Car Dealer Online Marketing

How Search Advertising and Targeted Emails Affect Car Shopping Behavior.

Car buying decisions require an enormous amount of time, effort and research on the consumer’s part, from searching online to actually visiting dealerships and test-driving vehicles.

It’s a lengthy process, and it’s crucial for dealerships to understand how a customer moves through the buyer journey and what forms of advertising and promotion are most effective.

This article looks at the insights we carried out over the years at how car buyers actually search for their new or previously owned vehicles in today’s digital world. From mobile and social to search and targeted email, consumers show that consideration happens online long before they actually step foot in-store.

Highlights from the research:

  • 42 per cent of respondents say online ads have the most influence over their purchasing decision.
  • 61 per cent of respondents would immediately delete an email from a car dealership if it wasn’t optimized for their mobile device.
  • 60 per cent of respondents would visit car-related websites while inside a dealership.

These insights and so many more can help dealerships craft messages and promotions that connect with consumers while they’re in the car-buying market and make customers for life. They work for the following categories in automotive online marketing.

  • Auto Accessories
  • Auto Dealers-New
  • Auto Dealers – Used
  • Detail & Carwash
  • Gas Stations
  • Motorcycle Sales & Repair
  • Rental & Leasing
  • Service, Repair & Parts
  • Towing

The report, released by Autodata, cited a number of reasons for the uptick in purchases — a rebounding economy, increasing consumer confidence in the market, reduced gas prices and cheaper leases are all contributing factors.

The recovering market is ripe for dealerships to increase sales, but that doesn’t make the actual decision on what to buy any easier for a consumer. Dealers need to understand how their customers shop for vehicles and respond to messages.

Car-buying decisions require a large amount of time, effort and research on the consumer’s part, from searching online to actually visiting dealerships and test-driving vehicles. The process is lengthy with lots of information and minor decisions made as the buyer approaches the actual purchase, like what make? Model? Color? Should I spring for the upgrades?

The process is slow because the cost is high and the purchase is something the consumer will use regularly for the next 5, 10, even 20 years.

Dealerships need to understand how a customer moves through the buyer journey, what forms of advertising and promotion work, what convinces people to click through to online inventory pages and ultimately what makes them walk into the showroom to test-drive a vehicle.

To aid comprehension of consumer behaviours in this industry, we conducted a survey of more than 1,000 car-buying consumers to see how they go about the process. The results show today’s consumers turn to the Internet to gather information and research local dealers before ever stepping foot in a dealership.

Because consideration happens long before a consumer speaks to a sales representative, dealers need to meet their consumers along their journey, with information and ads relevant to each person.



Consumers Make Decisions Before Stepping into a Dealership

Purchase decisions are based on the information consumers glean from various sources in the buying process, and an overwhelming amount of that information gathering starts with Internet searches.

When we asked new and used car shoppers to choose, out of 17 different sources, the most useful place to learn about local car dealerships, 30 per cent say search engines are the best source.

This beat out going directly to a dealer’s website, manufacturer’s website and even car pricing and review sites. Additionally, 22 per cent of respondents cite search engines as the top source that influences them to go to a car dealer’s website.

Car pricing and review sites carry the same weight in this category, indicating it’s crucial to maintain a robust search presence and positive reviews on various car-buying sites. When consumers make it to a dealer’s site, the dealership then has the most influence over getting the searcher to actually visit their location.

Search engines are just as popular as car pricing and review sites when it came to the top sources that influence which local dealer’s website respondents visit.

Consumers want to know more about what they’re getting into before actually visiting a dealership. They’re searching online for what make and model they want and even checking out review sites to see how their local dealership ranks in terms of customer service and inventory.

Today’s auto consumers come armed with the information they need to make a decision before stepping foot in a dealership; it’s up to the dealership to get noticed in that online process.



Consumers Use Mobile to Search and Visit

In today’s mobile world, almost a quarter of respondents say they use mobile devices to research and shop for cars.

Although most searches are still performed on desktop and laptop computers, 23 percent of respondents say they do their car buying research on smartphones and tablets.

Consumers don’t have the patience for non-mobile friendly websites and emails; an astounding 61 percent of respondents say they’d immediately delete an email from a car dealership if it was not optimized for their mobile device.

Today’s market provides a lot of options for consumers, and if a dealership isn’t mobile friendly, shoppers will ignore the message or go to a competitor’s website that is optimized for mobile browsing.

Respondents enter different search terms depending on if they’re doing research on a computer or a mobile device.

Mobile searching is a major part of being discovered by car shoppers, and the way people use mobile is very different from how they use desktop.

While respondents primarily search for make and model of vehicles while on a desktop or laptop computer, they use mobile devices to look up directions, contact information and nearby dealerships.

Search engines will prominently place click-to-call features and address information for mobile users, but dealerships need to claim their proper listings so they appear in relevant searches.



Online Ads Trigger Purchases In and Out of the Dealership

Consumers find advertising useful when sifting through search results and online listings.

When asked what role online advertising plays in purchase decisions, 33 percent of respondents say that online ads are useful and trustworthy in their car-buying process.

Almost half of the respondents, 42 percent, say that online ads have the most influence in their shopping process — over more traditional forms of advertising like newspaper, direct mail and TV ads.

What’s more, 38 percent of respondents say they’d likely visit car-related websites while at a dealership.

This presents an opportunity for dealers to target consumers and incentivize them to buy with very specific geo targeted ads and offers, ensuring buyers make a purchase decision.

Competing dealerships also have an opportunity here to snag customers with information and pricing that can sway a consumer shopping around to leave one showroom for another.



Personalization Fosters Clicks and Visits When Targeted Correctly

Our survey showed that consumers want personalized offers in auto-related emails, with 35 percent of respondents looking for emails tailored to their current interests and 22 percent wanting emails targeted to their location.

Respondents also say they often click through to a dealer’s website or walk into car dealerships based on email messaging that includes information about a model, style or colour they’re interested in.

And email messages that speak to respondents’ intended vehicle purchase are most likely to bring them to a dealer’s inventory pages and dealership.

It takes a lot to bring consumers from an email to a website. When asked which email messages are most likely to bring them to a dealer’s website, respondents say:

  • 23% Speaks to intrests or needs
  • 5% Adressed to you Personally
  • 4% Includes sales persons name, email and phone number
  • 5% Has interactive content ( photos, videos)
  • 28% Includes information about the car model, style and color you are intrested in.
  • 16% includes links to discounts at local dealership
  • 5% include links to dealer website and social media pages
  • 14% no preference

Consumers aren’t interested in irrelevant mass-messaging from local dealerships.

In fact, impersonal emails cause 32 percent of respondents to feel irritated and resentful toward the sender, and 23 percent say they’d be less likely to visit that dealer’s website if they didn’t receive an email tailored to their interests.

These results confirm consumers need targeted messages to click through to a dealer’s site or visit the showroom.

Additionally, almost half of the respondents say that email subject lines promoting current sales and discounts make them most likely to open an email from a car dealership.

At the same time, only 2 percent said customer testimonials would get them to act, and only 8 percent said invitations to dealership events would incite them to open the email.

The email subject line is the first point of interest for the consumer. Almost half of the respondents say that current sales and discounts in the subject line of an email will increase their likelihood to open the email.

  • 13% Highlights popular/available car models, styles or colours
  • 46% Promotes current sale or discount
  • 10% Personal appreciation email from owner/general manager of a dealership

*Additional survey results: 2% Features a customer testimonial, 4% Gives regular scoop on what to expect from car dealership, 5% Promotes seasonal
promotion (i.e. New Year’s Clearance), 5% Showcases sale on maintenance services/parts, 7% Provides how-to tips for car maintenance and 8%
Invitation to a dealership event.



Consumers Look for Timeliness, Even If They Aren’t Timely with Visits

It’s no secret that promotional events and discounts are a draw for shoppers in any industry, but it’s even truer in the car-buying industry, where real deals are hard to come by.

Thirty-nine and 16 percent of respondents say that seasonal promotions or sales and special financing rates, respectively, would make them click through to a dealer’s site from an email.

Forty-three percent say seasonal specials are even more effective in generating actual visits to dealerships, and the same was true for 17 percent of respondents when it came to special financing rates.

Today’s car shopper is savvy and on the lookout for the right promotion or deal for their next big purchase, and auto dealerships need to cater to those desires if they’re going to bring people to their online inventory pages and into the showroom.

Although consumers want timely and relevant deals and promotions, they need a few weeks to actually visit.

When asked how quickly after receiving a personalized email would respondents actually walk into a dealership, the majority, 50 percent, say it would take two weeks at the most.

For some, it might be as long as a month or more, but those customers will eventually come if you’re sending additional emails at the right frequency to stay top-of-mind.

Successful events and offers require advance planning with a strategy that can target the right groups at the right times to incentivize online auto browsers to come in-store for a great deal.



As the auto industry gets stronger each year, consumers are gaining confidence in their car-buying decisions through their own research.

The Internet provides numerous tools for shoppers to find information, reviews and pricing before ever visiting a dealership, so it’s crucial for today’s dealers to meet consumers along the buyer journey with the right digital messaging, offers and incentives.