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It used to be so simple, didn't it?
Once upon a time, dealerships had a very specific arsenal of advertising options from which to draw traffic and maintain visibility. Daily newspaper ads were essential. There were television and radio commercials, of course. You might attend a trade show or two, advertise in the trade magazines, and maybe even consider an expanded listing in the Yellow Pages.
Polish the big sign, raise the balloons, and wait for the up-bus to spill out onto the lot. This was how the car business worked for decades.
Then some funny things started happening.
The internet burst onto the scene, ushering in a paradigm shift on par with the Renaissance. Satellite radio provided access to international radio content, making radio a less effective medium for regional advertisers. We all love DVR, because it allows us to fast-forward through commercials with ease. Small local newspapers are hanging on by a thread. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last time I laid eyes on a phone book.
So now what? Well, we still need to stay in front of our customers and deliver our message to the masses, don't we? Thankfully, our shift towards being an internet-centric society has created limitless opportunities for business; one just has to know how to take advantage of these opportunities in the most efficient and cost-effective way. I may be preaching to the choir here, but I feel like SEO, Search Engine Marketing, Pay-Per-Click Advertising, Reputation Management, Social Networking and other new media essentials are, at best, misunderstood, and, at worst, not fully utilized. I certainly don’t mean to call out the automotive industry here, because it’s a problem with most other industries, as well.
I recently assisted a customer who was shopping for his next half-ton pickup truck. This gentleman sought a base model, “fleet-type” solution, as he had an arrangement with his company where every three years, they would grant him a vehicle allowance towards a new truck. He did a lot of travelling, and was very familiar with this particular truck brand. He knew exactly what he wanted, how much he wanted to pay, and even when he wanted to take delivery.
Great! Sounds like a slam dunk, doesn’t it? Not so fast. You see, this customer was calling our store in Western North Carolina from Seattle, Washington. He had stumbled across our truck online, and was looking to fly to the area that worked him the best deal, take delivery, and drive the truck home to the West Coast. According to the customer, because prices were so high in his area, this arrangement made the most financial sense. I soon discovered I would be competing not only with the dealership across town, but also stores in Texas, Ohio and Arizona.
In the end, we were not the store with which he ultimately did business. But I was excited because it was evidence that all the work we put towards optimizing our site for search, creating a showroom-quality website, and effectively using our internet marketing resources meant that our message and products were available to relevant buyers. We have since earned customers in Iowa, Luxembourg, and, yes, even Alaska. I know these scenarios will become more common as we continue to shift towards a global marketplace.
If you don’t have the means to manage your online interests in-house (it can be full time work for several people, depending on the size of your dealership), please explore the number of available vendors who specialize in offering these services specifically for the automotive industry. They create great technology, are experts at what they do, and have the infrastructure in place to offer affordable, scalable solutions for your dealership. I would recommend, however, employing an internet manager to oversee the many moving parts, and make sure your branded message is being delivered by someone who really understands your dealership, your market, and what sets you apart from your competition.
Thank you for your attention. Any feedback or suggestions regarding this article are much-appreciated!