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The Automotive Website Tragedy Still Exists and Frankly, I’m Shocked

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We’re halfway through 2021 and we’re still seeing website tragedies in automotive. And yes, it really is a tragedy. When a dealership spends that much money for a solid website, competitive traffic, and SEO maintenance, you’d expect the website to be optimized for conversions and leads. If you want your website to attract most modern-day shoppers, there is some work to be done in the industry because, without this gem, dealerships can’t showcase their inventory, incentives, and dealership culture to the avid online shopper.  So let’s dissect some of the common mistakes that we are still seeing today and how you can fix them.  Overlapping CTAs One of the most common website tragedies is when CTAs (call-to-actions/buttons) overlap with each other. CTAs are your moment to shine, dealers! So if you’re crowding the button with bad UX (user experience), your expensive traffic is never going to convert into a lead-- and not just because of the aesthetic, but because it’s actually impossible to click the CTA underneath when something is blocking it.  This is a must clean-up situation so you can optimize for the most leads. Where can you start? Probably with consolidating on-site vendors so you can avoid these CSS mistakes, but if you insist on keeping separate vendors, I’d certainly recommend connecting the vendors to coordinate online real estate.  Stuck/Cutoff Overlays Dealership websites often have multiple pop-up overlays, including chat, that simultaneously interrupt a shopper's browsing experience. But what’s worse is that often the overlay is cut off, usually because it’s not optimized for every screen and every device. As you can imagine, not seeing the full engagement can lead to some frustrated online buyers.   To avoid this, dealers need to work with quality (not quantity) website optimization partners and ensure proper QA on every device. With our screen-obsessed generation, you never know if your next buyer will be searching for their vehicle on a tablet, iphone, or computer, but rest assured, they’ll expect the perfect user experience wherever they are.  Dead Specials Pages When consumers click on your specials page, they’re expecting gold-- how can they get the best deal and are you the store that’s going to give it to them? If your specials page doesn’t display any incentives, you’re losing an opportunity. Your dealership should be investing in technology that scans multiple data sources, in real-time, so you can pull any incentive opportunity for your dealership at any time. This way, your dealership doesn’t just rely on OEM incentives resulting in some dead days in the beginning of the month.  Lack of Transparency  Even if your store is not a one-price store, you can still show basic price transparency on your website and leave room for negotiation later. In this example, the sale price isn’t even listed which pushes away the modern shopper looking to understand ballpark prices before committing to a conversion online. Use transparency to attract all kinds of shoppers, but especially the experienced online shoppers.  While it’s important to look into all the new digital marketing solutions out there to build healthy streams of traffic, this is a reminder not to leave your website behind. Your website is your home base-- your lead magnet-- to represent your dealership and bring in more business in a world where 92% of shoppers will start their journey online. Let’s make it easy for them! 
digital disruption
A Guide to Getting More From Your Digital Retailing Tools

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When I joined the automotive industry, the Chevrolet Celebrity was the top-selling car in the U.S. A lot has changed in the intervening 35 years. Just as models are tweaked to address changing taste in design, so too do dealers need to address changing preferences for how customers buy and sell cars. I’ve been in many conversations with dealers about providing customer-centric environments. But setting an appointment and hoping a customer is willing to spend four hours on the showroom floor to close a deal no longer qualifies as customer centric. The standards for efficiency in customer acquisition are changing as consumers move beyond the traditional purchasing experience. Dealers who seamlessly integrate their customers’ online shopping experience with the in-store one can improve deal throughput and profitability. The capabilities are probably available in your existing digital retailing platform — you just need to take advantage of them. As a father, I watch how my kids interact with online tools to satisfy their needs — all in the moment, starting and stopping and picking up again at their convenience. A McKinsey report suggests that by 2025, millennials will represent as much as 45% of the new-car purchasing demographic. Smart dealers are already integrating their services to cater to the taste of these digital natives for a contactless experience, which will only grow as more consumers enter the market with no recollection of the slower, in-person ways.  It’s time to rethink the customer experience to address the changing attitudes of a new generation of shoppers, where dealers will be challenged to get consumers to the showroom. You can do this by: Taking advantage of digital tools to improve both marketing and operational efficiencies Ensuring seamless transitions from online to in-store experiences Facing forward Many dealers tap only limited functions of their digital retailing platform. They view the tools through a marketing lens, to send emails to attract the customer to the dealership, without thinking of how the technology can improve their operational processes already in place.  It’s easy to become so mired in your usual checklists that you overlook opportunities to improve efficiencies. Efficiency isn’t only about putting a trade or purchase value on the car, getting signatures, and determining the “we owe” to the customer. It’s more than simply revising an in-store process. If you only view your digital retailing platform as an extension of your marketing department, you’re not leveraging its capabilities. The platform integrates physical dealerships with the virtual world, allowing your customers to shop for cars on your website just as they’d shop for products on Amazon. After finding a vehicle on your website, potential buyers build their customized offer and explore credit position and financing options — all from their laptops or smartphones, whenever and wherever they desire. Robust platforms are able to track what the customer has done prior to coming to the showroom. This preliminary research will save time once they’re in the dealership. They’ll have a more informed idea of what they want and arrive more inclined to buy. It becomes a streamlined experience for the customer and results in improved throughput for the dealer. But this only happens if the transition from online to in-store is seamless, with the customer able to pick up the buying trail in-person where it left off online, rather than re-starting in the store from scratch. There are three key questions to ask about your digital retailing capabilities: Does your marketing messaging match the in-store experience you intend to give your customers? Is your team able to execute on your marketing promise to deliver a seamless online to in-store experience? Where do your inefficiencies lie and where can you become more efficient? It might sound trite, but words matter. Your messaging defines the customer experience, which itself is defined by the dealer's execution. If your website promises an expedited, always-on purchasing experience, you need to deliver that. And just as you maximize the efficiencies of your technicians on a day-to-day basis, so too should you maximize your digital retailing process. Ready for a change What’s at stake here is retailer throughput and ultimate profitability. Empowered, trained sales departments leveraging the capabilities of robust digital platforms can move more customers effortlessly through the buying funnel, with less manpower, adding to gross profit. If changing your process allows you to serve even three additional customers every busy Saturday through the course of a year, it can make a dramatic difference to your bottom line. And you can do that simply by using the features that are already available in your digital retailing platform. While not every dealer is seeking to offer a fully digital one-touch experience, every dealer should be seeking to maximize operational efficiencies.  Moreover, a robust digital retail platform can be used to solicit inventory in addition to outbound sales. Dealerships hungry to supplement stock in today’s tight market can reach out to customers to gauge interest in selling or trading in vehicles. The ability to get an accurate trade valuation without having to visit the physical dealership, and in a way that is transparent and easy to understand, might turn a disinterested customer into an enthusiastic buyer.  As inventory levels return to normal later in the year, customer throughput and wait time as vehicles arrive will become more challenging. It’s up to the dealer to turn that challenge into an opportunity. So now is the time that you should be analyzing your procedures to see if you're able to deliver the most efficient experience from online to in-store. However you adjust your operational processes, your customers will benefit as well as your bottom line.
Building Customer Relationships with Tactile Action-Based Marketing

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If you’re like most dealers, you invest thousands of dollars each month into various marketing channels. Some of which you may be deploying right now: TV, radio, digital, email, direct mail, social. If you’re not active in your community while building positive connections to your dealership name, and your team, you’re missing out.  I call it tactile action-based marketing, it’s people building relationships in your local community. Your store doesn’t have to be in a small town to make it work or to make a significant impact. I advocate for this type of outreach because it’s hands-on, cause and effect marketing, which builds relationships with both community members and local businesses. It begins with an action on your part, social media is a great launching point, and turns into word of mouth in your community. Done properly, it turns observers into engaged fans. It is also simple, cost-effective, and you can start right now. How does it work? Instead of focusing on the dealership, put the emphasis on your customers and the community, two subjects that hold people’s interest. Consider how many people pass by your dealership on any given day, does seeing your sign or building spark a positive response in them? Imagine building great relationships with people who aren’t even your customers...yet. How do you know if you need to implement tactile action-based marketing? A quick scroll through your Facebook or Instagram will give you the answer. It’s time if your pictures primarily show your staff, vehicles, or vehicle deliveries. If in your advertising, all you talk about is money, it’s time. If your posts are dominated with phrases like: “Here at ABC Dealer” “We want to buy your car” “The 2021 Make Model…” “Our goal is to…” It’s time, right? Your followers will stop paying attention if it’s "the all about you" show. Start by sharing customers’ wins Share about their businesses. How about posting what their children accomplish? Don’t forget to recognize community member’s accomplishments, sports team’s wins, and academic accomplishments. You can be a positive light in your community. Show gratitude Engage your social media followers with #thankfulthursday, each week on social media give away a gift card to a locally owned restaurant or small business. You just made a potential customer happy while supporting and promoting a local small business. Win/Win! Support your schools and teachers whenever possible Not only are you showing the teachers what they do is important, but also, you’re showing the parents you value their children. Parents are especially responsive when someone tries for the benefit of their children. When you say, “We care about providing you an excellent experience at ABC dealership” the community knows this to be true because they have seen your actions in the community. When you say, “We go to bat for you to get you the best interest rate,” this carries weight because you have been going to bat for them in their businesses and their schools. One hand washes the other, see how it works? Let’s start creating an amazing experience all the time though changing your social media approach and building relationships using tactile action-based marketing, you won’t regret it.
hammer on car
2021: Will Your Car Dealership Go From Success to Hot Mess?

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I’m not one to sugarcoat a crisis, but the pandemic has created at least one happy consequence for car dealers — vehicle shortages . With people everywhere urged to avoid public transport and chip shortage, car sales have hit a record high and demand continues to outpace supply.  So after years of making very little selling new cars, dealers are finally laughing all the way to the bank. No matter the franchise, no matter the location. Car dealers everywhere are having their day in the sun.  Do you know what that means? Some will get burnt.  Whether it’s in 6 months or 12 months, manufacturers will catch up and flood the market just like pre-pandemic days. And the car dealers who did nothing but bask in the glow of their success? They’ll start to feel the heat.  The best car dealerships know that success has a nasty habit of breeding complacency. So while the foolish rest on their laurels, the wise are working to future-proof their businesses.  The best are using this opportunity to examine what’s working (and what’s not working) in their business; their strengths, and their weaknesses.  They know that it won’t be long until competition for buyers is back on, and they’re taking proactive steps to finesse their operations; now, not later.  They’re getting ahead quite simply by getting ahead.  Make sure you’re one of those dealerships. Otherwise, instead of laughing all the way to the bank, you’ll be crying all the way to the bankruptcy court.  Now is the time to ask yourself this: What is your dealership doing to improve and prepare your operations for the future? Remember that when demand exceeds supply, sales training and excellence take the backstage. If you’ve got the cars, the customers will come. But when things reset, will you be out of practice? Out of shape? Out of step with the car dealers that took the time to get organized and stay ahead of the game?  If you’re not sure how to answer that, consider how much time your dealership spends fine-tuning these all-important aspects:  Sales Processes How regularly are you reviewing? When you review your sales, are you considering not just quantity of sales, but quality ? Are you confident in your staff’s product knowledge? Are they confident in their product knowledge?  F&I Product Lineup  When was the last time you took a good hard look at your finance and insurance product lineup? Are you sure it’s up to date and working hard for your business? How about your reinsurance structure? It all adds up. Readiness to Buy  No well-meaning car dealership would wish failure on another, but the hard truth is that not all dealers will survive the downturn. Are you ready to mobilize cash quickly when the opportunity comes to buy a dealership?  Advertising and Marketing  Sure, you don’t need it right now. But when supply outweighs the demand, dealers will be competing to turn customers' heads. Will you be placed to shout the loudest? Plan out your advertising and make sure you’re ready to make that investment when the time comes.  These are just some of the strategies that will separate the winners from the losers. The good news is that there’s still time to decide which side of the line your dealership will be on.  These good times are well deserved. But don’t expect them to last. Even more importantly, don’t get caught out when the tide starts to turn. Use today’s flush to build a better, more resilient business for tomorrow. 
fortune cookie
Scarcity is The Best Thing to Happen

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Right now vehicles are selling at all-time record profits, salespeople are able to make a good living, and store net profitability is more than most ever thought possible. So much money is being made that the days of having to give away units seem like a thing of the past. It has been a great twelve months for most dealerships across the US. The current situation feels like a musical chair game, it is fun while the music is playing, but dealerships need to face the reality that the music is going to stop soon and there will be fewer cars to sell. Higher gross is making up for some of the issues that lack of inventory has created, but the time is approaching when the stores will have zero new vehicles to sell and nothing in the pipeline. The situation leaves dealers asking, “What do we do now?”  Here are some practical things that I believe dealers need to be focusing on over the next few months and areas that they can have a positive impact on their store to keep the money flowing. It will be a tough couple of months for stores on the variable operations side but things will get better.   First, every store needs to evaluate new car marketing spends. Stores that are spending thousands of dollars on search engine marketing (SEM), pre-roll and display advertising need to determine if the current budget lines up with current inventory levels. In fact, most of the dealers that I am speaking with are talking about some model lines being pre-sold prior to hitting the ground. In this case, it is wasteful to allocate portions of the budget to those pre-sold model lines. For SEM I suggest looking at reducing the SEM budgets and instruct them to focus the new car budget on high converting keywords like “Chevrolet Dealer” and move away or stop all model searches that the store does not have adequate inventory for. I would also suggest that dealers use this time as an opportunity to negotiate a discount with third-party lead providers, TV and radio stations based on the fact that inventory is significantly reduced.   Secondly, the acquisition of more used vehicles has to become a top priority for dealership sales departments. Dealers that lived off trade-ins are really going to feel the pressure.  Some of the most successful stores prior to the pandemic already had a strong used car purchasing division. They implemented vehicle buying teams that purchased vehicles all over the county from the various auctions. However, even these stores are struggling to acquire inventory at prices that make sense to resell.  Today’s auctions are overinflated with numerous dealers all over the country bidding for a small pot of units. In some factory sales across the country, more than 2000 bidders are online for just 50 units. It doesn’t take long for a dealer to get frustrated and realize that buying units this way is not going to be easy.  Here are some areas that dealers can use outside of typical auction lanes to land more used cars: Online Auctions – DealersLink, OVE, SmartAuction, ACV, BackloCars OEM Lease Returns Websites Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Local Classifieds Private Party – Drive by Units Dealership Database Mining – Email and Phone Campaigns Dealership Service Lane Automotive Classified Websites – Private Party Listings – Cars.com, AutoTrader, CarGurus.com AutoTrader/ Kelly Blue Book Instant Trade-In-Offer eBay Listings Lastly, the entire sales process should be re-imagined around acquiring the customer trade-in. Asking questions to new customers to find out what they are doing with their current vehicle. If they are selling it privately, are they open to getting a bid from the dealership as well? The average customer does not fully understand the complexity of the used car market right now, and they might have underpriced their vehicle. Customers will appreciate the dealer paying them additional money for their trade and in most states, customers can receive a tax discount from trading a vehicle in on the same transaction. In addition, consider offering additional dealer discounts on the vehicle that the customer is purchasing if they are trading a vehicle. Dealers can go as far as adding additional line item discounts on the dealer website that shows the trade-in discount. The effort that a store puts into getting both the customer's trade and financing in the next couple of months, will pay off big dividends as inventory draws down.  The first part of 2021 has been a wonderful ride for most dealers, now is the time to start making adjustments to stay profitable as the inventory continues to dwindle. Hopefully by October dealers will start seeing an increase of allocations and products but even that will take time to hit the dealer lots with the current backlog of customer orders. It is a crazy time in the business, but remember that every dealer is facing the same issues and this too shall pass. 
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One Size Does Not Fit All: The Importance of VIN-level Targeting

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It’s always exciting when you purchase a one-size-fits-all shirt: it serves many purposes, anyone in your family can sport it, and you don’t have to worry about dieting to fit in it in the future. But while one-size-fits-all is the winning wardrobe choice for some, don’t let it become your marketing motto (especially when it comes to your VIN-level marketing).  Hyper-targeting your shoppers with VIN-specific vehicles helps you personalize your advertising and create that 1:1 digital experience for consumers. It also allows you to take advantage of your inventory so that you can move cars faster and avoid the dreaded lot rot.  VIN-level marketing could get tedious and complex, so it’s important that your dealership consider AI-powered solutions to help drive the personalized ads and messages so that you don’t fall into the one-size-fits-all trap of marketing.  Real-time updates The main benefit of VIN-level marketing is that you’re able to really advertise every single vehicle to every single buyer, making it easier to make the match between the two. But the ever-changing landscape of your inventory at the dealership means that you must keep your digital showroom (ads/messages) updated in real-time to match the real-life action. If a vehicle was sold, the VIN-specific ad leading to that VDP must be removed immediately so that your dealership isn’t sending traffic (and spending money) to links that no longer exist. The same goes for any pricing or disclaimer update, for example. If anything associated with a vehicle’s incentive, pricing, or disclaimer changes, the ad must be updated to match that to keep the customer experience seamless and frictionless. This is where real-time, synced updates become extremely critical to your VIN-specific marketing strategy. A human can’t possibly make these changes fast enough, so your dealership will want to consider automated, intelligent solutions.  Automated budget allocation Automated budget allocation, as opposed to manual, relies on machine learning and AI technology to move budget according to opportunity. For example, instead of pre-deciding which car models, campaigns, or ads will get which budget, the machine takes the total budget and makes nimble moves between campaigns and ads to maximize for leads. This is a critical component when considering VIN-level marketing, as well. Since the goal here is to market specific vehicles to the most-likely buyer, your dealership cannot be limited by preconceived definitions of success. The automated budget allocation can help move more vehicles faster by putting more money and resources into the ads that will bring the most leads.  Website optimization & consistency  We often think of VIN-level targeting as a way to drive traffic to a dealership’s website, but the strategy also encompasses the on-site experience. If a shopper clicks on a VIN-specific ad, it’s expected that they can continue that targeted experience on your website; dealerships should have the infrastructure in place to continue the conversation through mini landing pages and personalized messages that match the content on the ad. Scaling this personalization both on and off site will elevate your VIN-level marketing strategy and bring more leads to your dealership.  Boost aged inventory  Within your dealership’s complex VIN-level marketing strategy, there should also be room to “boost” aged inventory to make sure you’re properly advertising the vehicles you want to get rid of, quickly. VIN-specific marketing allows you to show very granular, specific ads to the right buyers at the right time, so it’s critical that you’re investing in a system that has the capacity to favor-- or emphasize-- older inventory when there is a browser likely to buy. This component often includes the automated budget strategy discussed above. Because moving aged inventory is a priority for most dealerships, it’s critical to consider this when looking at VIN-level marketing automation.  Today’s shoppers are high-maintenance and want to see specific and personalized messaging across the board. While VIN-level marketing gives dealerships an easy way to fill this customer craving, it must be coupled with the right strategy to make it work. Once your dealership masters this, there’s no going back to the one-size-fits-all marketing technique.