It is no secret that automotive digital marketing is rapidly evolving. Keeping up with the latest social media, search marketing ads, search engine optimization (SEO), email marketing or digital marketing trends is a monumental task. Digital marketing encompasses a lot, and it can feel overwhelming. If you stop to take time and understand auto shoppers, you can unpack crucial insights that will help you approach your dealership digital marketing strategy with more confidence. 

Though time consuming, if you are in charge of driving auto sales for your dealership, know that identifying which digital marketing platforms are being used by auto shoppers in various age groups is critical. So what is the latest and greatest when it comes to automotive digital marketing that will really move in-market auto shoppers? That is exactly what we uncovered in a Q4 2018 study fielded with 500 online automotive consumers who have purchased a car in the past two years.  

Here are a few of the highlights, which can help you focus your dealership marketing campaigns to be more efficient and more effective. Don’t forget to share these juicy stats with others in your dealer group or dealership!   


Consumers Go to Search Engines First

When beginning the car search process, search engines were the most popular starting location overall. However, older consumers were less likely to begin their research on search engines (19%) compared to other age groups. Instead, this group was more likely to start their searches on the manufacturer’s website, likely indicating a preference for particular brands. Other popular online research sources include third-party car shopping sites like and the manufacturer’s website like Toyota.  

While the most popular starting point was search engines, the most preferred method of research was visiting a dealership in-person. This is reinforced by 70% of people saying they would need to see the car in-person before purchasing, suggesting research online is ultimately supplementary to in-person research.  

What this means for dealers  

Whichever digital marketing tool you or your automotive marketing partners are using (e.g. search engine optimizationsocial media marketingpaid search ads or social media ads), your goal should be to drive customers to the dealership. Make sure customers can easily find you online and that your local listings are accurate and that hours of operation are prominently posted. Consider offering incentives for test drives or implementing an online appointment scheduling system to get potential customers to the dealership. Once onsite, make sure the dealer experience is enjoyable.  


Timing Might Not Be “Everything” – But It’s Important! 

Most people (51%) began their car search 1-3 months before purchase, indicating an active window in the car purchaser’s online journey.  

What this means for dealers  

Knowing the auto shopper buying cycle tends to be 1-3 months out, auto marketers can better plan campaigns and set more accurate sales forecasts. For example, if a new model is coming out in six weeks, auto marketers might consider a creating an automotive marketing teaser campaign a few weeks prior to the vehicle’s arrival.  

Don’t wait until you’re already trying to turn your inventory, or you might end up on an endless cycle of trying to stay ahead of the monthly numbers game. Prepare ahead by engaging loyal customers who have older model vehicles with an email invite to come check out the new model. Time your digital display advertising and social advertising promoting the new model to start out with teaser ads, and then update creative and bump up frequency once you have OEM incentives to share. 


Younger Auto Shoppers Give Reviews a Thumbs Up 

According to Marketing Land, 90% of consumers say buying decisions are influenced by online reviews

According to our survey, reading dealership reviews online resonates more strongly with younger consumers than older consumers, with those auto shoppers aged under 34 three-times more likely to use dealership reviews as part of their research process, compared to auto shoppers ages 55+.  

What this means for dealers  

Especially if you are trying to reach younger consumers, reviews should be a cornerstone to your automotive digital marketing approach. Easy enough right? You can just ask your satisfied customers for a review. Well now a days, it is not that easy.  

Increasingly, third-party review sites are frowning upon solicited reviews. Instead of asking for reviews, focus on creating a high quality, memorable experience from the very first click. Ensure automotive marketing messages across various online and offline tools are consistent.  

Also consider making your website more than just an online brochure by offering blog posts with tips and ideas that go beyond just buying a car. This type of search-engine friendly content will also help you rank more favorably with top search engines.  

Lastly, be sure to track and respond to all reviews, both good and bad. Negative reviews should be responded to positively, and when possible, work to address the issue at hand.  


Social Media Use on the Rise  

Facebook was the most preferred social media research method (70%), with approximately half of respondents reporting they have used Facebook Marketplace when car searching (47%). However, when it comes to trustworthiness for vehicle reviews, established third parties such as Consumer Reports topped social media sources. Lastly, while vehicle reliability and affordability were the most important car attribute among all consumers, the reputation of the car brand and dealership followed closely behind. 

What this means for dealers  

Promoting your dealership and inventory of cars on Facebook should be a key part of your automotive digital marketing strategy. This includes two very important tactics: social media marketing and social media advertising

Get social by offering an incentive for customers to “Check-in” on Facebook. (Make sure to check the latest Facebook policies on promotions before you start.) You can even consider setting-up an in-store photo-op backdrop to encourage shareable photo moments.  

You will also want to make sure your automotive marketing strategy taps into the power of Facebook’s Market Place or Social Ads with Dynamic Creative options, by working with an experienced team that knows the intricacies of this fairly new and powerful Facebook tool.  


Car Buyers Prefer In-Person Research  

Across all age groups and genders, visiting a dealership in-person is the most popular method for researching a vehicle for purchase.   

What this means for dealers  

Once onsite, make sure the dealer experience is enjoyable. Comfortable chairs, free internet access, play rooms for kids, snacks and water are just a few of the simple touches that make a big difference in whether or not you get the next deal. 

Automotive digital marketing is more complex than ever, requiring both extensive marketing expertise and advanced automation tools. Luckily, end-to-end automotive marketing services are now available that provide dealerships with a smarter way to connect with customers online and off.  

Getting a leg up on the competition through a comprehensive automotive marketing strategy could be as easy as dropping us a line.  


Contact us today and let’s get started on driving more sales to your dealership. 


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