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.
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! 
Dealership Inventory Crisis: Marketing Lessons From the COVID-19 Crisis

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It’s obvious that fluctuations in inventory are going to dominate the automotive narrative for the rest of 2021. And while it seems like we’ve just overcome the challenges that COVID-19 brought to the automotive industry, we’re slapped in the face with another big one: the infamous inventory shortage. So let’s not forget some of the lessons we learned as an industry when it comes to marketing during a crisis so that your dealership can stay resilient during this crisis as well.  Stay flexible  When COVID-19 first hit and the government shutdown orders went into effect, it took time for most dealerships to update their marketing messaging across all channels. For some dealerships, “Come on in for a test drive” was still their main message on their websites and in their ads, making it completely irrelevant to shoppers at the time.  Dealerships that had the infrastructure to be flexible and dynamic in their marketing strategy during the pandemic were not only able to turn around their messaging quickly, but they were successful in seeing results - even during a crisis - since they didn’t rigidly define things like messaging and budget. Dealerships that pre-allocated budget to Facebook and to Google were less resilient during COVID-19 because it took them longer to realize the shift in consumer behavior from search to social while at home. Dealers that had automated marketing budgets-- fluid budgets that self-allocate based on where the best opportunities are in real-time - were seeing much better results since the learning curve was faster and more efficient.  When we think about this as it applies to the inventory shortage, it’s important to understand that the market is unpredictable, but one thing is certain: dealerships need to be where their shoppers are in order to not miss an opportunity. Even during this tumultuous time, shoppers are still looking for their next car, and most likely at a higher gross, so make sure your marketing strategy is flexible to change in real-time and react fast. As soon as inventory turns, or comes in, your dealership’s marketing strategy should be ready to go and in sync with your dealership’s goals.   Reassess marketing (don’t pause)  While our gut instinct may be to pause marketing spend during any crisis, we learned during COVID that there are long-term risks to this . Firstly, you want to keep your brand awareness high. Even during tough times, people need to service their cars and renew their leases, so making sure those shoppers choose your store over a competitor is crucial. Dealers should be focused on gaining and retaining customers for life; cutting all marketing spend will restrict your dealership from doing this successfully.  That being said, difficult times present an opportunity to really assess ROI and productivity. So while pausing may put your dealership at a disadvantage, this is the perfect time to do a deep dive on your data and make sure your marketing ROI is high, so that you can still be the dealership of choice for shoppers during any crisis.  Do whatever it takes to bring shoppers to your dealership  During COVID-19, dealerships scrambled to implement a digital retail solution in order to stay relevant for their customers. Even if most consumers weren’t actually transacting 100% online, the software gave shoppers the opportunity to cut time in store and start the process online. This was a way for dealers to attract customers and stay relevant during the pandemic.  Similarly now, dealerships still need to do whatever it takes to get shoppers into their doors. So even with low inventory levels, dealerships should consider advertising inventory that’s on backorder and not yet in stock. This helps your dealership gain customers for life before they go to competitors. Focusing on trade-in acquisition campaigns or investing in a strategy to move more stuck/aged vehicles can also help your dealership market to customers while aligning with business goals to get more inventory and sell lot rot at the highest potential gross.  Do whatever it takes to bring people to your dealership during this time, no matter what the crisis. And usually, this involves a pretty efficient marketing strategy. 
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?