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.
RIP Facebook Marketplace for Dealers?

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Facebook Marketplace underwent some changes in September and no longer lists vehicles from partner catalog feeds. This includes the entire marketplace experience: homepage, search function, etc.  There is a lot of debate on how this will affect the industry. But before we get into the juice, let’s clarify how dealers can still reach buyers on Facebook, even with this change. Create vehicle listings from the “inventory” tab on your dealership/business page Dealers still have the option to upload their inventory from their personal business pages (instead of having this also aggregated in Marketplace). While this is still a free option, the click rate on the inventory tab on business pages is quite low, so it’s critical to monitor this. It will be interesting to see if click rate and engagement rate will increase as Marketplace becomes more lean with inventory after this change.  Create AIA ( Automotive Inventory Ads )  AIA gives dealers the ability to upload an entire catalog of vehicles to Facebook so that the Facebook pixel can then target the best shoppers with the right inventory at the right time. The upload process is similar to the one disconnected with Marketplace, where you can send a feed automatically to Facebook. While this is not a free option, it’s an efficient way to get your vehicle listings seen by in-market shoppers (including placements on Marketplace among other placements on Facebook).  Manually create listings in Marketplace  This option does allow for dealerships to continue to showcase inventory (certified pre-owned only) on Marketplace, but since it’s manual the dealership would have to upload every/all relevant listings with all associated information. This is extremely time consuming, and for some, probably not worth the hassle.  So, what’s the field predicting with this change?   Some think it really won’t matter since AIA is the same idea, just paid, and will include ads on Facebook Marketplace when relevant. This is probably true for larger dealerships and/or Franchise dealers who have the means to do this through AIA.  Others think this will be a beneficial change for small and independent dealers since they usually entered manually anyway. Now, these smaller dealerships will also increase visibility since the larger franchises won’t have the capacity to upload manually. Cutting the competition and the noise can skyrocket results for these dealerships.  Lastly, some predict it will be similar to Craiglist’s change a few years back where they also eliminated the overwhelming amount of organic posts and in turn, helped shoppers find what they are looking for faster with a cleaner user interface.  What happens next? Like any big change in automotive, it’s going to be critical to watch trends for the next few months-- understand if this change was good or bad for your business. Do you have fewer leads? Do you have more qualified leads? Is your marketing team being more productive on other channels? Did your predictions for the change match reality? These are all important questions to tackle as we go into October and November and learn as an industry.  *This article was inspired by a forum thread in Dealer Refresh . 
No Inventory? No Problem. Marketing Tips From the Field for Your Dealership’s Success

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The automotive industry is consumed with the inventory shortage-- while gross is higher than ever, dealerships are finding it hard to strategize marketing without the usual suspects on the lot. That being said, it’s still critical that your dealership maintain a hefty strategy so that you don’t lose your brand recognition; this could lead to giving your competitors a potential customer for life that could have been yours.  Below is a roundup of the latest tips from the field to make sure your dealership is staying at the cutting edge: Brand Campaigns While inventory may be low, you can still maintain a good reputation for your dealership. Shoppers looking for their next vehicle don’t only prioritize the make/model they’re interested in, but also the shopping experience- starting online. If your dealership brand can provide a superb experience-- answering promptly and locking in the customer before they look elsewhere-- your marketing will see high ROI during this tumultuous time.  Make sure your brand campaigns are also answering current events. During COVID, this was all about hygiene and sanitization. Now, focus on how you have the right process for getting the vehicle of their dreams to each and every customer with the best customer service. Advertise Pre-order Options Your dealership is not the only dealership with low inventory, so marketing inventory which is not released or in stock will keep your dealership competitive and give you the chance to lock in customers for life that may look elsewhere if they don’t have this option with your store.  Dealerships that advertise future inventory support brand goals, engage and conquest new shoppers, as well as continue to see high quality conversion rates on their websites.  Finetune Your SEO   SEO is an efficient way to keep your dealership on the map without spending too much money. Find the high-search keywords in your market and include them in your vehicle descriptions, promotions, and blog posts. If your dealership doesn’t have a blog, now is the time to invest in one -- especially if you’ve cut back on other marketing resources. Blog posts are excellent resources for shoppers (the more descriptive, the better). Pro tip: take a high-volume search term and use that as the basis of your blog post. This way you won’t only be answering questions that people are actually searching, but you’ll probably have priority for showing up first on Google.  Work the Service Drive   We all know the importance of the F&I profit center. But while people are sticking to leases longer, or can’t yet find the car of their dreams with inventory shortages, service is more important than ever. Make sure your dealership is advertising all service options in descriptive ad campaigns. Double-check that you’ve properly set up your service center on Google my Business so you can be easily found, and separately for those interested in service rather than sales. Lastly, set up an easy-to-use service booking calendar on your website so it’s a seamless experience for shoppers.  Trade In/Trade Up Scoring inventory is gold right now, so make sure you’ve perfected your trade in campaigns. Make sure shoppers know they can trade in their cars without buying new ones. Shoppers are also interested in comparing trade in prices, so your dealership should have a seamless infrastructure for providing trade in values, at the most competitive prices. If you haven’t already, you can also train your service staff to focus on trade in upsells right from the service lane.  We already know that pausing marketing right now can hurt your dealership brand and ROI. With these expert tips, your dealership can now focus the marketing strategy to fit today’s climate and continue to bring in new customers for life.  *Isaac Hertzberg from Napleton Cadillac and Kyle Mountsier from Nelson Mazda were interviewed to help with this article
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?