In the past, car buyers spent time studying auto dealership ads via newspapers and visiting dealerships. It was the only way to get educated on new models and features. In today’s market, car buyers do that online. As a result, developing new customer-engagement strategies is key to dealership success.
In the past, a person who wanted to buy a new car operated in a tiny world. They looked in the local newspaper and visited dealerships that were in a reasonable driving distance from their home. Today, the buyer’s world has exploded. The internet has given buyers access to a much larger universe, and it’s full of conflicting marketing messages. To catch the attention of today’s car buyer, you need to increase how much consumers choose to interact with you and how they value the experiences you provide.
The brand that can use engagement to establish a relationship with consumers is the one consumers will listen to. Marketers now must concern themselves with the overall customer experience (CX). The most important way marketers can differentiate themselves from their competitors is by engaging with consumers to offer a more meaningful customer experience. To do that, you need to understand the consumers’ expectations.
Consumers today expect different things from their experiences with brands. They want the brands they work with to have a deep understanding of who their consumers are. That understanding should lead brands to find the best ways to engage with them. Unfortunately, according to Forrester, most companies are failing. If you want to be successful, it’s time for your dealership to develop new customer engagement strategies.
You Need Digital Marketing to Support Customer Engagement
Your digital marketing is crucial because 95 percent of car buyers use digital technologies for researching a car purchase. Many digital technologies are available to help auto dealers improve customer engagement.
For example, there are systems to help you personalize your communications. You can take advantage of online video to attract and inform consumers. In fact, research shows that buyers are making many buying decisions based on internet information. According to Cox Automotive, buyers visit an average of 2.3 dealers before buying a car. And 41 percent of buyers visit only one dealership.
That fact provides clear direction for dealerships. It’s true that what happens at the dealership is an essential part of the overall customer experience. But the thing that will get the customer into the dealership is the level of customer engagement a dealer can achieve before that final visit.
How Auto Dealerships Can Increase Customer Engagement
Since online engagement is so critical, it’s valuable to look at how dealerships can take advantage of digital marketing to increase customer engagement. Not every strategy will work for every dealership, but these tips will help you choose a plan that fits your needs.
Make Sure You Know Your Audience
Stay up to date with customer behavior. You can do that by reading the latest research from any number of sources that study the car-buying public. You can also do your own research with surveys and questionnaires.
According to Google, “33% of marketers agree that improved understanding and engaging the right customers is most important to reaching their marketing goals in the next three years.”
“Consumer behavior has changed forever. Today’s battle for hearts, minds, and dollars is won (or lost) in micro-moments—intent-driven moments of decision-making and preference-shaping that occur throughout the entire consumer journey,” says Google.
Your customers typically don’t set aside an hour or so to research cars and dealerships online. The odds are better that they see a car on the road while they’re a passenger in a vehicle on the way to work. That sighting motivates them to grab their phone to look up the latest model.
When a consumer takes a few minutes to make a decision or get information to shape their plans, that’s a micro-moment. Is your marketing set up to satisfy that need? For example, you need landing pages designed to give the visitor a quick snapshot of information. It may be a set of bullet points, or, even better, a video. According to Google, more than “60% of auto shoppers reported visiting a dealership or dealership website after watching a video of a vehicle they were considering.”
But make sure there’s no lag time. Google also says that
“53% of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes longer than three seconds to load. … We’ve actually seen that for every one-second delay in site load time, conversions fall by 12%.
Add Action to Your Website
Always keep in mind that your goal for a website visitor is to have that person take some action. Take the time to create attention-grabbing calls to action on your pages. Position them carefully for the best visibility. Your call to action may be to request more information, check inventory, or do something else that will move that visitor closer to buying.
Find ways to make your website interactive to get your visitors more involved during their visit. You can use quizzes, assessments, and calculators. Your visitors may want to complete an assessment to help them determine what type of vehicle would be best for their lifestyle. You could also direct them to an online loan application, car payment calculators, or a quiz to let them evaluate their knowledge of the car buying process.
Encourage the Use of Online Tools
Less than 10 percent of car buyers use the internet to negotiate price or complete paperwork. These two activities cause buyers to spend more time at the dealership. And they’re the things that frustrate consumers the most.
Research shows that customers who negotiated prices online, or who completed paperwork online, spent 45 minutes less time in the dealership. This is a situation where online tools can increase a car buyer’s satisfaction with the overall customer experience.
Prepare for Voice-First Browsing
Gartner is predicting that by 2020, 30 percent of web browsing will be voice searches. That means that long-tail keyword searches will become more frequent. When you speak a search, you’re much more likely to use more words because it’s so much easier than typing. You can prepare for this trend by making sure that your SEO and paid online advertising targets simple searches and long-tail searches. It’s also necessary to have landing pages that address those long-tail topics.
[Read: Voice Marketing: Effect on Brand Advertising]
Personalize Your Communications
The term “personalize” is taking on new meanings in today’s market. In the past, you could throw a person’s name in the subject or greeting of an email and call it personalized. That doesn’t work for today’s consumers. You need systems that can identify a prospect and track the contact you’ve had with them.
Then, when you engage prospects again through email, for example, you can easily personalize it. You can call them by name and send more information about the car that interested them. That type of personalization grabs a consumer’s attention.
This personalization should extend to the dealership floor. Anything that you learn about a particular customer should be accessible to everyone at the dealership. Then, when the customer does visit, the conversation can be an extension of where they left off during online engagement.
Keep Your Website Updated
Choose the timing for updating your website carefully. You know that most people buy cars on the weekend. However, research shows that car buyers are using the internet at other times of the week. For example, 30 percent of online inventory views happen on Monday and Tuesday. And 37 percent of leads from a dealer website happen on those two days.
Make sure you start the week out with updated inventory levels for new and used cars, special event sales, trade-in offers and anything else that would be valuable to a consumer.
Make Your Messages Unique
If your content sounds like every other dealership’s, you’ll get lost in the marketing noise. Think about your dealership’s style, and how it should affect your message. Would you be most likely to connect emotionally with your customers? Or, is friendly and outgoing your style? Could you use humor in your communications? If you focus on luxury buyers, you will communicate differently than if you target the family market.
It doesn’t matter how you view your dealership because there is no right or wrong answer. But if you can translate your style into your communications, you will make a much better connection with buyers.
Let People Know Who You Are
Making your message unique is one way for people to get to know you. But, in the end, people like to buy from people, not companies. Find ways to let people know who they’ll be working with at the dealership. For example, does your website have a page where buyers can go to learn more about the dealership?
Many successful dealerships have an “About” or “History” page that helps people connect. If you’re hometown folks who have lived in the area for generations, help buyers understand that you have a real interest in maintaining your reputation. Maybe your fascination with cars started when you were a child. Telling buyers that story will show them that you have a real passion for your business.
Being open about who you are will help buyers relate to your dealership. It will then motivate them to engage more deeply with your business.
Extend Customer Engagement to Different Channels
Consumers want to have a consistent experience, regardless of how they choose to engage with your dealership. That means that a live chat option gives buyers another way to engage with you on your website. And useful content on your blog will let buyers answer their own questions and take notice of your expertise.
You could also create a Facebook group where buyers can ask questions, get information, and interact with other buyers. This also provides the opportunity to nurture relationships with buyers in the group and keep your dealership top of mind.
Other social media platforms can be helpful, too. You can use them to drive traffic back to your website. Just keep track of the amount of traffic or interaction you get from social media. It could be that your potential customers don’t use all the types of social media available.
[Read: Building Your Brand with Content Marketing]
You can take advantage of online videos to attract and inform consumers. Why? Forty percent of car buyers said they used videos to narrow down their choices. And 60 percent of shoppers said they watched a video, then visited the dealership or its website.
Don’t just rely on the slick videos from manufacturers. You can use videos on landing pages that address specific concerns or questions. Buyers will relate much more to a personal tour of a new model rather than the manufacturer’s version that appears in many places online. Put your videos on YouTube on a channel just for your dealership. You will attract the die-hard YouTube users who go there to do their car searches rather than use Google.
[Read: 5 Tips for Creating Successful Dealership Walk-Around Videos]
Your Next Steps
If you don’t have a plan for increasing customer engagement, you need to create one. You don’t want to be in a position of watching your competitors develop relationships with the car buying public that you can’t match.
Use some of the strategy ideas listed above to start increasing your customer engagement. Just make sure you track results. Tracking key performance indicators for customer engagement will become as crucial to your business as tracking the number of closed sales.