO: I think that localizing your message is key. Speak directly to the consumer where they are with geotargeted and non-app-based push notification messages. [For example]: “At ABC Motors, we are offering [price] oil changes to anyone that lives in [name of town] this Thursday and Friday, and [an amount] goes to fund the high school band’s uniforms.”

This strategy delivers a relevant message to an audience with the most opportunity to accept the offer, provides a specific call to action, and appeals to consumers’ sense of community (i.e., they are getting a great deal on a service they need while helping the high school band).

DMM: What are the pros and cons of a dealership simply optimizing its website for mobile versus implementing a dealership-branded mobile app?

SS: All customers are going to appreciate and expect a good mobile experience. That’s something every dealer needs to invest in, especially considering more than 50% of car shoppers say a poor mobile experience would cause them to feel negatively about a brand.

A mobile app, on the other hand, tends to be something an existing customer finds more attractive than a prospect would. A mobile app makes it easier for existing customers to continue doing business with you by making it simple to set service appointments, easily value their trade-in, or read about the latest incentives, which enables dealers to provide better service to their customers within a mobile experience.

However, mobile apps can be a significant investment, and some people resist downloading an app on their iPhone, a different one on their iPad, and then a completely new app for their other car that came from a different dealership.

To determine whether a mobile app is a good investment, dealers should understand their addressable markets. They need to be smart enough to optimize their mobile marketing strategy and communications for what will be most valuable to their customers.

The best thing a dealer can do is make sure their online presence is up to par, including a mobile website, and then evaluate the worth of a branded app based on their specific market base.

CB: The way consumers are shopping for cars, we find it far more valuable for dealers to have an optimized, responsive website than a mobile app. Dealers have far too many breaks in their marketing initiatives and sales/phone/Internet processes to worry about the implementation of a mobile app today. The primary value of a mobile app to a dealership would be targeted push notifications for service customers and the ability to schedule service online. However, this technology should exist on their responsive website, so placing it on a mobile app is just one more channel to consider.

Before marching down this path, ask yourself a few questions: What is the goal? Are there better ways to achieve it? Will consumers download the app? Will they even use it? Can I even get my own employees to find value in downloading it? Can you justify the estimated $200 a month expense against an app’s download and utilization rate?

JO: Having a separate app can divide and confuse your customers. First, they would need to know that your app exists in the first place. Then they would need to download that app—which takes time and data. When consumers seek to access information on their mobile phone, they do so because it is quick and convenient. By contrast, having a mobile-enabled website keeps them on your site regardless of how they’re accessing the information. It’s quick, easy, and creates a good customer experience.

In my opinion, QR codes haven’t become popular for the simple reason that a customer has to download an app to scan the code. The same thing applies to a dealership-branded mobile app. A dealer would have to have a pretty compelling reason for a consumer to do so—like if it’s tied into a rewards program or there is some other benefit for them.

I hear estimates that something like 80% to 90% of apps are eventually deleted. Even Apple has made its apps unable to be deleted in hopes that people will see and use them—much to consumers’ ire. [Also, Digital Trends reports that] only 16% of users will try an app more than once.

DMM: How will dealership F&I be affected by the mobile revolution?

SS: We’re already seeing this happen, but it’s only affecting dealerships that aren’t optimized for the mobile customer. Just like the car business, the F&I “box” is moving online. Before, a shopper would call and ask what the price of a car is, and the salesperson would say, “Come on in and we’ll tell you.” Well, now that shopper will hang up and call the next store or visit their website to find out instead.

We’re no longer going to see what was traditionally commonplace in the F&I environment because the dealership, and all its processes, are moving online. Consumers today are trying to do as many of their transactions online as possible, and they already have the ability to start the F&I process via their mobile device. Why shouldn’t they be able to do the rest of it online?

CB: Mobile devices give consumers the power of being competitive wherever they are. In the case of F&I, consumers now have at their disposal payment calculators and the ability to visit sites such as This levels the playing field for the consumer and the finance department. When a dealer can present menu-based options of finance products from a mobile device, it can lend with more credibility than the typical paper-based sales presentations.

JO: It can be increased. Consumers will purchase F&I products if the product makes sense to them and they understand how the benefits outweigh the expenses. In fact, things like service contracts are actually becoming attractive to millennials, who would rather have a stable budget rather than incur additional service expenses.

It’s all about how the information is presented. Mobile technology could be a great way for consumers to educate themselves on the available products. They can then make their own informed decisions rather than feeling pressured in the F&I office.

So, accessory sales will increase too: Imagine settling on your car, [say] a new Camaro, and seeing the exact accessories available—spoilers, mats, etc. —based on the exact trim level or VIN of the vehicle.

Foresight reports in a recent study that buyers who accessorize their vehicle spend an average of almost $2,000; some demographics spend as much as $4,800, but two-thirds of new vehicle buyers say their dealer didn’t initiate a conversation about accessories during the process. Foresight also reports only 36% of accessory buyers obtained information about the accessories from dealership personnel.

The Foresight report also notes that 40% of buyers were influenced to buy from a particular dealership because of accessories available there at the time of purchase.

DMM: How can dealers differentiate themselves from their competition in a “level playing field” where almost everyone is using mobile marketing?

SS: Dealers must provide their customers with the best mobile experience possible to stand out from the crowd, and they must adapt their mobile strategy as fast as their customers are changing. Dealers cannot afford to wait for their customers to come find them. They must take their dealership to the customer, and they must make it easy for their customers to buy.

They must find ways to make it easier for a mobile customer to find them first, and then understand why their dealership is better than the one down the street. Using mobile video and social media are two great ways to accomplish this. They can do this by optimizing their websites for mobile devices—and also so they have higher prioritization in the search engines.

With the recent Mobilegeddon, Google started prioritizing and rewarding sites that were optimized for mobile devices. Mobile-optimized websites have the advantage. These websites are going to see more traffic and the dealerships will see more business. If you’re not optimized, you’re not even found on the search engines. But your mobile-friendly competitors will be.

At the end of the day, dealers need to think about their customers. If the road to the sale is online—and for most customers, that means on their mobile devices—and people only visit 1.4 dealerships before making a purchase, are you connecting with your customers early enough in the sale? Because by the time they make it to the dealership, they’re not shopping. They’re buying.

Have you done everything in your power up until that point to connect with your shoppers? Have you provided them an excellent online experience that made them happy? If you have, you’re giving yourself the mobile advantage. We live in a mobile world, and dealers need to maximize their opportunities to provide the experience that a modern mobile customer expects.

CB: Being mobile is not about getting a checkmark. It is about doing it right. Consumers no longer want to work with salespeople, they want to work with product experts. As the saying goes, people prefer to do business with people like them. Consumers today are mobile. Integrating mobile technology and mobile software into the showroom and service process is one way to make a dramatic impression on the consumer that you are both like them and a professional.

A salesperson might walk around with a folded-up used car list in their pocket, whereas sales professionals walk around with an iPad in their hand connecting them with every single piece of multimedia-rich inventory and alternative vehicles at the click of a button. A salesperson might sell what they see on a car, whereas sales professionals highlight the unique story about a vehicle with mobile-ready insights that they can use and share with the consumer.

JO: Progressive dealers realize that consumers are tired of the buying process most dealerships offer. Consumers want to buy new cars. They just don’t enjoy the experience. The easier and faster a dealership can make that experience for their customer, the happier they will be. Dealers should be searching for solutions that help the customers purchase vehicles in a friendlier manner. Consumers still like to look at cars, touch them, feel them, and drive them . . . they just don’t want to spend all day completing a transaction. If you can cut out the parts they don’t like and leave the parts that they do, you’ll create an experience that differentiates you from almost every competitor.

Keeping your ear to the ground is the way to go, being very intentional about it [by] learning a little bit about Internet/mobile-related technology [and] paying attention to auto-related news. [Also], being willing to try something out of the box—good vendor partners will stand behind their product to minimize dealership risk in trying something new.

In order to really stay ahead, we need to look at technology leaders inside and outside of the auto space; there are ideas happening in all industries that can be tweaked to work brilliantly at the dealership level.

Do you have experiences with or questions about mobile marketing that you want to share? If so, Dealer Marketing Magazine wants to hear them. Tweet them to us @DealerMarketing or email them to

Kurt Stephan


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