3 Key Focus Areas When Navigating Your Dealership Through the Digital World

Bernard Raffaut – Account Director

Being in business is challenging. Whether you’ve been in business for 1 year, 1 decade or even a century, there are still challenges to overcome today just as much as there were back in the day; except today, some are far more complex. While many of the challenges have remained the same, how you handle those challenges is somewhat challenging in itself. Wow, I just found it challenging not to use so many “challenge” words in this paragraph.

Let’s move on to the word opportunity. As with everything in life, you must always seek opportunity; to grow, to innovate, to engage, to educate, to entertain, to challenge the status quo, to dominate. Essentially, business is a sport; and a competitive one at that. In June 2016, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were over 2 million actively trading businesses; up 2.4% from the year before. That’s a lot of businesses vying for the attention of consumers each and every day.

Daily, I encounter businesses in the automotive industry; where I provide content and digital marketing advice. According to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), there are around 3,500 car dealership locations in Australia. Now, that’s a lot of dealerships vying for consumer attention – wouldn’t you agree? Throw in the 67 car brands on offer, the multitude of vehicle types available, high sales targets imposed by manufacturers and the fact that many dealerships must adhere to strict Prime Market Areas (PMA), and you’re suddenly faced with owning a business in a highly competitive industry.

Dealer New Cars Stock. Colorful Brand New Compact Vehicles For Sale Awaiting on the Dealer Parking Lot. Car Market Business Concept.

Not too long ago Holden Executive Director of Customer and Dealer Operations Peter Jamieson made comment regarding Holden’s recent decision to not renew selected Holden franchises in the Holden network. According to an ABC report, Mr. Jamieson said the decision was necessary because of the competitive market. Further adding “unfortunately, we are in one of the most competitive auto-vehicle markets in the world, so we have to make decisions which are responding to the competitive environment we find ourselves in.”

It’s not all doom and gloom though for those of you in this industry. Competition is a good thing and, if anything, it presents the ideal opportunity to promote your brand and dealership in new, innovative and engaging ways. To stand out from the crowd, become a leader of the pack and cut through the clutter.

Sales-wise, the industry is doing okay. In August just gone (just waiting on September figures), nearly 100,000 new vehicles were sold in Australia according to the FCAI; an increase of about 1.8% over the same time last year. While the Passenger Vehicle Market (PVM) is down about 8.2%, the SUV Market is up by 4.7% and the Light and Heavy Commercial Vehicles Markets are both up by about 16% each.

Here are stand out brands in August:

  1. Toyota – 18,511 (up from 17,931 of July 2017 sales)
  2. Mazda – 8,511 (down from 9528)
  3. Hyundai – 7,800 (up from 7501)
  4. Holden – 6,984 (up from 6467)
  5. Mitsubishi – 6,649 (up from 6020)
  6. Ford – 6,645 (up from 6270)
  7. Volkswagen – 4,730 (up from 3803)
  8. Subaru – 45,79 (up from 4265)
  9. Kia – 45,07 (up from 4266)
  10. Nissan – 4095 (up from 4094)

Now, I don’t have the September figures, but, I will publish separately on those when they become available. For now, you can see, numbers are up; which, is a good sign for the industry, but, is it a good sign for you? Is a brand you represent on the list? Are you also winning the game with an increase in vehicle sales month-on-month?

If you are, that’s great news. You just need to maintain it. How are you going about doing that?

If you’re not dominating, that’s great news too, because that presents an opportunity to take steps to do better.

Questions you should be asking yourself, whether you’re winning or feel like you’re losing, are:

  • How are you doing business differently? [compared to those around you]
  • How are you engaging your prospective customers?
  • How are you retaining your existing customers?
  • What are you doing to be exceptional in all areas of the business?

As of January 2017, there were 18.8 million registered vehicles on Australian roads. What are you doing to grab a piece of the pie moving forward?

Let’s do a deep dive into how you market your dealership or the brands you sell. It’s a good starting point as marketing is the driver that encourages enquiry, increases foot-traffic and, in the end, more sales!



From a marketing standpoint, dealerships and manufacturers tend to do a lot of the same when it comes to brand and dealership promotion. I call them “market followers” – which I Googled and got the following definition, which I believe seems fitting, – “Market follower is a firm that replicates what a particular business does. It does not take any risks, rather it waits and observes the others’ strategies and implement only the successful ones”.

Another definition I found quite pertinent was from the Cambridge Dictionary – “a company that is not the leading company in a particular market but that chooses to keep its position rather than competing in a forceful way to increase its share of the market”. It went on to say that “Market followers must know how to hold current customers”.

In any case, market followers are the ones that prefer not challenge the status quo and effectively choose not to be market leaders – in the marketing sense anyway.

If there’s one piece advice I can give you it’s to STOP doing whatever everyone around you is doing. Stop competing on the same field. Remember, this is a sport. How you play the game is just as important as to playing the game itself.

When it comes to marketing your product; be bold, be innovative, be relevant, be strategic, be progressive, be dynamic…just do different is what I’m saying. Strive to employ strategies and tactics the display you as a market leader.

I see dealerships and manufacturers, just like the days gone by, allocating large chunks of their marketing budget to traditional platforms. Having worked in media and marketing for a number of years, I’ve seen major trends in ad spend in:

  • newspapers
  • magazines
  • billboards
  • television
  • radio

Don’t get me wrong; they’re all important traditional platforms that serve their purpose. Some dealerships do it well, and others, not so well. The winners on this field are the ones who have the capacity to invest in each platform and engage their market with a multitouch strategy. They understand the importance of media mix and that it takes multiple touches before a prospect sees you, knows you and trusts you.

At the end of the day, businesses with significant reach and frequency stand to gain more in terms of exposure, leads and ultimately sales. Many of these businesses compliment this multitouch strategy with digital marketing, which I will touch on shortly.

While traditional media is still important, it can be expensive and therefore difficult for some businesses to invest in as part of a multi-touch marketing strategy. In saying that though, the importance of traditional today isn’t as prominent as it was just a few years ago. More and more businesses are now turning away from these traditional platforms and moving towards more digital advertising such as online content, video, PPC, social and programmatic.

According to Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN), ad spend in traditional media channels in Australia will continue to decline in 2017 and 2018. For instance:

  • TV ad spend – forecast to decline by 2.6% in 2017 then 2.4% in 2018.
  • Print media and newspaper ad spend – forecast to decline by 11.9% in 2017 and 8.9% in 2018.
  • Magazine ad spend – predicted to fall by 18.7% in 2017 and 10.7% in 2018

Having worked in television, radio, and trade print magazine, I have seen the benefits and merits of these platforms, but I have also witnessed their decline and have encountered businesses interested in more innovative digital approaches to connecting with their core customer.

So, let’s talk digital. It’s where the world’s going right? Wrong! It’s where the world already is and so too should you!

Simon Ryan, CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network ANZ, commented that “As ad spend in digital overtakes television, mobile overtakes desktop, and paid search overtakes print, it’s evident that we’re approaching a tipping point in both the industry and the consumer landscape.”

The DAN June 2017 Report states that on a global scale, mobile ad spend is set to overtake desktop in 2017 with digital ad spend forecast to overtake TV in 2018. If you’re not online and not playing the digital game, you better get on the field, otherwise, you will end up being benched.

A survey found that more than two-thirds (68%) of new car buyers made only 1.6 dealership visits on average before buying – with 40% visiting only one dealer (J.D. Power Associates “2013 New autoshopper.com Study”). Only a decade ago this was an average of 5 dealership visits (McKinsey Report, 2/2014).

The reason digital is so relevant today is that consumers are spending 6 to 7 hours of the 13 hours researching their purchase (ox Automotive, IHS Automotive, The 2016 Car Buyer Journey). When researching, they are:

  • developing a shopping list of vehicle brands and models
  • developing a shortlist
  • considering finance needs
  • considering finance options

After that, they are:

  • visiting dealerships
  • test driving vehicles
  • selecting finance lenders
  • making the final choice of vehicle

The thing is, the research car buyers are doing online is influencing their decisions and opinions when it comes to buying a car. If you want one the 1.6 visits to a dealership to be your dealership when these buyers are ready to buy, it’s super important that you be online and have something useful to say, teach or contribute to their online experience.

According to research from the Australian Vehicle and Finance Purchase Journey – consumers, on average, are taking approximately 8-10 weeks to search, shortlist and purchase a vehicle.

The internet continues to drive the trend for better-educated customers visiting dealerships with greater knowledge of their vehicle options. Moreover, many of them are ready to transact. So I reiterate; as consumers sit in their office or living room researching online, are their researching habits leading them to your dealership?

At risk of this article blowing out to epic proportions (which it probably already has), let me give you 3 key areas you should at least be focusing on when marketing your dealership online.

3 Key Areas

Given my strong belief in the need to promote business online, it’s only right that I give you focus points based on promoting your business online.

Key Area Number 1. Content…specifically, video content

It’s no secret in any industry that content is king; and in the automotive industry, content is definitely the ruler of all.

In a recent interview with Sean Lim – Dealership Development Manager at Torque Toyota, Sean said: “We try to do as much content as possible because it’s a fantastic way for us to deliver something that’s personalised to our audience”.

Video consumption has gone from being just primetime to now all-the-time and by the year 2020, almost a million minutes of video content will go online every second (CISCO). In 2017, a study by Global Pictures found that Aussie social media users watch 51 minutes of video content every day. In 2020, video will make up 82% of all consumer traffic globally; 35% of which will be in the APAC region (CISCO).

Impressive stats yes, but, they mean nothing if you’re not leveraging it. You need to take a “digital-first” marketing stance and invest heavily in creating engaging, educational and entertaining content that drives enquiry or foot traffic to your dealership.

What should you create? Research conducted by Millward Brown Digital and Polk revealed that content car buyers are most influenced by are:

  • test drives
  • walk-around — example below courtesy of AusGarage + Performax
  • feature highlights
  • reviews
  • safety tests

Performax – Ford F250 Superduty Final from AusGarage on Vimeo.

In addition to that, said video must be optimised for mobile also as Google/Ipsos Connect found that mobile video, in particular, drove in-market buyers to take action; in fact, 1 in 4 would visit a dealer after watching content about cars, trucks, or racing on a smartphone.

Where should you distribute this video content? Social media is the fastest growing influence on purchase decisions in Australia. Ideal platforms to share your video content are Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Whether you do one or all is entirely based on your digital strategy and your marketing budget.

Commanders on the Beach | SLRV Expedition Vehicles from AusGarage on Vimeo.

To give you a basic idea of how effective Social Media can be, take a look at the above video. It was posted to Facebook on September 21, 2017. This particular video, at the time of writing this article, had reached 120,754 views, had been shared 411 times, attracted 938 reactions (likes) and gained 559 comments. This sort of engagement occurs when there is good planning, budget, strategy, content and targeting. This particular page has a like following of 2,973. Video courtesy of AusGarage + SLRV Expedition.

Key Area Number 2. Get on Facebook and Spend Some Money

Facebook is probably one of the most effective platforms to promote your product and dealership on as it allows incredible targeting and tracking capabilities.

If you’ve been in business awhile and have sold a great deal of product, you should know who your customer is. You should know their goals and values, you should know where they get their information, you should know their age, their job, their gender, marital status and the list goes on. Essentially, you should know your ideal customer like the back of your hand.

Knowing your customer can help immensely when employing Facebook tactics to reach your core audience. You can target based on users’ age, gender, social media interests, in-market shopping behaviour and, most importantly for those of you with strict PMA’s, you can target according to location.

Unlike many traditional media platforms, Facebook allows you to tailor specific messages /offer to specific people via a number of different ad executions. Below is an example of a video posted to Facebook as a means of educating customers and prospective customers about their conversion process. Video courtesy of AusGarage + SCD American Vehicles.

SCD Titan Conversion Facilities Feature from AusGarage on Vimeo.

What ad executions work well with promoting car dealerships or manufacturers in particular? Here are four:

Local Awareness Campaign

Used to reach a local audience within a set geo-target.

In addition to geo-targeting, use in-market targeting to reach people who have recently displayed intent to purchase a car based on the content of sites they’ve visited or clicked on relevant ads. Secondly, use interests targeting, which will allow you to target people based on the posts they like and share on Facebook and Instagram and ads they click as well as pages they like.

Dynamic Retargeting Ads

Used to deliver ads to people who have viewed specific inventory on your website. These ads are delivered in a carousel format; customised to the user’s browsing history on your website.

These type of ads present a great way to re-engage your prospective buyer. Much like how retargeting works on on the Google Display Network, these ads effectively follow your prospect around; reminding them that they recently viewed a car make/model on your website.

Lead Generation

Used to offer prospects a simple, quick and convenient way to request information from you based on what you are promoting.

These ads allow you to create custom forms that capture contact information right inside of the Facebook platform. They display like any other Facebook ad, with the exception of a pop up displaying when clicked and generating a form for the prospect to enter their details, or, in some cases, confirm their details after the form has been auto-populated.

This is one of my favourites from a consumer stand-point. I click on these type of ad’s at least 2 to 3 times a day; requesting information from things I’m interested in.

Lead Generation ads are incredibly powerful in that, done correctly, you are able to add the prospect to your database for future touchpoint, such as a newsletter.

Canvas Ads

Used to offer your prospects a completely immersive experience of your brand online!

I love Canvas ads. They offer so much in terms of being able to provide your prospect with engaging content, including video and photos! Canvas ads load instantly and are mobile-optimised; perfect for that prospect sitting on the couch swiping through Facebook. Canvas ads are designed to capture the complete attention of your core audience.

Key Area Number 3. Google AdWords

It’s no secret that Google is the largest search engine in the world; and at home here in Australia, it is no different with 93.95% of people choosing Google as their main search engine (gs.statcounter.com). Employing Google AdWords (PPC) offers an unprecedented opportunity to capture the millions of eyeballs searching the Internet every day.

In 2017, according to Deloitte, 40% of people were influenced to make a purchase decision via Search Engine Advertising compared to the 37% in 2016.

PPC falls among what are called “expense-based marketing” strategies. Think of it like a tap. Turn on for instant exposure and leads, turn off when you don’t want exposure and leads. Google will keep your ad in circulation while you keep paying them…simple.

With PPC you are building consistency of voice and increased share of voice. In other words, the more people who see your brand and the more times they see your brand, the more likely they are to engage with your brand; either immediately or in the future, as you will be “top-of-mind”.

ThinkwithGoogle identified 5 key auto micro-moments where brands/dealerships were able to help shape consumer preferences and influence purchase decisions. Rather than list them and explain them all, I’ve included an Infographic direct from ThinkwithGoogle.

Screen Shot 2017-10-02 at 7.28.51 pm

Google AdWords has so many advantages; offering a far greater return on investment (ROI) than many other traditional forms of advertising; including direct mail, television, print and radio.

ThinkwithGoogle, in conjunction with Luth Research, conducted some thorough research into the interactions a prospect had over the course of 3 months. I think you will find the data very interesting. Here’s a snapshot.

stacy-car-buying-journey-download-bYou can read more on what they found by heading to the original article.

What ad executions work well with promoting car dealerships or manufacturers in particular? Here are three:

Search Ads

Used to help you reach relevant prospects based on words they enter in Google that match keywords you’ve indicated.

In basic terms, this type of ad execution renders a result in the top 3-4 positions on Google or on the bottom 3 to 4 positions. Prospects click your ad and are taken to your website or a page you choose for it to link to – like a stock item or brand page.

The great thing is, you only pay when they click, hence why they call it Pay-Per-Click or PPC.

This execution is perfect for increasing website traffic or gaining leads via linkage to landing pages to getting the phones ringing via click-to-call functionality.

Mobile Ads

Used to engage prospects researching a product on their mobile devices.

Your digital strategy should extend to mobile and tablet while, of course, also including desktop. While desktop still outdoes mobile, the difference can’t be ignored. In September, desktop market share was 52.4%, mobile was 36.6% while tablet was 11.01%. If you’re not on mobile and tablet, you’re missing out on a good chunk of business! Reaching prospective customers on-the-go is more important than ever before.

Mobile ads are very similar to your search ads, and also offer “click-to-call” tracking to help you measure leads and conversion even better.


Ever had the situation where you visited a website and then all of a sudden ads relating to that website service or product are following you all over the web? You have been retargeted!

As you would have come to know in this industry, people don’t always buy straight away, especially on the first interaction. The customer buying cycle can be a long one at times so you need to make sure your brand remains top-of-mind at every point of the cycle. You can learn more about how to do this by reading my 3 part series on How to Deal with Long Buying Cycles. The articles talk about what you can do to remain top of mind before, during and after the buying cycle. It focuses very much on the RV industry, however, the principles apply to the automotive market also. Part One, Part Two, Part Three.

With retargeting, you can help keep your brand alive by showing your ads to prospects based on their previous Internet actions; in situations where these actions did not result in a sale or conversion. It is incredibly effective and can render some fantastic results if done right and with strategy in mind!

The Wrap-Up

It’s important in this day and age for every business to have a digital strategy and a digital-first mentality. You can’t afford not to be online. Despite the overwhelming amounts of data, case studies and the like displaying proof and reasons why a business should be online, there is still an overwhelming percentage who are not. For instance, 52% of small businesses and 46% of medium businesses in Australia have no social media presence. Furthermore, those that do, 80% of small businesses and 73% of medium businesses don’t use paid social media advertising.

While these numbers are disturbing to me, for you, they present an incredible opportunity to connect with your ideal customer or audience in a real innovative and powerful way; allowing you to engage on a very personal level with people at a time that is convenient for them and that is non-invasive.

The implementation of a digital strategy can work across all facets of your dealership, including:

  • New Car Department
  • Used Car Department
  • Parts, accessory, and aftermarket sales
  • Service workshop sales
  • Finance and Insurance

It will also allow you to abide by any strict Prime Market Area stipulations in your contract; allowing you to market even more effectively to your postcode designations.

If I can give you one more piece of advice though before I wrap this incredibly long article up, it’s this. If you decide to implement a robust, dynamic and relevant digital strategy in your dealership, please make sure you have the means to serve your customers well. A well devised and implemented digital strategy means nothing if you are unable to service your customer by providing:

  • outstanding customer experience and customer service
  • expert advice
  • quality product (both servicing and the vehicle itself)
  • exceptional after-sales service

Failure to meet any of these, even in the basic terms, can do a great deal of damage to your brand. Remember, the digital world isn’t just great for promoting your brand, it’s also an incredibly powerful platform for customers to express their dissatisfaction in your brand.

So get online and do it in a big way. If you don’t know how to do it or don’t think you can do it well, hire professionals who can. For the same reason you go to an accountant or doctor for expert advice, go to an expert for digital or marketing advice. In the end, it’s an investment, not a cost. Marketing done right will make you money, not cost you money!

Originally published : http://www.bernardraffaut.com/3-key-focus-areas-when-navigating-your-dealership-through-the-digital-world/

About the Author | Bernard helps businesses leverage the power of consumer-focused multi-platform marketing strategies and collaborative workflow practices. In particular, he provides strategic marketing advice to automotive/marine/travel/tourism/RV industries. He assists them in promoting their product/s, brand or region via various digital marketing platforms and content marketing initiatives – while also providing consultation on content-driven advertising campaigns, bespoke content creation, video production and so much more.

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