Ilana Shabtay

Director of Marketing | AutoLeadStar

Ilana is an expert in sales, digital marketing, and business development. She is constantly thinking about how to perfect conversion funnels to build brand awareness. As Director of Marketing, Ilana works to engage audiences and expand market share. She contributes thought leadership for tech companies in and out of the automotive industry including Dealer Refresh, Dealer Marketing, and for the DrivingSales community blog.
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. 
Streamlined Metrics, Open APIs, in-house Marketing, Oh My!

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Let's finally talk about it.  The automotive industry as it stands today will never be tech-first-- and dealerships will not operate as technology companies (refer to Mckinsey recommendation  here )-- if we don't fix some of the biggest problems with its digital ecosystem.  It's complicated . It's complicated mostly because there are layers of complexities that do not exist in all industry verticals-- manufacturers setting guidelines for dealerships big and small, rural and urban, and vendor partners setting different standards and metrics for dealerships to swallow. And, as  Isaac Herzberg  from Napleton Cadillac explains, there are dealers that rely on first touch attribution only and others that have the infrastructure in place for multi-touch attribution, making the KPIs from dealer to dealer extraordinarily different. This is why when dealerships make the "risky" switch to a new SEM provider, for example, the first 30 days often sound the same--  we don't know how to assess performance because our previous provider marked leads differently . Or,  you're driving traffic to our site that we then can't track because the traffic converts on iframes.  Sometimes, there's even a disconnect between the dealer's expectations and the vendor partner's strategy that doesn't align because there is no benchmark or baseline for the industry to fall back on.  Streamlined metrics  Imagine a world like this : dealerships, OEMs, and vendors alike have streamlined metrics for what a lead should be--  and I'm not talking VDP views or impressions.   Now, of course, different dealerships have different agendas.   Colin Carrasquillo  from Nielsen Automotive Group explains that when he manages new dealer rooftop locations, he's all about sending as much traffic to that site -- it's about impressions and clicks to set a footprint. Only after, can he optimize for conversions. In both instances, it's critical for Colin to track success realistically.  Streamlining metrics for the industry doesn't mean dealerships can't optimize for different strategies and goals; It's quite the contrary: if everyone calculates leads, cost per lead, cost per click, etc. with the same dimensions, dealerships (and partners) will actually be able to enrich strategy and assess performance more accurately. We won't be tripping over what constitutes as a lead or a click anymore as an industry.  I know what you're thinking.   Streamlining metrics in the automotive industry is impossible because some dealerships are able to track leads through multiple touchpoints, while others may not have this infrastructure set in place (see the comment from Isaac Hertzberg above). While it's extremely difficult to connect all the dots and achieve 100% real, transparent attribution, open APIs would certainly bring us a lot closer.  Open APIs If you look outside of automotive, the biggest software management companies have open APIs, a publicly available interface that allows developers to sync data in order for two platforms to communicate with each other. With most automotive data transfers relying on FTPs and ADFs-- not to mention monetizing data to make it unattainable-- it's impossible for the industry to create a seamless digital experience for the customer that the dealership can also then track. Another way to think of this is that APIs allow for an ecosystem that grows in value for both dealers and vendors: value built by one company can be leveraged by other companies, ultimately adding up into a sum that is much greater than its parts. How do we even start?  Besides for vendors opening up API access so we can work toward streamlined metrics and connected data as an industry, OEMs should consider reworking partner regulations. Does the certified vendor have transparent reporting? Does the certified vendor have an open API so dealers can not only provide unparalleled customer experience, but OEMs can also track aggregate data and draw smart, data-driven conclusions?  And, to manage it all, dealerships need to make sure there is a talented marketing manager working  for  the dealership. In-house marketing manager Don't underestimate the marketing position.   As recently emphasized by  Glenn Pasch , every dealership needs to hire a digital marketing manager. There's really no debate. Why? Because you need someone at the dealership that owns and controls the data. You need someone at the dealership that manages the vendor relationships (preferably fewer vendors, as it's quality, not quantity), and you need someone who can manage the streamlined metrics and APIs to ensure connectivity for both the dealership and the customer experience.   Having an in-house marketing manager finally puts the agency vs. in-house debate to rest since it allows dealerships to have the flexibility of a nice combination. According to  Kyle Mountsier  from Nelson Mazda, you need to employ the right people that will own and understand the dealership's analytics and educate on "digital platform ownership" across the industry. Once we achieve this, investing in the right technology for digital marketing managers to manage spend efficiently will be easy, not to mention also a step toward streamlining metrics... So, let's get to work, friends? 
Your Dealership's New Unforeseen Competitor. How Will You Keep Up?

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Your dealership isn't competing with the dealer next door, it's competing with Netflix. The fight for digital real estate is real. In-market car shoppers are also in-market baby clothes shoppers, or Netflix-obsessed parents, or perhaps college seniors looking for their first apartment. With every Google search comes a story -- a digital footprint-- that tells the internet who that person is and what they want to see.  This means that the in-market shoppers landing on your website, searching for cars in your inventory, or even needing an urgent oil change, have other non-auto related interests.  Shocker, right?  So while you need to make sure you're #1 in your primary market area, your dealership is also competing against some of the biggest e-commerce giants in the world to gain real estate on every page possible at just the right time.   So... will that newly promoted mother of three see the Carter's clearance ad for the onesies she was eyeing or will she see your lease special for the Suburban she's always wanted? This is where the real competition lies in 2021.  How will you keep up? It's obvious that dealerships need to operate as technology companies in order to compete with technology companies like Netflix. Manual, thin-on-tech digital marketing will no longer cut it when competing with the big guys. Is your dealership optimizing ads in real-time? Are your inventory ads VIN-level specific to match shoppers' interests? Are you running your A/B tests on autopilot? Below are the top three principles that your dealership should be abiding by to play at the same level as the "big guys." Speed There should be no lag time when it comes to updating your ads and campaigns. While going in manually to adjust pricing and disclaimers used to be acceptable, if you're not operating at lightning speed, you're creating irrelevant customer experiences with outdated targeting and messaging. Changing and optimizing your campaigns in real-time will give your dealership the proper leverage to compete at any time of the day, yes, even at 3 AM.   Scale The expression don't put all your eggs in one basket has never been more true when it comes to vehicle-specific ads. Picking 5-10 models to focus on each month will limit your targeting range. Your dealership should cast a wide net, leveraging every single car to target the right people at the right time so that you can scale your marketing. Leverage technology to market every car as if it's your only car, creating scalable optimization tests that run on autopilot to give every vehicle a chance to find its buyer. When you can scale your A/B testing to tens of tests simultaneously, and you can create algorithms to combine the best keyword strategy to find the cheapest quality leads, you're operating on a competitive level.  Specificity  When your dealership has the speed to optimize 24/7 and the scale to market every car with personalized messaging, you're then able to make the specific matches between shoppers and inventory, ensuring that your message will be prominent for the buyer at just the right time. This granular 1:1 targeting means that your ad will always show up for that newly promoted mother of three, beating out Carter's every time.  When it comes to marketing in 2021, it's critical to adopt these principles and operate as a technology company so you can beat out the competition and stay on top of mind -- and top of Google search pages-- for your shoppers. 
Dealers: Are You in the Clubhouse?

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If anyone missed high school cliques, you could thank Clubhouse for bringing that feeling back. Yes, the newest social media app is consuming our industry with exclusive invites to the platform where you can connect with others in audio-only chat "rooms" (what the app refers to for different discussion topics). Clubhouse is essentially an unfiltered, live podcast that's extremely interactive. And like anything else, you're either in or out when it comes to Clubhouse. There is so much content, networking, and brainstorming that happens in these rooms that it's just another chance for you to miss out if you're not a part of it. The opportunity is tremendous as there is so much room-- n o pun intended -- for dealers to grow from the conversations that happen in real-time. Nothing is pre-recorded or accessible after it happens, which means no editing (and frankly, no B.S.)   So while Clubhouse has been around for quite some time, it's really making its mark on automotive right now as invites are creeping across the industry. As a rookie user, I've already participated in rooms about one-price stores, modern-day car sales, and auto cocktail hours. All the things I love about conferences jammed into one social media app! But as I mentioned before, if you're not in, you're out, and below are some critical things you could be missing if you're not jumping on the Clubhouse train.  An always-on 20Group The automotive rooms in Clubhouse-- like  Modern Day Car Sales  that goes live every morning at 6:45 AM EST (you read that right)-- allow you the opportunity to brainstorm and kick around ideas with dealers all around the country. It's basically like an "always-on" 20group, giving you access to different types of dealers everywhere. One morning a dealer asked for feedback on his website, and within minutes he had so much work to do to make his website 10x better. Instead of waiting for the next 20group meeting or conference, you can simply jump into a Clubhouse room to get this kind of feedback and information every single day. You can basically assume that other people in the room share similar interests, so connecting with them will widen your network and introduce you to even more conversations. Convene around industry-wide news and events We all have expectations about events, conferences, and press releases that get a lot of attention. Now, with Clubhouse, the automotive industry is able to run discussions around these big-impact events so we can share experiences and discuss exciting and/or controversial topics. This means anything from  NADA Preview  rooms to prep for the biggest annual convention, to reactions to the anti-dealer Vroom commercial rooms. This activity fuels your dealership with informed next steps on how to get the most out of any situation that hits automotive. And, the shared feedback helps understand different perspectives.  Connecting with your vendors I also noticed quite a bit of vendors hosting rooms for their clients to pop into -- while I haven't personally tried this yet, I can imagine this is extremely beneficial for dealers. Not only does it give dealers access to "office hours" from different partners, but it also allows them to connect with other dealers using the same vendors. Clubhouse is essentially facilitating a user community for dealers to ask, compare, grow, and hold vendors accountable for performance as it becomes easier for dealers to interact on this platform.  So, feeling left out for the first time since high school? I have some invites left in my app, so reach out to me before they run out and if you're on the platform, connect with me @ilanashabtay! (PSA: app is only running on iOS right now) See you in the Clubhouse?
Mask-less Socialising: What This Means For Your Dealership

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There will come a time, sooner than we think at this point, where we'll be living in a post-COVID era. We'll be back at our favorite crowded bars, our kids will be in school — real school — and we'll be on the road: business trips, family vacations, and holidays.  But while we may be able to share the air with others again, the remnants of COVID will still linger. Predictions are that many retail habits- like curbside pickup- will be ingrained in our society forever. And considering the amount of new proud Peloton owners (seriously, check their stock), I'm assuming at-home and on-demand workouts won't be going anywhere either.  So what does this mean for your dealership? Just because we'll hit a post-COVID era does not mean dealerships should do away with some of the accelerated technology adoption and customer service accommodations derived from the pandemic. Quite the opposite: dealers should expect a shift in retail behavior forever.  Full funnel digital commerce  COVID introduced new emerging markets to automotive that helped the industry's fast economic rebound starting in 2020 Q3. Millennials, one-car families, New Yorkers. It was therefore imperative for dealers to have the technology in place to reach those buyers; efficient, hyper-targeted campaigns to attract new customers during a time of financial stress and uncertainty. The dealerships that were able to switch on and off messaging instantly, leverage streamlined data, and automate marketing campaigns were investing in full-funnel digital commerce that makes 1:1 matches between the shoppers and inventory. Reaching your customers with technology-driven marketing will stay relevant as buyers shift even more focus to online and pre showroom visits. Your dealership should have the infrastructure in place to target and engage all funnel shoppers, anywhere, including a top-notch browsing experience on your website, even if you see an uptick in showroom walk-ins.  Shortening in-person visits Even if there is no rampant pandemic, no one will want to spend their entire Saturday inside your dealership. This was true pre-pandemic and even more true post-pandemic. Dealerships that kept up excellent customer service during COVID were able to shorten the time in-store and do as much as possible before the customer visits. As the average in-market shopper only visits 1-2 dealerships, you need to make sure your dealership accommodates for the new normal that will never go back: less time indoors, less contamination, more efficiency, everywhere. Dealerships need to set up the closest thing to curbside pickup — or curbside test drive, if you will — to keep customers in-line with their new shopping habits. Less friction and more efficient appointment setting will be key. Facilitate the sale While facilitating the sale was always the number one priority for dealerships, consumers have a new level of expectations that we need to take into account. We've seen the world go upside down, and with that, business models adapt to continue to reach consumers in any circumstance. Curbside pickup, drive-though testing sites, cocktails on-the-go. Dealers should gear up to continue to provide virtual trade-in evaluations, solo test drives, service pick-up/drop-off at home, and more because shoppers now know this is an option and may very well prefer it. Consumers have become "spoiled" by the flexibility of the new normal and it's predicted this will dictate many new retail habits in the future. Make it easy for your shoppers and facilitate the sale to accommodate all funnel shoppers.  So yes. There will be a time where we'll all be back at our favorite pubs, hugging family members, and going into work. However, COVID has changed the face of business and customer service and dealers should prepare to stay competitive in this environment. It's about continuing the best practices that kept automotive strong in 2020 and beyond. 
5 Lessons From the InsideAuto Podcast as We Enter 2021

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The InsideAuto Podcast hosts top GMs, Thought Leaders, Entrepreneurs, and Marketers in and out of the automotive industry. Launched in the middle of the pandemic, it covers everything from productive quarantine hobbies to effective marketing as we encounter the dynamic market. Below is a roundup of the best tips and tricks from top automotive professionals that participated in the show. These lessons can help us kick off 2021 in the right spirit: Lesson #1: When time is precious, don't waste more of it on the manual.  Colton Ray, CMO of Walser Automotive Group, has turned around his marketing strategy to cut the excessive manual and gain back 2-3 working business days per month. While he used to spend the first few days locked in an office updating specials, vendors, and websites, he now can focus on what he's good at: strategic planning and training to create a more efficient environment.  "I always think back of when I was at Wayzata Nissan, and I think at the beginning of the month, and literally, I can't actually remember anything at the beginning of any of my months, because all I did was sit in my office for two-and-a-half days, generating ad copy generating ads...And I'm thinking to myself, that wasn't my core competency. My core competency at Wayzata Nissan was to work with my staff, educate, help them, educate them on our products, and our sales processes and assist them in the activities at hand, which we're answering show floor and internet lead activity, assisting our customers, moving them down the funnel to help them purchase vehicles and obviously service additional vehicles too." As budget and staff may be more lean, this is more important than ever to consider for a more effective marketing strategy.  Lesson #2: Be a good corporate citizen while still crushing your market. Matt Lasher , Director of Marketing at West Herr Automotive Group, talks about the importance of being creative and unique in marketing, all while abiding by OEM regulations and recommendations for certain campaigns that may not match up with store initiatives. It's the balance between the two that will keep a store successful . "It's part of the game, right? So I think you have to play by the rules of the game that exist within this franchise structure and all of how we go to market with our used cars, how we do our in store process, I think is largely up to us, however, it at it is at competing odds with some of the required technology that we have to use within the industry." Learning how to navigate this tug-of-war should be top of mind for automotive marketers today because they need to be hyperaware of mismatched campaigns.  Lesson #3: Social Media could be the most powerful tool in your tool kit. Melanie Borden , VP of Marketing at Celebrity Motors, has used the stay-at-home orders as a way to build her online presence and create a personal brand, as well as uplift the dealership's branding. In this podcast episode, she shares the secret sauce of social media success with actionable tips you can take to your dealership staff to sell more cars. "Having a plan is really the biggest piece of advice that I could give to anyone who's looking to create a story for themselves through social media. Just write it all down, find ways that differentiate yourself from anyone else. And dig deep into who you are, and how professionally you can help others. And to me, that's been a recipe for success." Lesson #4: Be prepared for a strong automotive comeback. Jack Nerad , long-time automotive writer, journalist, and contributor talks about the trends he's seeing in his research and multiple emerging markets that are coming from the pandemic. Jack mentions, "We've seen a big rise in value of used cars, many people are switching out of any kind of public transportation into their own personal car. And that's a big boon, especially to the used car market, and also the entry level new cars, because those people are transitioning out of something that was low cost is really important to them." While this is good news for automotive, dealers should be preparing for the recovery and gearing up marketing efforts to stay competitive.  Lesson #5: Understand your reporting; own your data.  Derek West , Advertising and Internet Director for the Autobahn Automotive Group, talks about how having a handle on his analytics gives him more control to making data-driven decisions when it comes to marketing and sales. Especially a multi-rooftop group, he does not want to have to toggle between different dashboards and spend all day creating equations from complicated dashboards to get the information he needs. "...if you've ever tried to go into Google Analytics or AdWords, and create reports, it can be very difficult. It can be time-consuming, jumping back and forth between, especially if you're a multi carline dealership jumping back and forth between all the stores... you need great reports, and it's great because we get [ours] on the first or the second of the month. So it's just very relevant information. And it's divided into just very easy to view, easy to determine, you know, if things are working, not working, which are working, etc." While 2020 was tumultuous to say the least, it taught us all to appreciate what we have. It was a year full of lessons and challenges that will strengthen us. These podcast takeaways are just snippets of tips that can bring the right spirit to your dealership as we enter a fresh, new year.