Category Archives: Internet Advertising

Where Dealers Should Start with Online Marketing

When a dealership starts to consider all the options available to market via the internet, it can become a daunting task to know where to start. When a new radio station comes calling or a new print publication stops by, most dealers or general managers have a solid experience base to draw from when considering these products. But when it comes to making online media buying decisions, it’s often a new learning experience, and few have the confidence to select and prioritize the products and services that will work best for them.

Every week, I encounter dealers who are in this situation, and I have come to rely on the following guidelines to help them prioritize their efforts for optimal online marketing success.

1. Create or update your dealership website to reflect how your customers like to shop.

After reviewing the website metrics of hundreds of franchised new vehicle dealers, it has become clear that most customers visit dealer websites to check out new and used vehicle inventory. However, many websites are jammed with so many pictures and words that customers have a difficult knowing where to click.

I read a great book on this topic called, “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability” by Steve Krug. The book convinced me that the Google approach of simplicity was the most logical route when setting up navigation on your website: Imagine if your customers had to navigate through several barriers to see your inventory on your lot. Some would actually persevere, but many others would give up before they got there. This is what happens when customers visit your site and are greeted with confusing navigation. So start by cleaning up your home page. Make it easy for users to search for what they want and you’ll definitely get more leads. A nice byproduct of this is that the leads that close the easiest are those that are coming to you through your dealership website.

2. Sign up for your manufacturer’s lead generation program, if available.

In the last few years, Ford and GM have lead the charge to drive consumers through their website properties to dealerships that can fulfill the auto shoppers’ buying needs. In addition, several manufacturers have developed lead aggregator models whereby they purchase leads from other online sources that are brand-specific, and then resell them to their dealers. This provides a dealer with a steady flow of leads but limits them to those in their manufacturer-specified market area. If you are a dealer who wants leads outside this set market, then try reaching out to a third-party lead aggregator.

3. Optimize your dealership website for search engines (SEO) and consider search engine marketing (SEM).

Generating home-grown leads is critical to improving your lead volume and close rate. You can have the greatest website in the world, but you can’t reap the benefits if customers never see it. In today’s environment, a website that is not optimized may have a smooth running engine, but it never gets in gear. So, first, you want to make sure your website builder has done all it can to make it easy for search engines to find your website. Some want to charge for this service (which I feel is inappropriate, since it is like selling a vehicle without the transmission). Setting up alternate text for photos and individual page titles is a quick and easy way to improve your site for search, as is adding strategic wording across the bottom of each page that describes your dealership offerings.

SEM is a social science, rather than a "pure" science, as you are trying to determine behavior– what your prospects will type when they are searching for a new or used vehicle. One might type “New Ford pickups in Lexington, KY,” while another will type “Ford trucks new in Lexington”. Yes, these are very similar, but if you don’t include both in your search term keywords list, you will likely not show up at the top of SEM rankings.

While in-house SEO is certainly an option, SEM is much more complex. And because of its nuances, I think it is safer and kinder to your financial and personnel budget to use a company that specializes in these services, rather than trying to tackle them yourself.

4. Find a third-party lead provider and online classifieds service.

This is the next priority and can be the link to actual sales and profit growth when you set them up and manage them correctly. Do your homework and compare the offerings of several services to see which one will work best for your dealership. Make sure you do a thorough evaluation of the available tools that will give you the best possible return on your investment. And with the pre-owned listings, be sure you have the capacity to use multiple photos, detailed and personally written descriptions and on-the-market pricing.

As the internet matures, no doubt we will see many more elements that can increase your sales. Following this marketing priority list should give you a good start toward achieving a solid return on your investment, and I will continue to explore and report new options that will help you take advantage of all the web has to offer.

Thanks for reading,
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David Kain
CALL: 859-533-2626
Automotive Internet Training Specialists
http://www.kainautomotive.com
david@kainautomotive.com

Winning The Race For Sales

For the last six months, the competing dealership across town has outsold you every month, and the gap is growing. You can’t figure out what they have done to lure your shoppers away. You both advertise on TV and in the paper, which hasn’t changed in years, but they must have developed some secret strategy to steal your customers.

What that other dealer has done is to recognize and act on new shopper behaviors that have turned automotive marketing on its head. Only 10 years ago, if a consumer became interested in a car, the only way he could research it was to walk your lot or visit your showroom. There was a direct connection between your OEM’s brand spending and traffic to your dealership. This world no longer exists.

For 80 to 90 percent of shoppers today, a chasm has emerged between you and your OEM’s brand and promotional marketing investment on your behalf. This chasm has been filled by an almost infinite variety of information sources on the Web, ranging from unfiltered user reviews to Edmunds.com and from blogs to social networks. Today’s shopper has infinite opportunities to be confused and distracted away from the path to your dealership. The irony is that the user is in control of their purchase experience, yet often wanders around aimlessly hearing a wide variety of opinions. In that wandering many never make it to your showroom, even though you or your OEM may have started them on their journey.

What that other dealer recognizes is that this confusion creates an opportunity for them to get their unfair share of demand created by your OEM and regional association’s marketing spend. On average, OEMs and regional associations spend two to three dollars for every marketing dollar you spend at the dealership. Your competitor paved a road across the gap and installed signposts wherever the consumer could get lost, capturing much of the traffic that used to go to your dealership.

They paved the road by making sure their online marketing messages stay in lock step with their OEM’s campaigns. If a consumer sees a promotional ad and then searches for the promotion on the Internet, the dealership shows up in those search results because they bought those search terms, so their name appears at the top of the Google or Yahoo search screen. When the user clicks on the search link they go straight to the dealer’s Website, with that promotion front and center.

The signposts are additional search and online display advertising for consumers, in their local area, that build a steady awareness of their dealership so the consumer will turn to them whenever they want research information only the dealership could provide—such as inventory and local promotions.

What about that other dealer’s steady presence on TV and in the paper? Many a battle has been won by generals who left their campfire burning while they marched their army around the enemy’s flank.
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Chris Reed is VP and chief marketing officer at Cobalt he can be reached at creed@cobalt.com. For more information about Cobalt visit http://www.cobalt.com.

Understanding the 3 Phases of Internet Marketing Growth

Crawl – Walk – Run

Dealers have a lot of decisions to make when it comes to online marketing. One of the first decisions is to know where to start. A common phrase that helps to guide a lot of businesses in the growth area is crawl – walk –run. With the growing cost of on Internet Marketing a dealer must be cautious in their decisions and make sure they start off right and expand when the metrics tell you it is right. If you plan to get the best possible return on your Internet marketing investment I encourage you to follow this framework. Let’s explore what each means.

Crawl

Any dealer planning to make the commitment to market online should consider some these foundational elements:

[list:1khabin6]1. Basic Dealer website

2. Manufacturer lead source

3. Used Vehicle lead source

4. Lead management tool [/list:u:1khabin6]
A dealer website to start out with can be one that is created by your vehicle manufacturer. These factory controlled sites are a good place to start and although they limit individual dealer branding elements they allow you to display your inventory to your prospects and to be show up in search engines. The most important aspect is to keep your inventory and specials up to date.

Most manufacturers are now in the lead generating business either on their own website or they participate in some form of lead aggregation from third party sources to provide leads to their dealer body. Sign up for these leads since they are usually a good quality choice.

Although manufacturers do a good job generating new leads (no surprise here) they usually do not provide the kind of assistance dealers need to generate prospects for selling used vehicles. There are some exceptions but for the most part dealers need to fend for themselves in this area and establish a relationship with an online classified source for used vehicles.

An important early action dealers should take is purchasing a lead management tool to manage the leads they purchase. These tools make your investment in lead generation worthwhile and also serve as the foundation for sales growth and metrics.

Walk

The walk phase should be explored when you are confident you have a solid foundation of results from your crawl phase. Dealers entering this phase should recognize that every dollar spent on Internet Marketing should have a return factor of at least 5 x. This simply means that if you spend $1000 you should seek a return of $5000. This is pretty easy to achieve when you have a close rate on your leads in the 10% range.

Marketing elements to consider in this phase include the following:

[list:1khabin6]1. Independent Dealership Website (not the manufacturer based site)

2. Search Engine Marketing

3. eNewsletter

4. Click to call [/list:u:1khabin6]
An Independent Dealership Website will allow your dealership to create their own online brand independent of the manufacturer. Many dealer groups are finding this particularly attractive as they find it helpful to market their various brands using their own portal. Even single point dealers benefit from an independent website so they can communicate to their prospects what makes them unique. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is the step above Search Engine Optimization (SEO) which I did not mention earlier because in my opinion every good website builder makes SEO part of their fundamental ingredients. SEM gives your dealership a leg up in the marketplace where recent studies have shown 89%* of Auto Shoppers use a search engine.

An eNewsletter is an excellent way to keep up with your buyers and prospects longterm. This form of marketing is a gentle method of building brand awareness and is essentially like emailing your website to your database each month. Click to call is a wonderful technology that allows your website visitors to have the dealership call them when they are ready to talk. Your website should generate a large volume of phone calls to be the best benefit to your sales and service operations.

Run

Dealers will know when they are ready to accelerate into the Run phase by the metrics and the marketplace. If you are closing at a rate above 10% consistently and you are becoming known as the place to buy online you are certainly ready to take it up a notch. Recommended elements of the Run phase include the following:

[list:1khabin6]1. Online Chat

2. Video emails

3. Online Auctions

4. eNegotiation [/list:u:1khabin6]
A dealership website to many consumers has become “The Showroom”. Online chat allows your sales team to virtually “walk the lot” with your online prospects and stimulate a dialogue. Many dealers find this an excellent method to start a dialogue with prospects who are perhaps to tentative to submit a request. Video emails are the best personalization tool available. Recent advances allow dealers to literally record a walk-around of their prospects vehicle of interest and then send it in an email.

Online Auctions are a bit complicated for the average dealer and therefore are in the Run phase. First a dealer should decide if they are going to use online auctions to retail or wholesale their inventory. Once this decision is made it is important to assign someone to specifically operate this function. Given the instant CSI ability of auctions a dealer must be vigilant in taking care of their auction prospects. An excellent tool for growth that should be explored with open eyes. eNegotiation is a term used to describe a technology that allows the dealer to offer back and forth negotiation very similar to a showroom negotiation. This happens in real time and the consumer can make an offer, receive a dealer counter, up their offer and negotiate to a middle ground. Still in the beginning stages but certainly a technology to keep aware of because it could shake up the dealership negotiation process.

Certainly there are many more marketing actions that could have been considered for this Crawl – Walk – Run scenario but this serves to explain the main marketing elements that every dealer should consider.

Best to you as you develop your online sales environment.
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David Kain, President
KainAutomotive.com is an automotive training and consulting firm that specializes in Internet marketing and sales training.
david@kainautomotive.com
http://www.kainautomotive.com
1-859-533-2626

Want More Traffic? Sell More Than the Car

Online classified listing services typically allow dealers to include information that is automatically added to each of their vehicle ads. The point to convey is simple: Here is why a customer would want to do business with your dealership. Help car buyers understand the quality service and vehicles they can expect when they visit your store.

For example:

[list:srxdpibw]• [Dealership Name] has operated in [Community Name] for [Number] years, earning [Franchise Award] each year since [Year]. We pride ourselves on delivering the best service and the most competitive prices on high-quality, late-model used cars.

• If you’re not satisfied with your vehicle, we offer a guaranteed buyback program within [Number] days of purchase.

• Each vehicle sold by [Dealership Name] undergoes a [Number]-point inspection to ensure that it meets our high standards for safety and reliability.

• Each vehicle sold by [Dealership Name] comes with lifetime free oil – and/or – a [Number]-day limited warranty.[/list:u:srxdpibw]

To close, provide an incentive for walk-in traffic. Ask customers to print the ad and bring it with them when they visit the dealership. Typical offers include dinner for two at a popular restaurant, free lifetime car washes for the vehicle or a $200 discount. To encourage continued service at your dealership, you could also offer free oil when the customer schedules a lubrication service appointment.

What to exclude:
You’ll also want to be careful to avoid these three things:

[list:srxdpibw]1 Statements like, “Ask for [salesperson’s name] for special Internet pricing.” While this offer may seem reasonable on the surface, it does not create value for the customer or the vehicle in question.

2 All uppercase letters. Capital letters may seem to draw attention or add emphasis to the message you want to convey, but they are the equivalent of shouting at someone. Also, studies show that sentences with uppercase and lowercase letters are easier to read.

3 Your telephone number and your email address. Because many dealerships list their vehicles on sites other than Cars.com, it is important that they be able to accurately track which provider helps drive the most traffic. Allowing the customer to contact you via the telephone number or email address featured elsewhere on your listing ensures accurate measurement. [/list:u:srxdpibw]

One final tip: Write notes about your dealership in a word processing program and thoroughly check it for correct spelling, grammar and punctuation before posting to the Web. You can then cut-and-paste the information into the online tool that manages your listings.
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Written by Dealer ADvantage and Cars.com

What’s Your Online Gorilla?

Using display advertising to stand out

Today’s rich-media technology makes a new generation of Internet advertising possible. Static ads that dominated the Web in the past are giving way to dynamic ads that show available vehicles based on dealer and customer search criteria. A banner ad that previously would have shown only the dealership name and contact information—and linked to the dealer website—can now include links to related models available for sale in the actual inventory. A search for a 2006 Ford Explorer could return, for example, a banner ad from a store with the sport-utility vehicle in stock or a display ad from a dealership offering the Ford and similar vehicles from other manufacturers.

Display ads also allow dealers to reach specific markets. Banner ads, for example, can be configured to appear on classified listings pages whenever a car buyer searches for a particular make or model within a given zip code. These ads typically appear at the top or side of the results page, attracting the customer’s attention and creating an incentive to click for more information.

Online display advertising can help your business:

Drive traffic
Display ads help you stand out from the pack, driving traffic to both your dealership and your store’s website. Because dealers often compete with similar vehicles at comparable prices, a visually interesting ad with key information about the car is more likely to catch a car buyer’s eye. Customers can then review your inventory and call, email or visit for more information or to schedule a test drive.

Move aging inventory
With many dealers using a “60-days-and-out” policy on their used vehicles, online display advertising can help move aging inventory before the cars are sent to auction. These ads bring the vehicles to the attention of car buyers and prove effective in closing sales, especially when they are presented as “dealer specials.” For a sales staff, these ads also serve as a powerful motivational tool, focusing its attention on the cars to move and helping the dealership avoid losing gross with auction sales.

Build brand awareness
Consumers searching online classified ads for a vehicle to purchase often know little about the dealerships they’re considering. Beyond including your basic contact information and highlighting a few vehicles, banner and display ads allow you to promote the dealership’s business practices and community reputation. Telling car buyers, for example, about how long you’ve been in business, the industry awards you’ve received and the service you provide during the sales process helps build confidence, trust and awareness of your brand that can help close deals.

Consumers increasingly expect to see display advertising online, and businesses are adopting the strategy because it works. According to TNS Media Intelligence, spending for online display advertising in the first quarter of 2006 reached nearly $2.2 billion – an increase of 19.4 percent from the year-ago quarter. Just like the giant inflatable gorilla on your lot, display ads draw attention to your store and your dealership’s inventory.

Putting these ads to work for your business is a straightforward process, in many cases using the pictures and information you’ve already developed for your classified listings. Click here to see how display advertising will draw the kind of attention you want to your dealership
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Written by Fred Haney, Cars.com

When Online Turns Offline

Understand the Full Reach of Your Internet Advertising

In theory, one of the unique benefits about online advertising, versus print or broadcast, is the ability to fully measure the effect of the ad. You post a listing on a third-party site such as Cars.com, a shopper sees it and calls or clicks, and you have instant feedback that the ad did its job. It’s even easy to run a report that shows how many calls, clicks, chats or other contacts you received off your online ads that day, week, month, etc. Yet those reports fail to tell the whole story. A recent groundbreaking study conducted by Cars.com found that one out of every three dealership visitors who use an independent site will not call or send an email before coming to the store*. So that you’re not missing out on this traffic, let’s look at how you can measure the full value your online marketing efforts deliver.

Think of the Internet as a Launching Point

In the retail world in general, the internet has become the launching point for most shoppers. A July 2008 Nielsen Online study showed that customers at retail giants such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Costco and Walgreens consistently spent 30 percent to 60 percent more with them than offline-only shoppers. Many of those customers went online to research product choices and/or availability before coming to the store to make their purchases. These retailers have adjusted their business models to recognize the importance of their online presence, regardless of whether the internet was the channel used to make the purchase.

The same approach is beginning to be applied to automotive sales, according to Dennis Galbraith, vice president of advertising products and training at Cars.com.

“More than 75 percent of car shoppers today use the internet; of those, more than 75 percent use independent third-party sites,” he says. “That’s a huge change in the landscape from 10 years ago. Car shoppers know they can find detailed information about the vehicles that interest them online, helping them become better prepared when they walk into the store. If you’re making all your ROI judgments based on phone and email leads, you’re missing a significant part of the story.”

Look Beyond the Basics

This is not to say leads are not important; they are. Particularly in the current economic conditions, customer inquiries are your dealership’s lifeblood, and driving traffic now is even more urgent than usual. The question is: What constitutes a lead?

One way to measure the true value of online efforts is to look deeper into the reports that third-party sites such as Cars.com can generate. Most dealers will look at how many phone calls, emails, chat sessions, clicks to their website, etc., were generated, while overlooking the hidden indicators.

“On Cars.com you can look at how many customers printed a map,” says Galbraith. “That’s a pretty good indicator that a customer started on the web and then came to the store. Few shoppers would waste the ink and paper to print a map if they didn’t plan to come in. The same goes for car buyers printing a description of the car. Even if it never comes out of their pocket, they brought it with them. So if something they saw on the web doesn’t match what they’re hearing in the store, then they have a way of checking it out. A print-out on the front seat of the trade-in vehicle shows they did their homework well before walking in the store.”

Embrace Online

With that in mind, it’s important to understand the difference between using online advertising and really embracing it. For example, a dealer that is using online advertising will post a photo, a basic product description and the MSRP for a new vehicle or the Blue Book price for a used car. A dealer that embraces online advertising, says Galbraith, will post multiple photos, and/or a video, a detailed product description, a free vehicle history report and a price that’s competitive in the marketplace.

“The change dealers have to realize is that merchandising vehicles online isn’t advertising in the traditional sense. It’s selling,” he says. “The sales process now begins before the customer ever sets foot in the door. You need to approach the customer experience like you would on the floor, providing ample information, leading the customer through, highlighting important features and selling the dealership.”

If you’re still not sold on the impact, consider that half of dealership visitors who used Cars.com before coming to the store plan to purchase or lease a vehicle that day. Leads don’t come any hotter than that.

Still Skeptical?

Of course, not everyone has bought into this new business model. Some general managers remain focused more on branding efforts using traditional media (e.g., TV, radio or newspaper) because it’s what they grew up with and where their comfort zone is. In addition, Galbraith says some will try to minimize the connection between online marketing and offline sales as a negotiating tactic.

“It’s really time to stop playing that game,” Galbraith says. “Dealers should start working with their salespeople and figuring out how to get more out of it instead. It’s easier to see what the results are than it is with TV, radio or even newspaper ads. Online marketing has proven itself to be the most effective driver of traffic to come along since the invention of the automobile. Investing in it is really an investment in the store.”
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Written by Cars.com

The Value of Online Advertising

Beyond the Lead
In the day-to-day business of selling more new cars, it’s easy to focus on acquiring leads at the expense of promoting all the vehicles on your lot. In the numbers game of selling cars, purchasing more leads typically equates to more sales, assuming you have adequate staff and the right processes in place. The most successful dealers, though, tell us that purchasing leads represents just one part of their internet strategy.

By listing their full new- and used-car inventory with an automotive shopping site such as Cars.com, they reach more prospects and realize more value from their online advertising spend. Not only do they receive email and phone prospects from their listings, they also drive walk-in traffic and facilitate clicks to their website. This approach further allows dealers to begin the sales process online by demonstrating how their cars meet the shopper’s needs and selling the value of buying from their store. Try doing all that with a lead.

Keep the Lead in Context
As important as these prospects are, they only represent a portion of all car buyers who are going online to do their research. In fact, a recent study showed that while many consumers go online to make purchase decisions such as what and where to buy, more will walk into the dealership as their next course of action than will contact a dealer in the form of a quote request. While email and phone prospects are an important way to capture in-market shoppers who are raising their hand and asking for a quote, the majority of all the traffic your store receives instead stems from your internet listings and other advertising.

Merchandise Your Whole Store
Promoting your listings online allows you to market your entire new- and used-car inventory to prospects. It also allows you to direct them to third-party research on the vehicles they’re considering and provide them with tools to calculate payments and determine financing options. Because car shoppers often purchase a vehicle other than the one for which they submitted the lead, or cross-shop between new and used vehicles, your chance of winning their business improves with the number of appropriate options you can offer. For example, thirty-eight percent of Cars.com visitors arrived at our site, with the intention of buying a used car but instead drove home in a new car. If you’re not advertising your inventory online, the likelihood of winning this business shifts to your competitors.

Online advertising excels at making the most of these opportunities. Unlike other forms of advertising, the internet is uniquely able to “listen” to what the customer wants, match-make with appropriate products and offer demonstrations in the form of pictures, video and descriptive sell copy. Combined with a committed sales staff, it’s an effective 1-2-3 punch. A recent Experian Automotive analysis of Cars.com visitors, for example, found that 61 percent of those visitors who contacted a seller went on to buy a vehicle. Among those prospects, 79 percent completed the purchase within 90 days.

The Greatest Lead of All
We frequently hear from dealers that leads from their websites close at a higher rate than the ones they purchase. One way to obtain more of these leads is to advertise your new- and used-car listings on an automotive shopping site rather than experimenting with search engine marketing/optimization. In fact, 83 percent of dealers responding to a recent Cars.com survey told us that the value of clicks to their websites from sites like Cars.com exceeded the value of clicks from search engine results pages.

Measure the Return on Investment
Advertising online uniquely allows you to determine the effectiveness of your online advertising. Unlike other mediums, the internet provides you with the ability to track the source of your traffic. For example, you can tell how many phone or email leads a specific listing generated and how many times a shopper printed directions to your store or clicked over to your store’s website after viewing this listing. By taking into account these factors, you get a better sense of how your advertising affects leads and traffic. When prospects tell you they were “just driving past,” chances are good that explanation is true, sort of. After all, they didn’t call or email first to schedule an appointment; then again, they’re not going to toss aside their perceived negotiating position by showing you the print-out of the ad that brought them into the neighborhood.

Build Your Business
An added value of advertising online is the ability to capture real-time intelligence that you can leverage to make informed inventory and pricing decisions. Third-party sites such as Cars.com monitor current market conditions and share this data with you through reports on what vehicles are in high demand but low supply, and how much your competitors are charging for them. Armed with this information, you can stock your store with vehicles that turn quickly and sell for a higher gross.

While getting leads plays an important role in your overall sales, it is only one part of the equation. A successful internet strategy also includes driving traffic to your store by promoting your new- and used-car inventory with an automotive shopping site such as Cars.com. This integrated approach allows you to reach the most in-market shoppers and effectively market all of your listings. Increasing the options you make available to car buyers in turn increases the likelihood of a sale.
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Written by Cars.com

The Virtual Showroom

Ever since the first automobile rolled off the assembly line, the automotive industry has recognized the need to drive the customer to the product. There is nothing like the appeal of slipping into unblemished seats, admiring the luster of new paint and polished chrome, observing the configuration of the dashboard, measuring the trunk, and then taking to the road for a test drive. In the past, all marketing tactics had the same strategy: The customer shops at the showroom.

The advertising and marketing strategies are legendary. From tire-kicking, dog-toting owners standing in vast car lots, and slashing prices on the spot, to ubiquitous newspaper, radio, and direct mail advertising campaigns. The obvious objective has always been to get them in, let them touch, and sign them up.

Things have changed. The new online kid on the marketing block is having a profound affect on offline automotive marketing strategies. The showroom today is now your Website, and your Website is your showroom.

Everyday, more and more retailers are committing a larger percentage of their marketing budgets to engage the consumer online. There is a steady migration away from traditional media to the Internet, wireless, and other new media.

The automotive industry has moved slowly to adapt to this new world. In 2002, the historic and common dealer perceptions discounted the Internet customer. Many automotive groups believed that online shoppers were the cheapest of the cheap. They made newspaper shoppers look like high grossers. As a result, these online consumers were relegated to the less talented, lower-paid sales staff so they would not interfere with real customers.

By 2004, these same automotive groups were clamoring for more Internet resources and support to help filter good leads from bad leads. The consensus, however, was still that the leads were soft and would not increase sales. It was just too expensive, industry marketers felt, to ferret out the real buyers.

Two years later, the automotive industry began to see a bit more clearly. They recognized that there was a difference between third-party customers who shopped 10 dealers to save $10 and the unbelievable volume of people who visited manufacturer and dealer Websites without even requesting a quote.

While the automotive industry analyzed and agonized over the potential of online marketing, online consumers were engaged and rolling. The Internet had become a consumer-centric environment looking for relevant content, where consumers were increasingly reachable.

Today, just about everyone who wants broadband connectivity has it. More than 91 percent of workers and more than 76 percent of homes in the United States are active on the Internet. The hot trends are social networking, rich media, media convergence, mobile, and reach. What this means is that today’s consumers are seeking meaningful online dialogue. They have done their homework; they know the product, the technology, and the price considerations. They have become educated and formidable buyers rather than naïve fodder enamored by gleaming metal and sales chatter.

Of course, the goal is still to get the buyers from the virtual showroom into the physical showroom. It is critical for automotive groups to recognize that no shopper is going to visit a Website just for fun. Sure, some people enjoy browsing auto dealerships and manufacturer sites without objectives, but most people do not. They visit when they are looking to buy. If a dealership had 5,000 unique visitors last month, chances are good that the dealership had almost 5,000 people ready to buy product.

The good news for the automotive industry is that the virtual showroom leads directly to the dealership showroom. Consumers do not want to buy online. The vast majority of people do not fill out a form or submit a request for a quote. They just want to see what you are about, browse your inventory, and narrow their shopping choices long before they leave home.

The challenge, of course, is that consumers still do not trust car dealers. A long history of cheesy ads and aggressive customer relations has made them wary. The goal then is to create a Web presence, a virtual showroom that captures the attention and imagination of the buyer. The online dealer needs to distinguish himself from the traditional dealer advertiser splashing around the weekend automotive newspaper sections.

If a dealership only offers customers a lower price than their competitors do, it is a losing game. The key is to develop a recognized and trusted brand beyond your commodity, location, selection, and price. Stand out as a dealership that freely and openly distributes information, actively communicates with customers online, and backs up its online presence with integrity and service that reinforces that online branding.

The young consumer is already entrenched in the world of the Internet and wireless communications. They have grown up with it. Increasingly, it is how they converse every day. The direction is clear. Automotive groups must embrace the digital world and Internet consumer, not only to create a current and ongoing strategic advantage, but also to survive, as the ‘connected’ generation alters the buying habits of the public.
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Cheril Hendry is CEO of Brandtailers, Inc. She can be reached by email at chendry@brandtailers.com

Tricks of the Trade-In

How to handle tough trade-ins and use pricing websites to your advantage.

There’s a wise old saying which reminds us “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” This is particularly true when it comes to car shoppers.

You know the type. The customer strides confidently into your dealership armed with “expert information” about the value of the trade-in. Maybe he or she is clutching a printout from kbb.com, NADAguides.com or blackbook.com. In short, the customer plans to dictate – rather than negotiate – what you’ll give for the vehicle. So how do you deal with tough customers? And how do you use those pricing websites to your advantage?

Turning perception into reality.
When the customer is fixed on the wrong value for a trade-in, it’s up to you to shift his or her expectation back to the correct value. At this critical moment, you need information, not confrontation. The good news is that you have it at your fingertips, because you too can use the pricing websites the shopper visited to determine the value. But the difference is that you’ll work with the shopper to help determine the true trade-in value.

These “Tricks of the Trade-in” make it simple to put website pricing data to work for you.

The Appraisal.
Ask the customer to show you the car for an appraisal. Walk around the vehicle together, taking specific notes about the vehicle’s condition, highlighting any flaws, dents or scratches. Next, open the trunk and inspect the spare tire. Also, be certain to make notes regarding the condition of the interior, the actual mileage and any other critical details that affect the vehicle’s value.

The Profile.
Now it’s time to create a true profile of the vehicle’s worth. Be sure to keep the customer involved in this process, because together you will build the vehicle online using your notes and your knowledge. Bring the customer back to your desk, visit cars.com and click on the “Research” tab. Then go to the “Kelley Blue Book” section. At this point, it is extremely important to demonstrate to the customer how to accurately value his or her vehicle as a “trade-in” vs. a purchase. This is a simple step because Kelley Blue Book allows you to select “Trade-In Value” or “Retail Value.” Explain to the customer that the “Retail Value” includes the fees a dealer pays to prepare that vehicle for resale, including its reconditioning work. Once you clarify this vital difference, check-off all of the optional equipment for the vehicle and input the actual mileage. Also, make sure to check off everything that is right and wrong with the vehicle.

The Value.
As you input the information, Kelley Blue Book automatically calculates the vehicle’s value under three ratings: “Fair,” “Good” or “Excellent” condition. In most cases, the customer rates the vehicle as “Excellent,” resulting in an inflated value. Very few vehicles are truly excellent. According to Kelley Blue Book, a vehicle has to be “exceptional” to be rated excellent. The body and interior must be free of ANY wear or visible defects. “Good” condition more appropriately characterizes most customer trade-ins. Kelley Blue Book states: “A ‘good’ vehicle will need some reconditioning to be sold at full retail price; however, any major reconditioning costs should be deducted from the value.”

By working with the customer to accurately input the vehicle information, together you will arrive at the appropriate vehicle condition rating and the most accurate vehicle valuation.

Using these “Tricks of the Trade-in” allows you to reset the customer’s thinking about the value of the trade-in. You included the customer in the process and used the pricing tools that he or she already trusts.
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Written by Dealer ADvantage and Cars.com

The Magic’s in the Merchandising

More you tell, more you sell

You are an expert when it comes to showcasing your dealership and promoting vehicles on the floor. But what about your virtual showroom? Are you putting as much effort and savvy into merchandising your online dealership as you are into your bricks-and-mortar showroom? It’s actually easy to do. Just follow these proven, best practices for optimizing the way you showcase your online dealership and vehicle inventory.

[list:1c5hl128]Pricing: Online ads with pricing generate 27% more contacts than those without.* That’s because if the price is missing, customers assume that your vehicle is too expensive and will turn to a competitor. To keep customers clicking to your dealership, extend your pricing expertise from your lot to your virtual showroom. Make certain all of your vehicles have a price that is competitive with similar vehicles in your market. And, then be sure that your online prices are in synch with the rest of your dealership’s price-oriented advertising.

Description: Every vehicle has a story, and the more you tell, the more you sell. Be sure to optimize Seller’s Notes on cars.com to help you provide information beyond the VIN Exploder. Simply describe in detail what makes your vehicles so specialÑeverything from engine specifics and service history to interior and exterior condition and styling. And, of course, highlight special features like custom wheels, aftermarket accessories, and warranty packages. You can even generate the extra spark by including special offers such as, "FREE oil change with a test drive," or "$200 OFF with this online ad."

Photos: 83% of dealers agree that multiple photos online drive higher quality leads.** That’s why using high-quality interior and exterior photos is essential for improving your chance for making a sale. With MultiPhotos from cars.com, you can post up to 32 photos*** to showcase everything your vehicle has to offer. We can even help you or your third-party provider manage your photos, so they grab your customers’ attention when it counts the most. [/list:u:1c5hl128]

Get the most out of your online advertising dollars today.
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Written by Dealer ADvantage and Cars.com