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Cars.com Combats Top Mistakes of Automotive Marketing

September 17, 2013

By Kirsti Correa

Consumer behavior and the purchase process have introduced changes to automotive marketing and media attribution, but dealerships are looking at old metrics in old ways, according to Cars.com. In a webinar titled, “The Seven Digital Sins of Attribution,” the company offered a guide to the most common metrics mistakes and how dealers can correct the misconceptions.

The use of different sources and more devices during the purchase process create a difficult situation for media attribution — despite the fact that online advertising has enhanced measurability. “We’re not tracking the way the customer actually shops, and the metrics we are using to make marketing decisions are completely incorrect,” said DrivingSales Inc. CEO and Founder Jared Hamilton. “We are making thoughtful decisions with really bad data, which ultimately means we are making really bad decisions.”

Following these “digital sins” could mean a dealer is wasting media dollars and eliminating advertising options that could help influence shoppers. Cars.com’s webinar aims to position dealers to reach the right audience, build awareness, drive consideration and ultimately improve conversion rates.

Digital Sin No. 1: Assuming All Audiences are Created Equal

Think quality over quantity. It is important for dealers to look at the audience engagement in each of their ads instead of trying to get their ad in front of a large audience. According to Cars.com, 11 percent of U.S. adults aged 18-64 are in the market to purchase a car, leaving 89 percent of adults who are not concerned with car shopping. Dealers shouldn’t rely on traditional media outlets, such as TV and radio, for the broad reach it provides if it will only be relevant to one out of 10 consumers exposed to the ad.

“Today’s media landscape is highly fragmented, leaving consumers with more choices and giving advertisers more effective options to reach them,” said Cars.com CMO Linda Bartman. “To get the greatest efficiency in your media plan and stretch your marketing dollars, targeting is key.”

Digital Sin No. 2: Putting Too Much Focus on the Lead

Since online retailing first arrived, dealerships used e-mail leads as a basis for their marketing platform. However, most car shoppers today never generate a lead and those who do submit one, don’t always convert. Jack Simmons, Cars.com dealer training manager, said that despite years of process optimization, the top dealers are only closing 15 percent of the leads they receive because most leads are sent to multiple dealerships, but only one car is sold in the end.

Shoppers do not see value in engaging through email because there is not a quick enough response. Instead they are opting for chat and text messaging. The webinar recommends being aware of new communication channels, measuring them and investing in media such as chat, website clicks and in-store visits. .

Digital Sin No. 3: Viewing Vehicle Detail Page Traffic as the Gateway to Sales

Most dealerships view the Vehicle Detail Page as a top indicator of digital marketing performance, but Cars.com cautions dealers the VDP itself may not necessarily be what influences shoppers to choose one dealer over another, especially in terms of comparing VDP views from third-party websites.

“Looking at things holistically will help you gain insight into the complex interdependencies that drive sales,” according to Simmons. “The VDP is a much better diagnostic tool than indicator of purchase intent on third-party sites or a comparative measure of ROI.”

Users engage with the VDP in different ways turning it into a flawed metric. Cars.com categorized VDP shoppers as browsers and buyers. Both are in the process of buying a car, but at different stages. By lumping them together, dealers get mixed signals for what consumers are using the VDP for.

Dealers can optimize VDP performance by knowing how their inventory shows up in search results, pricing competitively to show up in search results and merchandising vehicles to stand out as they would on a dealer lot.  

Digital Sin No. 4: Not Recognizing the Importance of Mobile

This is the worst sin on the list, according to Cars.com. Mobile accounts for nearly 40 percent of traffic to sites and it is the shopper’s go-to research tool. Additionally, the company reported 62 percent of Cars.com site visitors say they accessed automotive content at a dealership via smartphone prior to purchasing their new vehicle.

The webinar listed three steps to keep up with the mobile market:

First, recognize the different mobile metrics available, including map views which are a strong signal of intent because a shopper wouldn’t look at the map of the dealer unless they plan on going there, according to Simmons.

Then, leverage mobile by aligning showroom process and marketing strategy to convert on-the-lot researchers. “Offer free Wi-Fi or provide tablets for shoppers to use on the lot,” Simmons says. “It’s a great way to build trust with customers.”

Finally, take action by evaluating the mobile audience, and foster a quality mobile shopping experience by having viewable information, offering specials and boosting the dealer’s reputation online.

Digital Sin No. 5: Underestimating the Value of Online Branding

Dealers should develop a digital media plan that showcases the dealer’s “why buy” story online. Dealers who pass up opportunities to brand online are missing key moments to build awareness and drive consideration for their stores when shoppers are making key decisions.

“When used strategically to support your objectives, digital and traditional work well together to strengthen your brand,” says Simmons.

Consumers want to know about the dealer and why they should buy from that dealer. In fact, shoppers who read reviews are five times more likely to contact a dealer. Additionally, 80 percent of shoppers are accessing information about specific dealerships. Dealers should keep their brand in front of shoppers as they engage and re-engage online by maintaining consistent content, using display and retargeting ads, and promoting reviews.

Digital Sin No. 6: Overvaluing Your Own Website and the Last Click

Before relying on search and website alone, dealers should also focus on what happens before shoppers arrive at the site. There are multiple opportunities for dealers to build confidence, trust and preference along the consumer’s path to buying a car. 

“When your brand message is already established, shoppers arriving at your website as the last stop have a much greater likelihood of contacting you, visiting your dealership and, hopefully, making a purchase,” Simmons says.

Dealers who market across a range of sites— not just based on the last source of their visitors— can increase conversion and ROI. Cutting out opportunities elsewhere doesn’t give shoppers the chance to learn more about the dealer along their journey.

Digital Sin No. 7: Believing You Can Measure Everything

Today’s shoppers use more than 18 devices and sources in the purchase process making it difficult to attribute a sale to one channel. There’s no single metric that encompasses the multiple points of contact during the sales process. Dealers can start evolving their measurement approach by focusing on just a few new metrics at a time. By reaching out to partner reports, local media representatives and manufacturers, dealers can understand market trends to better plan for marketing attribution and media planning. 

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