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Digital marketing in the automotive industry has very few absolutes. When it comes to the difference between automation and manual effort, the proper answers are squarely in the gray area.
Let's take a look at some of the different aspects of digital marketing and break down which ones should be automated, which should be manual, and which should be a hybrid. Spoiler Alert: pretty much all of them should be a hybrid to some extent to achieve the best possible results.
When I worked for a website provider, our biggest strength was the fact that we built custom sites. Our biggest weakness was that we built custom sites. It's hard and in today's day and age I've become a fan of using templates that have flexible content management systems for design fluidity and enhancement.
With that said, an automated methodology to the build that is guided by manual improvements is ideal. As much as we would all love to have websites hand-built exactly the way we want them, there are stability issues with that mentality. Inventory, specials, forms - automations is necessary to keep everything up to date. Where manual effort comes in is the design, improvement, and search engine optimization. Boilerplate content is all over today's websites because it's too challenging for most large website providers to hand-craft content.
It wasn't too long ago that I felt automation was necessary, particularly for keyword maintenance and bids. Then, I started noticing the improvements that Google was making and realized that a dealership or PPC specialist could do much of it manually. Most recently, I realize that a hybrid approach makes the most sense.
Don't get me wrong. I believe that way too much emphasis is placed on bid automation. In reality, letting Google manage bids can be nearly as efficient as having software do it, but there's more to it. Dynamic inventory ads, for example, are clearly easier with automation. However, it's in the manual efforts placed on keywords matched to ad text and ads matched to landing pages where the real separators come into play.
Okay, so these are technically not functions of automation versus manual processes, but at the dealership level they really are. The choices are to have an internal BDC, chat operators, and email follow up or to hire other companies to do the work for the dealership. In a way, it's automation.
Once again I'm a little torn because it depends on the situation. For high-volume dealerships or dealer groups, the consistency that comes with hiring these services out can be beneficial. However, there's also an argument to building strong teams internally. If I'm forced to answer, I would say that BDC and email follow up should be internal and chat operation should be managed by a chat service.
Again, the levels of automation here are minimal but there's still the presence of tools and strategies that should be addressed. Having a Twitter account that's just an automated feed from Facebook, for example, is a terrible idea. It just doesn't save much time and yields nil.
Then, there's the idea of using bulk posts from OEMs or large social media firms. This, too, is not beneficial to the dealership and is a waste of time. There are social media firms that do a nice job, but if a dealership has the resources to keep a robust presence on their own as well as to manage the ads properly, that's the best case scenario.
As strange as it may sound, there are still those who manually post their inventory to sites like Autotrader.com. Bad idea. Thankfully, it's not very common.
What's more common is manually posting to Craigslist, eBay Motors, and some of the sites that charge per posting. The thought is that cost savings can be made by doing it manually, but there's a problem. Time costs money and the process isn't easy. While we don't promote automated feeds, there are tools like LotVantage available that make the posting process relatively manual while limiting the time wasted on the process.
There are other things out there that deserve to be discussed. This is a sampling. If you want to discuss these or others, please comment below.
Automation has its place. Manual effort has its place. A key to success is discerning when to do things manually and when to push the easy button.