Automotive Advertising Agencies Must Use Yesterday’s Knowledge & Tomorrow’s Technology to Survive


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Automotive advertising agencies who expect to be here tomorrow must apply tomorrow’s technology today or they will follow their shuttered auto dealer clients into the ranks of the unemployed. The consolidation of the auto industry is a necessary reaction to a shrinking economy and the proof of two basic rules of business — supply must follow demand and survival of the fittest insures that it will. The secret to survival for automotive advertising agencies and their auto dealer clients in a challenging market is to offer more for less and the technology being designed to improve sales processes on the Internet provide efficiencies that will determine the winners and the losers.

Integrating proven real world automotive advertising best practices with maturing virtual world selling processes that rely on developing technology on the Internet allows forward thinking automotive advertising agencies to blur the line between the real world of brick and mortar auto dealerships and the new virtual showrooms being built on the Internet Super Highway. Automotive advertising 101 teaches that you must go where your customers are if you want to reach them and with 93% of car shoppers confirming that they start their car buying process on the Internet that part of the marketing and sales process is easy. The hard part that automotive advertising agencies must recognize is that the one constant that has survived on the World Wide Web is human nature. Customers empowered by the easy access of information on the Internet are no longer dependent on auto dealerships — real or virtual — to determine what vehicle they will purchase and who they will buy it from. Online shoppers are looking for a new or used vehicle, not an auto dealership, and automotive advertising agencies need to convert from push/pull advertising methods to pull/push techniques preferred by an educated consumer.

Of course there is no need to throw the baby out with the bath water! Automotive advertising agencies must use conventional wisdoms built on the stable foundation of human nature supported by the efficiencies offered by new automotive advertising applications designed to crash through the glass wall of the Internet to preserve both market share and profits for their auto dealer clients. The easiest way to satisfy the customer and the auto dealer — in that order — is to give the customers what they want, when they want it — which is immediately — and to do it in such a way that the customers feel that they are buying a vehicle vs. being sold one. That is where the use of new automotive advertising technology and the related improved selling processes come in.

Giving the customers what they want — which is a vehicle not an auto dealership — suggests that automotive advertising agencies must promote individual vehicles on the Internet, not their auto dealer clients. While this may seem counter intuitive to old school car guys who presume that they must sell themselves before they can sell their vehicles, it is in keeping with equally established wisdom that suggest that automotive advertising doesn’t sell cars it just attracts customers who want to buy one. Simply put, the best advertising message in the world has no value if no one sees it and since customers are searching the web for individual vehicles that is the bait that will have them bite the hook that has the auto dealer on the other end of the line.

It is an accepted fact that cars sell cars and brick and mortar auto dealerships have gravitated to car rows or auto malls to take advantage of the attraction of having as many vehicles as possible in one location to draw real world car shoppers to their individual facilities. The leveraged advertising of multiple competing dealerships and the added value and convenience of one stop shopping for comparable makes and models at one central location is a value for consumers that has survived on the Internet Super Highway. Established third party inventory based websites have a proven place in today’s online automotive advertising plans. Most auto dealerships already rely on the leverage of their collected inventories of literally millions of vehicles from thousands of auto dealerships to attract online new and used vehicle shoppers. The search engine optimization, S.E.O., realized by these third party sites coupled with their localized search engine marketing, S.E.M., investments drawn from the collected revenues of the auto dealer clients that participate in these communal sites provide a competitive advantage that no individual dealer or even a large dealer group can compete with. New technologies being applied to this established business model promise an even better return on investment, R.O.I., for the auto dealers that participate.

ronsmap is a game changing online car buying/selling site for both consumers and dealers that exemplifies the value of improving technologies in existing Internet based marketing platforms. It makes car buying fast, comprehensive, transparent and live. What makes it unique is their new technology that gives consumers unparalleled buying and negotiating power over the car buying/selling processes including the opportunity to accommodate For Sale By Owner listings. Their unique value for dealers is that it provides them with an unprecedented level of sales intelligence on consumer leads, and it enables automotive advertising agencies to promote and engage consumers via social networks.

With existing search engine filters and third party websites online shoppers have to scroll through lists of hundreds of vehicles while clicking and drilling down on each site since not all vehicles for sale are aggregated on any one exit on the Internet Super Highway. Auto dealers that pay the most are typically promoted in the top listings limiting honest competitive comparisons and auto dealers are often non-responsive to general inquiry leads sourced from these lead resellers. Auto Dealers are equally challenged by existing marketing platforms that do not provide visibility or insights into consumer’s other vehicles of interest discovered during their online shopping trips and their communications are often mid sales cycle starting long after the initial research by the consumer has been completed. The R.O.I. for auto dealers for leads purchased from multiple third party providers are reduced by duplications and smaller dealers not willing or able to pay for a premium position can’t compete equally with the larger advertisers on these sites.

ronsmap is a new technology driven Internet solution scheduled to launch at the 2010 NADA Convention in Orlando, Florida. They provide the leverage of multiple inventories posted on a unique map-like internal search engine driven by consumer preferences on a local level that places all vehicles that fit the consumer’s search criteria on the same page with no prejudice to premium positions purchased by the dealers. Their proprietary application provides a level playing field for auto dealers while offering consumers one stop shopping across multiple brands, models and dealerships with the added value of comparisons to For Sale By Owner listings.

ronsmap also accommodates today’s consumer preference for pull/push marketing by integrating a unique social networking application into their platform. Marketing to consumers in social networks requires resources, tools and skill sets to compliment and supplement auto dealer’s existing online selling efforts. ronsmap provides all of these elements in a cost effective, scalable manner while delivering consolidated market intelligence not currently offered through other resources.

Their vBack application enables auto dealers to multiply leads by leveraging the word of mouth, W.O.M., phenomenon associated with viral messages distributed through social networking. This proprietary process embeds a social media engine directly within the vehicles posted on their community site as well as on the auto dealers individual websites. It extends the auto dealers reach, promotes confidence for consumers through their solicited comments from their online friends in response to their request for feedback on their intended purchase and it drives more consumers to the auto dealers websites.

Another unique value added feature provided by the new technologies implemented by ronsmap is exemplified by their SellersVantage application. It allows auto dealers to communicate with online consumers in real time early in the decision cycle. It offers auto dealers a comparative view of what other vehicles and feature/benefits the consumer is looking for, market availability to determine if they have the only vehicle that fits the consumer’s stated needs and comparative pricing analytics to know how they rank in the market before they start negotiations to improve closing ratios and preserve profit.

The Intelli-Leads offered by their applications are very robust leads that go way beyond the typical customer name, email address, contact information and questions about the vehicle that they are interested in. They include market intelligence, comparative intelligence, social demographic and social profile intelligence that define the prospect and that allows the dealer to insure that their first offer in the online negotiation process is competitive while preserving gross profit.

Technology as applied to enhanced marketing platforms like ronsmap addresses the new opportunities for auto dealers to improve their R.O.I. from third party lead providers and inventory based websites but it doesn’t reflect the equally valued benefits being offered to improve their R.O.I. from their individual S.E.O. efforts and improved conversion rates from their own websites. Once again, conventional wisdoms must be applied by automotive advertising agencies to provide more for less for their auto dealer clients by recognizing the need to establish brand identity and top of the mind awareness for long term dealer recognition in the market tempered with the need to increase sales and profits today so the auto dealer — and their automotive advertising agency — can survive until tomorrow.

Since consumers are looking for vehicles on the Internet vs. auto dealers it is only logical that the auto dealers should post their vehicles online individually. The trick is to get a single vehicle to stand out from the traffic on the Internet Super Highway. Once again, technology has provided the solution.

Video has surfaced as the media of choice for today’s consumers who grew up watching T.V. and who have applied their preference for Video to their attraction to Internet channels like You Tube and all things video. The search engines role on the newly emerging World Wide Web is to facilitate the consumer’s online search by giving them what they want and since consumers have selected video as their media of choice search engines like Google have decided to give it to them.

The algorithms that drive Google have been adjusted to provide a weighted value to video, a fact that has not escaped automotive advertising agencies responsible for improving the S.E.O. for their auto dealer clients. Video presentations have shown up on auto dealers websites with file names that integrate key word phrases to match the auto dealers websites chosen online identity along with similar embedded meta tags and they are even being pushed onto the search engines through You Tube with their own URL’s to extend the SEO of the auto dealers virtual showrooms. The value of this enhanced S.E.O. solution is that all of these postings are sourced back to the auto dealers websites which supports the automotive advertising agencies desire to build dealer branding and top of the mind awareness. The ability to take this exposure to the next level is realized by applying the same philosophy of extending the dealers online exposure to their individual vehicles since, after all, that is what the online customer is searching for.

SiSTeR Technologies is an automotive advertising vendor using proprietary cutting edge technologies that has introduced an automated video production platform called VideoCarLot with associated applications including vShock and VidBrid. They are able to convert the still pictures already posted on the dealers websites into professionally produced videos using human voice and existing video footage with integrated search words, meta tags and individual URLs. These finished productions are then placed onto the auto dealers own websites to increase their highly prized and search engine favored video content plus they are individually pushed through their dedicated API with You Tube to post each vehicle to all linked third party advertisers and to the search engines directly onto the You Tube channel. Since You Tube is a growing search engine second only to their parent company Google the enhanced S.E.O. to the dealer is obvious. More importantly, it allows the auto dealer to present their vehicles to online consumers vs. their auto dealerships while anchoring the associated lead back to the sourcing dealer. Once again, technology has provided a win-win scenario placing the consumer’s interests ahead of the auto dealer’s while satisfying the needs of both.

The automotive advertising agencies of today that apply the cutting edge automotive advertising technologies of tomorrow are guaranteed a seat at the table in the future. Today’s justified consolidation in the auto industry has opened problems for many and solutions for the few that are determined to survive. Just as the forest fire burns the trees to allow for new growth, the key for automotive advertising agencies to survive to grow another day lies in the automotive advertising technologies and applications that they use today.

Importance of Online Reviews For Automotive Dealership Sales

Online reviews on automotive dealer’s website are valued features and play a key role in influencing the customer’s automotive buying decision. Online reviews are sought after by customers using Internet at every stage of car buying process, as they offer existing customer experiences on vehicle models, services, policies etc of particular automotive dealers. It is important to include online reviews and testimonials in dealer websites as they help in retaining the existing customers and builds initial trust among potential customers. It helps to increase sales as prospective customers prefer to deal with dealers they can trust.

Positive Impacts:
Online reviews positively impact the dealership sales by increasing the confidence among both existing and potential customers.

Credibility
Potential customers perceive online reviews as authentic, genuine opinions from other customers and feel that they are receiving accurate information. They provide an effective way for dealers to communicate with customers. A good number of positive reviews on dealer website mentioning satisfactory experiences of customers are likely to instill confidence among potential customers. The potential customer can feel more comfortable and satisfied when reading a comprehensive evaluation of the dealer from a large number of customers. Even, the way dealers handle negative reviews by customers by quickly and efficiently resolving problems increases the trustworthiness of the dealers. It is likely that such unhappy customers will revert back to the same dealer.

Included In Consideration Set
The customers usually have a pre-defined set of vehicles that they prefer to buy. The automotive dealers in order to increase their sales needs to persuade the customers to alter their consideration set. The customer generated content like vehicle ratings and reviews, consumer ratings and reviews, dealer ratings and reviews can be effectively used by automotive dealers to alter the consideration set of these automotive internet users. The information given through dealer ratings and reviews can effectively target the new-vehicle buying customer segment. The reviews enhance dealer consideration among customers as both positive and negative reviews increases awareness level of the particular dealer. Also, positive reviews improve the attitude of customers towards dealers. Thus, expanding the consideration set helps to increase automotive dealership sales.

Reassurance
The online reviews and testimonials at automotive dealer website provide reassurance to the new customers that the dealer stands for professionalism, quality, credibility, and security. Reviews by previous customers reassure the potential customers that it is safe to deal with this dealer and there is commitment to customer’s privacy. Providing reviews on dealership website also increases conversion rates as it increases trust and confidence among first time visitors. Thus, existing and new customers will confide upon the dealership that helps to increase sales.

Negative Impacts If Not Monitored:
The negative online reviews can have impact on the attitude of customers towards automotive dealers.

Left Out From Consideration Set
Online reviews influence the purchasing decisions of automotive internet users. Also, they are checked while researching for a particular car on the Internet. Thus, ignoring or not monitoring the online reviews means failing to effectively target the large segment of automotive internet users and getting left out from user’s consideration. Poor online reviews and testimonials can fail to persuade, build confidence and trust among first time visitors and lose out on important prospective customers.

Needs More Time To Convince The Buyer
Online reviews and testimonials indicate the satisfaction of other customers due to better services and quality offered by dealer. Potential customers reading improperly monitored reviews are likely to view the dealer as less reliable and not trustable. Thus, the dealers may have to put in more efforts and time to convince the customers.

As online reviews are like online conversations between customers, automotive dealers need to actively get involved in them that can result in sales growth. The automotive dealers can leverage online reviews and testimonials by existing customers to generate new customers by efficiently targeting them at each step of car buying process.

Online Display Advertising For Automotive Dealership Owners

Online display advertising provides a targeted and direct response approach that help to effectively target segment specific audiences and increase brand awareness. According to IAB Internet Advertising Revenue Report, the total Internet advertising revenue for 2009 was $22.7 billion. While online display advertising accounted for 35% or $ 8.0 billion of the total Internet advertising revenue for 2009. The automotive advertisers accounted for 11% or $2.5 billion of total Internet Advertising expenses in 2009. Thus, online display advertising that includes display banner ads, rich media, digital video, and sponsorship links can be effectively used by automotive dealers to target customers based on website context, geographic location, specific demographic information, and user behavior.

Advertisement Is Based On:
Advertisements based on demographic information, website context, and geographic location can help narrow down and pin point specific customer segment.

Website Context
Contextually relevant advertisements can help automotive dealers to better target the potential customers as they are willingly showing interest by viewing specific themed areas. Automotive dealers can effectively target those customers searching for new cars, pre-owned cars etc on Internet by positioning advertisement based on website context. Also, the website viewers are likely to respond positively or pay more attention to such theme related advertisements.

Buyer Geographic Location
Display advertisements based on user location allows automotive dealers to effectively target potential customers in local area, geographic region, or in any specific city. Delivering customized advertisements with proper relevance within a specific region or city generates interest, engages, and attracts potential customers.

Buyer Demographic Information
Display advertisements based on specific demographic information like industry, profession, age group, household income, gender etc can help automotive dealers effectively reach to a specific customer segment. Demographic advertisements informing about various offers, coupons etc given by automotive dealer can appeal to a variety of market segment. Display advertisements based on specific demographic information can help grab attention of key audiences and turn them into potential customers.

Advantages:
Online display advertising allows automotive dealers to reach a wider segment of customers in a limited advertising budget.

Increases Brand Awareness
Effectively employing online display advertising helps to create awareness about the automotive dealer that results in building a brand image in the long run. Positioning creative and relevant advertisements to specific segment help to effectively target potential customers, increase automotive dealer exposure, and increase online traffic leading to higher conversion rate. However, even if the customer does not click on ads, it increases brand awareness about dealer. As display advertising ensures that potential customers get to know about the services and inventory offered by automotive dealers, the next time these customers think of making a purchase, they can prefer and trust these dealers whom they can recall.

Effectively Target Customers
One of the key benefits of online display advertisements is that automotive dealers can effectively target potential customers within their advertisement budget. Display advertisements provide a better coverage and effective targeting of potential customers as they can be based on website context, geographic location of buyer, variety of demographic information, and user behavioral information.

Increases Online Traffic
Effectively positioning relevant and engaging display advertisements to a specific segment of audiences can help drive qualified traffic to the automotive dealer website. Display advertisements in the form of banner ads, pop up ads, and contextual ads catch the attention of potential customers and increase the website traffic. Also, display advertisement increases the brand awareness that generates more traffic to the dealer website and increases the chances of customer making a purchase.

Provides Good ROI
Apart from targeting specific segment of customers, online display advertising increases online traffic and increases the chances of sale thereby provides a good Returns On Investment (ROI). Also, display advertisement effectively targets desired customer segment thereby reducing the ad spend wasted due to unwanted and ineffective impressions thus maximizing the ROI. Display advertisement facilitates tracking of display advertisement campaign by automotive dealers through metrics like clicks and conversions, impressions to better calculate the ROI.

Online display advertisements can have an impact on purchasing decision made by automotive Internet users as they provide better consumer engagement. Thus, display advertisements can be effectively used by automotive dealers to increase their brand awareness, online website traffic, website interaction time, and maximize ROI. Moreover, display advertisements also encourage users to conduct search on Internet that increases the website traffic.

Automotive Advertising Agencies Focus on People Using Social Media Vs Product or Price

The role of the automotive advertising agency has changed to follow the new rules of the road on the Internet Super Highway. Newly empowered consumers are no longer limited to shopping for a vehicle using information provided by self serving auto dealers pushing information to them using conventional media like radio, T.V. or newspaper. Social media has allowed car shoppers to gather information from like minded customers before, during and after their shopping and/or buying experience. These online friends are playing an increasing role in the car shopping process and automotive advertising agencies are using them to influence buyers.

The new pull / push nature of the market powered by the Internet requires automotive advertising agencies to focus on people vs. product or price. Car shoppers are following their own agendas when pulling information from the world wide web that no longer requires them to rely on an auto dealer as the source. Today’s online shoppers prioritize people when selecting a dealership they are willing to do business with. That is not to suggest that product and price aren’t important. It simply suggests that all systems start and end with people and that people are the true asset of any auto dealer, automotive advertising agency or vendor!

The most obvious evidence of the priority that people play in the auto shopping/buying/service experience is the explosive growth that social media has enjoyed as a marketing media vs. conventional radio, T.V. and print that used to dominate the automotive advertising landscape. Automotive advertising agencies recognize that people have always preferred to do business with people that they like and social networking has expanded the spheres of influence of car shoppers/buyers to include their online friends.

The market is a conversation amongst friends before, during and after the car shopping/buying/ service cycle. Auto dealers that have friends in the social networking communities are more likely to be invited to participate in the dialogue. More specifically, automotive advertising agencies realize that it is difficult to befriend a building or a website! It is the people that work at the dealership to support their families that have the story to tell to their friends and who will earn the sale — not the Chevrolet, Toyota, Mercedes, etc. — or the extended service hours and weekly specials. Saturday service hours have no appeal if the customers don’t like or trust the people that they are handing their keys to. Having a friend in the car business is a relief that trumps the best process, product or price for the average car buyer.

Automotive advertising agencies also recognize that people play a role in both the real and virtual world showroom experience which will be reflected in the number of units sold and their job performance at the end of the month. First impressions are irretrievable and they are not limited to a large inventory, clean showroom or a dealer centric selling system that processes customers in sales and/or service. The atmosphere in a well run dealership reflects the morale of the staff in sales and service which directly impacts the customers that an automotive advertising agency drives to the dealership.

A smiling sales person, service writer, operator and cashier can’t be forced as a part of policy — much like customer satisfaction can’t be bought or taken for granted by simply offering the best price; it must be earned. It is earned when a dealer or manager appreciates the individual and team contributions of his staff — and tells them so on a regular basis! It is maintained by HR departments and hiring practices that select personality over prior auto sales experience with compensation plans that reflect individual contributions along with job descriptions and defined areas of responsibility that are managed and monitored by a caring management team.

Employee retention is directly linked to customer satisfaction and customer retention and neither can be taken for granted. Automotive advertising agencies are counseling their auto dealer clients to invest in their people before, during and after they are hired to compliment their investments in automotive advertising. It is their people that will represent their dealership and it is their people who will sell their cars and service to a growing list of friends and customers.

Automotive advertising agencies have extended their areas of responsibility to include their involvement in all aspects of day to day operations at an auto dealership. Most selling systems and related processes include a meeting and greeting, an initial manager T.O. to qualify the customer’s needs, an inventory and facility walk, a test drive, a feature benefit presentation, a desking procedure, a manager T.O., negotiations, an F&I introduction, a delivery procedure and service introduction. All of these steps are then supported by a state of the art CRM/ILM, DMS and follow up system. Unfortunately, all of these well thought out procedures are only as good as the sales person who entered the customer into the system and/or who is expected to follow up if not sold or who is relied on to solicit future service and referrals.

All of these actions reflect on the job performance of the automotive advertising agency and they must be addressed as part of their areas of responsibility. Automotive advertising agencies recognize that sales training is all too often limited to a few weeks immediately after the hire and/or some outsourced trainer hired to pump up the staff. Given the complexity of a well planned selling system — as described above — how can a new hire be expected to retain everything that they need to know? Add product information and an understanding of how human nature impacts the negotiation process and — once again — the investment in the people becomes self evident.

There is a paradigm shift taking place in the way that sales and service training should be applied at a dealership and it is up to the automotive advertising agency to insure that it is understood and applied. Forward thinking automotive advertising agencies have discovered that sales and service training can’t be limited to the new hires and or as needed to motivate the staff. It must start in the hiring process by selecting trainable personalities and then integrated into the selling system in such a way that the processes teach the sales person as much as the customer. Buyers and sellers must form a habit to listen and learn from each other before they can presume to sell or buy anything. A sales person does not need to know everything — they simply need to know where to find the answers that are relevant to the customer to move them through their buying decision.

Automotive advertising agencies often rely on new technologies to provide efficiencies applied to proven old world wisdom. New mobile sales applications are being developed that promise to provide a salesperson with the right information at the right place and the right time which will integrate training into the sales process. The key is to focus on the people part of the presentation supported by the processes, products and the price rather than the other way around.

Enjoying a Career in Automotive Customer Service

If you enjoy working with the public, and if you love cars, you may want to take the time to learn more about the Advanced Automotive Service Advisor diploma programs offered by many automotive schools. Designed to prepare students for the front lines of the automotive industry- interacting with customers on a daily basis- the programs contain both theoretical and practical components to ensure that graduates are prepared to excel in the automotive market, either as Service Advisors, or as Parts Consultants. Specific skills taught to students include:

Time management
Automotive systems
Effective communication skills
How to resolve customer conflicts
Management of invoices, inventory, and warranties
Customer service and customer care
Basic operations of a dealership

Diplomas for Advanced Automotive Service Advisor programs always place a strong emphasis on learning software systems in computer labs. Competent software skills are key in any profession, and the ever-changing automotive industry is no exception. Often, a student will spend up to 50% of their time learning the systems which are the backbone of today’s car dealerships. Examples of software systems which are taught to Service Advisor and Parts Consultant students are:

The Reynolds & Reynolds® dealership system
Automotive Business Management Systems (ABMS)
The Snap-On Shop Key estimating tool
The International Parts Corporation (IPC) parts catalogue system