Automotive marketing has evolved rapidly as auto shoppers have changed their research strategies and buying habits. These automotive consumer behavior changes are largely based on the how easy it is to find information online about everything from the vehicles themselves, to manufacturers and dealerships, and the customer experiences they offer.  

So, where does that leave car dealerships? Despite the radical changes to the way consumers now purchase cars, trucks and SUVs, one thing has remained the same: they still want to see the vehicle before making a commitment.  

In fact, our recent survey of 504 who purchased vehicles within the past two years in the USA, found that the majority (70 percent) of all respondents said they wouldn’t buy a car unless they saw it in person. So, no matter what age group or other demographics apply to your most likely buyers, the primary goal of any automotive online marketing campaign should be to bring potential buyers to your dealership. 

Most dealerships have at least dabbled in the many automotive digital marketing tactics available today such as targeted search engine ads and SEO marketing, social media advertising and social media marketing, digital video advertising and enhanced auto listings. But in today’s competitive market, it is more challenging to generate large numbers of leads, let alone convert online browsers into showroom visitors. You really need to know what works in order to choose the right marketing and advertising tactics, combined with accurate audience targeting. 

So what is the difference between a successful digital marketing campaign and a failed one? What’s really working for dealerships? Based on the thousands of automotive marketing campaigns we have launched, here are some of our top tips to turn internet browsers into showroom visitors.  


Tip #1: Understand the Auto Buyer’s Journey 

Obviously, reaching and converting in-market auto shoppers depends heavily on an accurate understanding of who your most likely buyers really are, and what the auto consumer buyer journey is really like. How do they research, what are they interested in finding out, and what platforms are on top? Insight from studies like the one we conducted in November 2018, are helpful in gaining the upper hand on the latest research trends for your ideal customer.  

Some the key findings from our Auto Buyer’s Journey study include:  

  • People in the age groups of 18-34 and 35-54 often share similar habits and attitudes, while those in the 55+ category have significantly different characteristics. For example, 47 percent of buyers aged 55+ still consider Consumer Reports to be the most trustworthy source of information about vehicles, while only 29 percent of those aged 35-53 and 18% of the 18- to 34-year-old category agree.  

  • While just 16 percent of the 55+ group consider dealership reviews a preferred method of research, 33 percent of those 35-54, and 42 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds stated that reading dealership reviews is a preferred research method.  

  • 51 percent of buyers in all age groups began researching their purchases of both new and used vehicles between one to three months in advance, and an additional 26 percent spend more than three months researching.  

  • While older auto shoppers are likely to start their research on manufacturers’ websites and Consumer Reports, younger buyers are most likely to start with Google.  

  • According to our survey, dealership reputation & service (75 percent) was one of the top give things consumers are looking for when researching vehicles. 

These types of insight are a critical first step into understanding the modern-day auto buyer’s journey and ensuring that your automotive marketing efforts are poised for success.  

Even if you don’t have access to primary research data, keeping up on trends and reports in Automotive News, and digging into your own CRM to better understand your existing customers can help. 


Tip #2: Optimize your Website 

With a firm understanding of your ideal customer and their online research process, your website is your next focus, because it’s the launching pad for interacting with potential online auto shoppers. But many dealership websites don’t even come close to offering the kind of online experience car buyers are used to, resulting in the loss of their hard-earned website visitors. In fact, studies showing that up to 85% of consumers will leave a website if it is poorly designed.  

An optimized website includes many different aspects that help prospects find your content, establish contact with your dealership, and influence their buyers’ journey as they research their upcoming purchase.  

The first layer of website optimization is design. You have two to three seconds to capture your users attention before they decide it is not worth sticking around. Online shoppers  

Another key layer is quality of content, which search engines judge partly on length, but also on originality and “freshness.” An optimized website needs a steady stream of new content to maintain high search engine result pages (SERPs) rankings. Keep your content scannable with title and subtitles and include videos (they can increase your conversions by as much as 80%). Remember, up to 50% of potential sales are lost because consumers can’t find information they are looking for so you have a lot riding on your content.  

Creating and distributing content that provides accurate, detailed, and approachable information on the topics buyers are more interested in learning about helps build a reputation as an authoritative and trustworthy resource. You can further your dealership content strategy across a wide variety of channels by sharing content on your dealership social media channels. Go the extra mile by investing in branded content, to distribute unique, educational content on a trusted publisher’s platform. Ultimately, each of these helps more users find your content in more places online, keeping you in the consideration set when they are ready to buy. 

A third critical layer for an optimized website is technology. Today’s auto buyers demand nearly instant gratification, when it comes to getting the information they want and need, and if it’s not immediately obvious to them how to get it, they’ll move along. This includes one-click support technology like Live Chat, as well as call extensions that improve the prospects’ experience on your website and increase the chances that you’ll successfully convert them to customers. The whole goal is to make it easy on the potential customer to find what they need. 

A fourth layer is device proofing. Your website should look and function great on any device, especially mobile devices. With the number of smartphone users forecast to grow from 2.1 billion in 2016 to around 2.5 billion in 2019, if your website does not look good on a smartphone, you are likely losing out on potential customers.  


Tip #3: Use an Integrated, Multi-Pronged Marketing Approach    

After optimizing your website for your ideal prospects, the next step is to leverage a variety of digital automotive marketing strategies to drive traffic to your website.  

The key is to use an integrated, multi-pronged approach that leverages the latest marketing techniques. Search engine ads (PPC), search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing, enhanced listings, targeted emails and branded content are among some of the top digital marketing strategies.  

It’s critical to ensure that messages across all marketing mediums, whether a search engine ad or a Facebook ad, build trust with your prospects and customers by offering the right message, via the right medium and at the right moment time. Insights on auto shoppers can help you pinpoint a strategy and tactics. Remember to leverage your digital marketing campaign reporting and tracking so you can optimize your dealership marketing campaigns for success. 

Search Engine Ads 

You may have been avoiding search engine marketing over concerns that your ad budget will be wasted in reaching people who are never going to visit your dealership in person. Analytics for search engine ads and marketing campaigns make it possible to reach those local customers and continually fine-tune what you’re spending money on, so you know that you’re paying for actual results. 

Search Engine Optimization 

Search Engine Optimized (SEO) marketing supports the content you place in all of your channels, by ensuring quality and unique content to help you achieve high quality scores from search engines, thereby boosting your organic search result ranking. When users see your links both in paid and organic, it builds a more positive impression and lends to your content’s credibility. 

Social Media Marketing & Social Media Advertising 

Social media marketing builds overall recognition of your brand, company, and products, and it can be a powerful way to get your loyal customers to act as brand ambassadors. Social media advertising can extend your reach on top social platforms, so you reach more in-market customers. You can even apply dynamic creative options to feature vehicles in your inventory matched to the targeted audience’s interests based on their browsing history. 

The American Marketing Association (AMA) found that about 60 percent of consumers have taken a blog or social media post into account when making a purchase in person, and that 30 percent of consumers are more likely to buy a product endorsed by a non-celebrity than one with a celebrity endorsement. In fact, among respondents aged 18-34, the number skyrockets to 70 percent preferring “peer” endorsements over those of celebrities. Another study, by MarketingLand, found that overall, 90 percent of buyers are influenced by online reviews. 

Enhanced Auto Listings & Digital Video Ads 

The days when buyers were satisfied with simple bulk inventory listings from auto dealerships are long gone. In today’s environment, automotive marketing has to be aimed at more tech-savvy consumers who expect to find auto listings with a great deal of information about the vehicles themselves, listings that are enhanced with technology like map extensions, click-to-call, live chat, and links to outside sources like CarFax that can help them learn more about the vehicles they’re interested in.  

Digital video ads on YouTube are another powerful technology for influencing an auto buyer’s journey. A study by Google and Ipsos Connect revealed that for mobile users aged 18-54, YouTube is the most influential video site for purchasing decisions. YouTube offers precise targeting, and an opportunity to create a compelling brand story while showcasing your inventory – a perfect recipe for engaging with in-market auto shoppers. 

Email Marketing & Branded Content 

Email marketing campaigns are a powerful tool in automotive marketing, precisely because of the length of time most buyers spend researching this major purchase. With insights about customer’s interests gained from analytics on your landing pages, as well as search engines and social media pages, you can extend visitors’ attention to your messages and continue earning their trust through targeted email marketing.  

Branded content can build familiarity with your dealership, but more importantly builds trust by providing useful information. Content should address areas you know in-market auto shoppers are considering and researching. Additionally, incorporating trusted outside content, like safety studies, can help your prospects feel confident about your vehicles and your business, so you are top of mind when they are deciding which dealership to visit. 


Tip #4: Create a Lead Management Process 

Research shows that 50 percent of consumers will choose to do business with the company that responds to them first. This means that it is imperative to set up a lead management process to help your team convert those leads. Ideally, use a solution that seamlessly integrates with various marketing tools used and that delivers all leads into one inbox, enabling faster response time. Otherwyour staff will have to continually log in o various administration tools to pull new leads out of their respective systems, and slow down response time. You know your staff are busy, so a simple, easy to use solution is best. 

Transforming online browsers into showroom visitors doesn’t have to be a monumental task. By working with experts that understand the auto buyer’s journey and have the industry and tech-savvy know-how to leverage today’s most advanced digital marketing strategies and tools, your dealership can quickly be on the way to digital marketing success.  

We can help—contact us today to get the conversation started.