Dealership Marketing: Back to the Future, or the Jetsons?

dealership marketing

In 1886, a phone book printer ran out of white paper for the local businesses and used yellow paper instead, creating the all-new business section. This gave customers business information at their fingertips and allowed them to shop from full-page advertisements for products and services. Business owners quickly responded by spending their advertising dollars on this direct-marketing tool.

Twelve years later, an automotive ad in a local newspaper promoted ditching the horse for a car, and then came home radios and televisions. So for most of the 1900s, dealers spent their advertising dollars on print, radio, and television ads. Over a century later these traditional spends have become a marketing habit for many dealers and have created blocks to adjusting to the modern consumer’s needs.

Through the 1990s and into the 2000s, the “world wide web” quickly gained traction, as the internet became more user-friendly with seemingly unlimited information. Today, business information is available to consumers as quickly as an internet search. Dealers need robust websites updated daily, plus SEO/SEM spends to make sure our sites are the first one shoppers view. We also need banner ads delivered to the low-funnel shoppers in our market area who are ready to make a purchase.

The cutting-edge dealers will be geofencing other area competitors’ customers to deliver their ads while they are shopping. We can geotarget potential customers at local sporting events or while they sit at their kid’s high school graduation with low-cost car ads for their college commute. Your management team will also want to buy all the third-party leads and post inventories on sites like, Autotrader, Edmunds—and the list goes on. Don’t forget social marketing with Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter, and snapchatting with friends.

How Much Money Are You Willing to Spend?

Today, dealers can advertise to auto intenders on broadcast TV, cable TV, or OTT (over the top) TV. By 2019 it’s expected that 58 million people in the U.S. will abandon cable and broadcast for OTT TV, according to Premion Media. They will watch their favorite series on any device, anytime, anywhere. That’s 20 percent of people age 18 to 49 who will not view your message if you don’t place non-skippable commercials. Getting your message on local radio stations or internet radio such as Pandora or iHeartRadio are just a couple of other choices dealers have. Websites, SEO, SEM, third-party sites, email blasts, e-newsletters, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, geotarget this or geotarget that. This is a lot to wrap your mind around, but with the proper digital strategy, your business can grow.

What’s a Dealer to Do?

For the last 100 years, the car business hasn’t changed; your customers are still the best source for repeat and referral business, so data mining with AutoAlert should be your main focus! Conquest business is best done locally by branding and marketing with your team through community events. Taking advantage of all these new marketing options can be difficult to fit into your budget, but a marketing plan will help sort out what is working. Spending money with traditional broadcast television and radio is fine for a large-area reach, while cable and OTT smart TV budgets can be used to saturate a selected area. Scheduling timely delivery of digital banner ads within the area you’ve selected to saturate via your cable programing can increase customer interaction.

If spending money on your website and its placement is important, having third-party sites plus other lead-generating sources is imperative. Email blasts and social marketing can help target your market area, but don’t spend more than your infrastructure can handle. If your internet response times are longer than 20 minutes and your team’s email responses don’t completely answer the customer’s questions, stop spending your money on more leads. What is your ROI for all of the places you spend your money—and most of all, did you sell more cars?

Marketing our dealerships in the future may include virtual-reality headsets in place of today’s mobile video recordings. Emails could be replaced by texts, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. In this new world of 5G (5th generation) networking, we’ll have higher capacity than current 4G, allowing a higher density of ultra-reliable mobile broadband users supporting all our devices. Talking to your watch while watching videos on it, just like George Jetson at his full-time job, working two hours a week for Spacely Space Sprockets, as a digital index operator? Welcome to our new world!

Brian Huth

Chief Marketing Officer at Sam Pack's Five Star Ford
Brian Huth

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