Automotive Market: The Wheel Deal

Jim Scott is a happy guy these days. He’s in the auto sales business — the general manager at Jarrett-Scott Ford, a dealership in Plant City, Fla. — just east of  off Interstate 4.

He’s happy because — in his words — sales are “through the roof.” Why? In just one more word: “Facebook.”

This summer he became a test site for a new Facebook inventory ads program from Dealers United, a membership group that serves auto dealers. Dealers United created to the program to respond to an important trend in auto sales today: on average, car shoppers visit just 1.2 dealerships before they buy today, says Brooke Jensen, a digital marketing manager at Dealers United.

“A few years ago, the average was 4.5 dealerships, so this means an even a bigger change in how dealerships should be positioning their marketing messages,” Jensen says. “Today, dealerships must be aware that the first conversation they have with a customer doesn’t happen on the showroom floor, it happens online.”

And a recent survey from Autotrader backs Jensen: it found that 88 percent of auto buyers now research online before visiting a dealership. But a major frustration for consumers is seeing ads online for cars that have already been sold or aren’t actually available at that dealership.

Facebook Fuel

Dealers United tackled that problem with its Facebook inventory ads effort that automatically pulls from dealers’ inventory feed so that vehicle descriptions and photos are turned directly into Facebook ads so dealers’ ads are updated with price changes and sold vehicles in real-time.

First, the program defines a conquest audience by seeking out local in-market auto shoppers in Facebook’s database who are looking to buy a vehicle within 90 days.

Dealers United is helping car dealers across
the country maximize their investments in
Facebook advertising.
Once the audience is defined, the dealer’s inventory is presented in each user’s Facebook newsfeed as collection and carousel ads. These ad formats are optimized for mobile devices and help consumers browse the dealer’s inventory directly on Facebook.

From the inventory ads, users are sent to the dealership’s corresponding vehicle details page, and any actions — like a form conversion or vehicle purchase — are tracked back in Facebook using pixel tracking (tiny images embedded in ads that track website visits, digital ad impressions, etc.).

“Again, revisiting how dealers’ conversations with customers realistically take place in the showroom, we wanted to help create a platform and strategy that mimicked natural ‘if-this-then-that’ human conversation patterns,” Jensen says. “If a dealer were to see a customer browsing a red Toyota Camry on their lot, they likely wouldn’t offer them a test drive in a black Toyota Tundra.”

To solve this, Dealers United seeks to continue conversations around what shoppers are already interested in — like vehicle details page (VDP) retargeting based on the vehicle they’ve viewed.

The pixel tracking helps the program detect if a shopper leaves the dealer’s site without converting, which triggers a new retargeting campaign on Facebook. Through the retargeting campaign, a user is shown the exact vehicle they viewed — plus other similar models — until they either come back to the website and take action or buy a vehicle. Jensen says dealers beta testing the ads have seen an average 116-percent increase in click-throughs to VDPs — webpages with specific vehicle information.

“I’m able to automatically post my inventory to Facebook and put my vehicles right in shoppers’ hands,” Scott says. “We’re getting more VDP clicks, calls, everything — our results are through the roof.”

Jensen says because dealers’ results with Facebook ads have been so promising, Dealers United is backing with a guarantee: if a dealer’s Facebook inventory ads don’t drive a specified minimum VDP views in 30 days of their account being live, they get a 100-percent refund of their unused VDP views.

Andy MacLeay, director of digital marketing for Cox Automotive Media Solutions Group, a marketing firm in Atlanta, also has seen success with Facebook.

Cox worked with a major foreign automaker with heavy spending in online advertising, but wanted to try Facebook’s local online targeting capabilities. So Cox ran a regional pilot with 10 dealers from December 2016 to March 2017 in Northern California to measure any increases the quantity and quality of online traffic from Facebook to the dealer sites.

The strategy included:

  • Retargeting online shoppers on Facebook who had already been to the participating dealers’ sites.
  • Targeting other Facebook users whose behavior and interests on Facebook proved to be similar to those shoppers being retargeted — known as “look-alike” audiences.
  • Using ads with video to help foster additional engagement.
  • MacLeay says the campaign focused on VDP views and leads so they could better measure high-quality shoppers who were deeply engaged with specific inventory.
  • The results: a 32-percent increase in VDP views; an 11.8-percent increase in visits; and a 21-percent increase in leads-form submissions.
As consumers are visiting fewer
dealerships and, instead, using online
and mobile technology to research cars,
dealers are adjusting rapidly to meet their needs.

MacLeay says the basic strategies around demand capture and demand generation in digital still hold true today. “First, you have to ensure you properly fund the advertising channels that help people find or return to you like search, retargeting, audience targeting, Facebook dynamic product ads, etc.,” he says. “Then you work on growing your brand or promotion through channels that generate new demand like video, programmatic display, traditional display, Facebook promoted posts, etc.”

Video as a Marketing Vehicle

Beyond the targeting capabilities of Facebook, video is also proving effective on the social giant.

Adtaxi, a digital marketing firm in Denver, cites research that says people spend more than 100 million hours watching video on Facebook every day, accounting for nearly 8 billion daily video views.

Adtaxi says dealers can find likely buyers in that large pool by letting their existing website traffic data dictate the audience target with predictive modeling technology that applies algorithmic learning to third-party data. That’s done across the open exchanges or private marketplaces by several demand-side platforms. It can also be done in Facebook based on its treasure trove of user data.

Joel Sesco, national director of automotive at Adtaxi, says the real power in this is that dealers can take people who’ve been looking at each and every new model vehicle a dealer carries and then promote the dealership to new consumers who have the same data profiles as those currently shopping on their website.

For example, a VW dealer can take the model of a consumer who’s interested in a new Passat and then target new potential Passat users with a video of a salesperson describing some unique features of the Passat, or perhaps repurpose an existing TV spot on the current specials running for new Passats.

YouTube is also in the auto sales game with its TrueView ad program — ads run for five seconds before users have the option to skip, and advertisers only pay if a user watches 30 seconds or more, or clicks on the ad. Paid impressions are limited to high-value, interested consumers and advertisers get unlimited five-second impressions.

L2TMedia, an automotive digital marketing company in Evanston, Ill., says its research has found there are specific types of content auto shoppers are interested in during their research process — namely video. And they’re watching more and for longer amounts of time.

One Google study says 42 percent of interested automotive shoppers spent more than 30 minutes watching video, and 84 percent of shoppers watched a video that was longer than three minutes.

With this in mind, L2TMedia says dealers can be most successful using these types of video: test drives, features and options, and walkthroughs.

The company adds that dealers can make their videos more effective with these two targeting approaches:

  • Customer match targeting: From a specific list of their customers, dealers can create ads that remind shoppers of the benefits of starting a new lease (for owners with expiring leases), make viewers aware of other services (for new owners), and send a message about promotions or sales (for customers who recently test drove)
  • Similar audience targeting: Dealers can show their ads to users who have similar online behavior as those on your specific customer list.

L2TMedia says once videos are created, dealers can use them in several ways: original content on their YouTube channels; as a YouTube ad; in emails; on social media; and on their websites, where video is proven to increase search engine optimization.

Revving High-Tech Engines

Outside of digital video campaigns, some marketers are tapping technology in new and highly effective ways. Case in point: Team Velocity Marketing, a marketing services firm in Herndon, Va.

Brittani Boice, the company’s corporate marketing manager, says today’s hyper-targeted and highly personalized marketing is the key for success in automotive marketing.

“In today’s digital world with the growing ability to track consumer behavior in detail, consumers expect that you know who they are and what they like,” Boice says. “Traditional mass marketing techniques can help build brand, but the targeted techniques help move product.”

Specifically, Boice says Team Velocity Marketing offers car dealers and original equipment manufacturers that hyper-personalized integrated marketing service via its proprietary automated technology — the Apollo Technology Platform® that:

  • Identifies consumers who are statistically most likely to purchase or services a vehicle in the next 90 days.
  • Identifies and ensures that prospects still live in the dealership’s area.
  • Crafts relevant, hyper-personalized messages and offers.
  • Delivers messages across multiple mediums, including email, direct mail, and digital advertising.
  • Offers an automatically refreshed dashboard every night, giving sales teams updated lists for email, mail, Google, Bing, and Facebook ads.

Sims Honda in Burlington, Wash., used Apollo and reports the platform can share who owns a Honda or has been to its store for sales or service, whether the customer made a phone call, viewed a coupon, or looked at custom offers.

Sims also contends Apollo has boosted its direct mail efforts. Apollo ranks ZIP codes based on factors such as the number of active customers, market share, distance, and cost-per-sale for better-targeted direct-mail campaigns.

Apollo uses data from the dealership to determine historical trade patterns and then configures relevant, hyper-personalized offers for the make and model their customers are most likely to buy.

Sims Honda reports it has been reaping the benefits of using technology to drive marketing strategy. New-car sales are up 56 percent, used-car sales are up 62 percent, and same-brand trades are up 40 percent. What’s more, the dealership commands a 73-percent share of the local market.

Bill Page Honda also tapped Apollo and says because it ensures prospects live nearby, it added power to its localized efforts. The dealership is just outside of Washington D.C., and because it’s so densely populated, it sought a more local marketing approach.

“We just try to take care of our own backyard,” Brian Kanyan, the dealership’s general manager, says in a case study. “We don’t try to target our competition. There are enough people within our area to be successful. If we do a good job penetrating our market, we’ll continue to grow year over year.”

Kanyan says the dealership does a lot of mining of its own database, but adds, “targeting the right customers is critical.”

“We keep most of our marketing within 10 miles of the dealership but saturate the area,” he says. “Our goal is to set up a long-term relationship with the customer. We will sell to everyone, of course, but we’re truly trying to target people in our own backyard.”     

The dealership says it’s seen strong growth: overall sales are up 9 percent; new car sales are up 9 percent; used car sales are up 18 percent; and service visits are up by 16 percent.

Boice says the technology is leading to a more hassle-free, highly-relevant type of marketing and that it will continue to evolve and lead to a more “Amazon-like experience” in the automotive space.

“Consumers will essentially be able to shop for a vehicle on their mobile devices and have them delivered to their homes — and likewise enjoy home delivery for service appointments,” Boice says. “Creating technology and marketing to support this effort is where we believe the market is headed.”