Year End Marketing Review: Locating the Moving Target

By Maggie McBride

Now that 2020 is officially here, there certainly is a lot for dealerships to consider and strategize around for the months ahead, especially in terms of marketing. What can dealerships glean from 2019 to better understand their marketing strategy? What platforms worked, and how can they continue to choose what works best and how to make 2020 a success?

Take a Look At Your Website

Even though it’s inarguable that a website is an absolute necessity these days, a continued frustration for marketers everywhere is how difficult it can be to measure its direct efficacy. Tracking leads is simple enough- did the prospect stop by and look at a car or not? Did they take a test drive or not? Did it lead to a purchase or not? However, there’s a lot more to a dealership website than just photos of inventory, and evaluating the efforts put in (link building, copywriting, search engine optimization for better search engine visibility, updating offers, and more) can be a challenge. A recommendation is to check out Google Analytics. It may be far from intuitive, but it’s worth learning. There is no better way to track landing page visits and, from there, the scope of the customer’s digital journey. 

Though it may not be quite as direct as a lead conversion, learning more about how prospects walk through the website can offer insight into what your specific shoppers are looking for. From there, you can build a strategy to better cater to your shoppers. For example, an uptick in visitors on your service page may indicate it’s a good time to make sure your service specials are up-to-date, or add a convenient reminder of seasonal maintenance. If customers are landing on your homepage and then leaving immediately, more compelling material should be on display there. 

Effectively Apply Email Strategy

How did your dealership use email in 2019? Though dealerships vary in their application of email, this medium is entirely dependent on timing and content. Don’t sleep on this facet of marketing, though: almost 75% of adults prefer email over any other type of communication. It’s tempting to take a “set it and forget it” approach and relying entirely on automated deployments and scheduled emails relaying service offers and sales events. However, shoppers invested enough to fill out a lead form on a specific model deserve the attention and care expected of someone who was already in the showroom. 

Not responding to emails is the equivalent of leaving money on the table, because when leads offer their email address to customer-facing departments, it’s because they are looking for something. Diligent email strategy has resulted in a jump in ROI and conversions. First, take a look at your email list: bigger is not necessarily better. List “health” is important, too, so checking for spam or invalid email addresses and paring the list down accordingly will increase open rates. Next, take a look at what your dealership has deployed: what are the open rates? What are the click-through rates and unsubscribes? A 9-12% open rate is a healthy one, and the more personalized the content, the better – even personalizing the subject line results in a jump in opens. The obvious concern, of course, is time: your sales associates may not have the time to trawl through emails and follow up on leads, which loops back to website quality. The more information on your website (especially VDPs), the more likely a lead will be a good one who has perused the information provided and consciously decided to reach out to your dealership.

Check Out SEM

Search engine marketing (SEM) has exploded in the past couple of years, becoming a prominent tool in automotive marketing. In fact, many dealer web platforms offer this service, and it’s worth exploring because search engines are key to how people find dealerships and, even before that, narrow down the type of car they’re looking for. SEM is a time-consuming undertaking requiring precision, but frankly, “go big or go home” is a well-worn adage that absolutely applies here. It specifically refers to the volume of keywords used. If your dealership has been using SEM, taking that end-of-year glance at the statistics might tell you a story. How acutely was your primary market area served? How, specifically, did SEM efforts reach out to people that fit your buyer profile? Remember that the people most familiar with your customer demographics are you and your team. If SEM efforts are not tailored to your demographic, it becomes a money pit. To avoid this, request specifics from your SEM providers about conversions and lead generation. Though following through with the lead is up to you and your team, attracting good leads through SEM is up to them.

Give Back to Your Community

All these marketing strategies put your business in front of new eyes, but they can also serve as a vehicle for a different type of marketing: community involvement. There are two different types of help a dealership can provide to the area they serve, and/or the communities of their employees: goodwill that stays in-house, and external outreach. A good balance of both seems ideal! In-house goodwill can be whatever you make it. Running specials for veterans is just one of the ideas provided in this article from CBT Automotive Network, and a measure that many manufacturers support already if they don’t have their own incentives. Other ideas include running a toy drive near the holidays, a school supply drive around back-to-school time, hosting a Trunk-or-Treat on Halloween (an experience that dealerships are certainly uniquely suited for), or even teaming up with a local charity to host a walk or run out of the lot. Asking employees to volunteer for these events will give them a chance to help the community as well, feeling good about working for a company with a focus on philanthropy

The key here is staying local: building up your following in the immediate area will bring you to top-of-mind the next time someone in the neighborhood needs to look at a vehicle. If you’d rather let outside organizations do the planning, reach out to local parent-teacher associations, branches of the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA, and social clubs about upcoming events and opportunities for you to contribute to their efforts. 

Bring It All Together With Social Media

Organic social media is an incredible free advertising tool. It’s customizable, curatable, and not terribly time consuming. More importantly, sites like YouTube and Facebook are a critical stop for shoppers and boost SEO value as well. Use it as an opportunity to showcase more than just your inventory and reviews from your happy shoppers. Your team and your dealership have worked hard to connect to the local community and those efforts should be recorded on social media. Make sure to get high-quality photos and video of the events. Upload them wherever you can. If you’re a new dealership, building a local profile can be a challenge, and if you’ve been in business for quite some time, maintaining your ties to the community are vital. Social media is an expeditious way to do exactly that.

Marketing changes almost as fast as the automotive industry. Shifts in shopping methods and preferred information sources occur as frequently as the addition of new safety features and aesthetic trends. As you prepare for the year ahead, be smart about representing your dealership for what it is: a vital part of the local economy, with dedicated staff committed to the community. 

Don’t shy away from new ways to connect with good leads. Keep these takeaways in mind as you continue on in 2020!