Best PracticesJun 9th, 2020

Brand Building Tips for Dealerships During COVID-19


While we can’t be 100% certain how strong it will be, the demand for vehicles — whether it’s due to an expiring lease, delayed upgrade, or repair issue that was put on the backburner — will return. When coronavirus restrictions start to lift and the economy begins to hum again, you want to be the dealer that shoppers turn to. Even though it may feel like activity has come to an abrupt pause, that doesn’t mean you have to or even should stop all of your marketing. If anything, now is the time to focus your digital marketing activities on building your dealership’s brand by using your owned — and free — media channels, so that you emerge stronger once the situation returns to normal.

Here are three marketing tactics you can deploy as you build your dealership’s brand during this time.

1. Identify and Amplify Your Message

Depending on where you live, the severity of restrictions on your business varies. Where I live in Massachusetts, auto repair and service centers are deemed essential businesses, and dealerships can continue to sell vehicles digitally. Other states have different regulations in place for dealerships. For example, in early April, I spoke with a dealership in Texas that was still able to sell cars onsite through private showroom appointments. Clearly, as this situation evolves, your sales practices will have to evolve as well.

The best thing you can do right now to maintain a strong brand reputation is to frequently communicate the COVID-19 related changes that you’re making. Whether you’re able to sell cars virtually or deliver cars to shoppers’ homes for no-contact test drives, or if you are simply putting business on hold, your customers need to know what you’re doing.

To start:

Document all the changes to your business operations.

  • Many dealerships are jumping on the fast track to digital retail with little to no experience to draw from. As business processes start changing, take the time to electronically or physically document the changes. This could be everything from identifying who is responding to internet leads, to detailed steps for managing contracts digitally. Use this document as a reference tool for your sales staff or others who are handling digital retailing activities at your dealership.

Get everyone on the same page.

You might have more staff working remotely or working reduced hours. In moments of change, it’s best to communicate openly and often. Choose a time you can all connect daily, every other day, or another cadence that works for you, and share updates on activities at the dealership. Use your business operations documentation as a reference point every time you meet.

Communicate the message across all your digital marketing channels.

  • After you’ve documented the changes and aligned your team around them, you need to communicate the changes to your customers. It’s vital that your message is consistent — consumers that view a consistent message across multiple channels improve their perception of that brand by 68% and increase their purchase intent by 90%.

2. Focus Your Marketing Activities on Owned Channels

With marketing budgets reduced or even completely eliminated, now is the time to focus your digital marketing efforts on your free, owned channels. This includes your social media channels, your dealership website, and your email audience via your CRM. Continuous communication through these channels helps build your brand as a trustworthy, supportive partner when consumers need you — without spending a dime.

Dealership website

Your website is your most important owned channel, and it’s the best one to use for communicating rapidly-changing business information. Shoppers are likely to have questions about your operations and policies, so you should consider creating a landing page specifically for coronavirus-related changes. This page should include information about adjusted business hours, current specials or promotions, an overview of your sanitation practices, how you’re keeping customers safe, and instructions for how customers can reach you. Some dealers are getting creative with homepage banners or popup windows that link to a COVID-19 landing page. 

Social media

With most people social distancing at home, many are turning to social media as a means to connect with loved ones and get the latest news from authorities. Globally, Facebook is experiencing a spike in usage across their suite of apps, and Twitter saw its monetizable daily active users (mDAU) jump 23% quarter-to-date. Similar to your dealership website, use your social media channels as a way to communicate updates in real-time.

Make sure to update your Facebook page with new operating hours or any special promotions you’re running. One dealer in Indiana shared with me that they’re offering free oil changes to medical workers and have used Facebook to promote it. The post has already been shared many times, expanding their dealership audience quickly and at no cost. Also, keep an eye on your direct messages and answer them in a timely matter.

Google My Business

Updating your business hours and other key operational information on your Google My Business (GMB) page will help your dealership’s local ranking on Google and enhance your presence in Google Search and Maps. If you’re promoting a special offer — such as complementary pickup and delivery for service appointments — create a GMB Google Post that deep links to the offer’s landing page on your website. This is a great way to drive traffic from Google searches directly to your website free of charge.

Email marketing

Set up different email distribution lists based on contact type (open leads, sales customers, service customers, etc.) and create custom email campaigns with audience-specific messaging. Send information about service and repair center changes to customers who have received service in the past. For any open leads you had pre-coronavirus, have your sales team personally send email follow-ups.

Send an email update to all your leads, sales customers, and service customers about how your dealership is practicing social distancing and focusing on sanitation to keep customers safe. Keep in mind that shoppers are being inundated with email marketing, so it’s important to monitor your open rates and unsubscribe rates to make sure you’re not over-emailing.

3. Above All Else, Lead With Empathy

Regardless of the format or medium, your marketing should lead with empathy. Consider the challenges that the person receiving your marketing messages could possibly be going through. If you’re still sending automated email flows, conduct a quick audit of the content to make sure it’s still relevant to the current situation and adjust the language where you need to. Turn them off completely if the message feels completely irrelevant. If your business plans on donating a portion of revenue to the local community or giving back another way to first responders, communicate that plan to your customers.

Everyone processes information differently, so also consider asking your customers directly how they want to hear from you. Solicit direct feedback from your audience at the end of every email communication or reach out to your social media audience to get a pulse on how your messaging is resonating. Being transparent with your customers from the beginning builds community, and ultimately trust. Dealerships who communicate with clarity and sensitivity only stand to benefit from their marketing efforts during this uncertain time.

Authored by

Ashley Karr

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