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Russ Chandler

Russ Chandler Product Marketing Manager

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What Are the Elements of the Great Automotive Shift?

About 2 weeks ago, I discussed the major shift that was happening within the automotive industry in regards to their digital presence. In a nutshell, dealerships are adding significant upgrades to their websites in order to provide better resources, and impress consumers who are currently have lots of options in front of them. In addition to website alterations, dealers are also leveraging other online resources (like social media) in order to reach new consumers and keep loyal customers in the loop.


In that post, I didn’t really divulge into everything that dealerships were doing to evolve their digital presence. Sure, I discussed the concept of upgrading one’s website (and even named an example), but there are so many things that dealerships are doing to make sure their websites kick some serious butt. In fact, with all the new software for auto dealers coming out, there’s no excuse to not at least experiment a little. The same goes for off-website stuff too. That being said, what are some of the changes that dealerships are making? Let’s take a quick look:


Overall Website Design Changes


Remember how I mentioned that many dealership websites worked off a 3rd-party template? Well, dealers are still using those templates — but they’re coming up with some awesome ways to make those websites entirely their own. That, or they’re simply scrapping the 3rd party vendor to hire a website designer. Either way, dealers are quickly putting extensive focus on the overall look of their website.


Dealerships want to stand out, so they’re cleaning up their HTML, adding unique fonts and creating an experience that consumers don’t feel overwhelmed by. Dealerships websites are no longer cluttered by pop-ups, inventory (on the front page) and various calls-to-action.


Interactive Lead Capture Tool Customization


Most dealerships nowadays use some sort of Interactive Lead Capture tool (Think your Blackbooks, Auto Traders, and KBBs). However, like the websites I mentioned previously, a lot of those tools are also pretty template heavy. Instead of leveraging a generic template with generic questions and standard logos, dealerships are now attempting to personalize their tools in order to provide consumers with a smoother experience on their website. For consumers, landing on a dealership’s lead capture tool and discovering entirely different logos and rich media mentally skews the experience for them. It often times leaves consumers feeling confused.



If your dealership uses the standard template, it’s as if the consumer has left the website. If I’ve learned anything over the last few years of working in automotive marketing, consumers are much happier when their shopping experiences are seamless. Dealers are beginning to realize this too, as they're altering the tool’s color scheme and images; as well as adding rich media. More importantly, they're customizing the questions being asked on the form itself. They’re questions these consumers have likely never seen before, so that adds to the overall “uniqueness” of your dealership. 


Web Analytics


You’d be very surprised to learn that, at one point, many dealerships didn’t really keep very close tabs on the analytics of their website — mainly because they didn’t know such an option was available to them. Over the past few years, dealerships have become extremely aware of the power that comes from looking at platforms like Google Analytics to figure out more about what consumers are actually doing on their website. And yes, I added extra emphasis on the word “actually” for a good reason. When consumers fill out a form on your website, they’re basically telling you the truth (and why wouldn’t they? It’s in their best interest to do so). The problem is that a lot of consumers will do certain things without really giving it a second thought. For example: a consumer might visit your website knowing they want a sedan, but they keep eyeballing the “Trucks” section of your website. Subconscious behaviors like this can be tracked and leveraged for future marketing efforts (Promotions, Facebook/Twitter posts, messaging, etc.); or even retargeting — which is typically occurs automatically once results are captured! Basically, web analytics tools provide a completely unobscured view of your consumers.


As you can tell from the examples above, dealerships are paying very close attention to the new types of technology coming out. Because competition is so fierce between dealerships, investing in upgrades is a wise decision that’ll prove to be quite fruitful as time progresses. 


What sorts of new technology do you think we’ll see in the next few years? Tell us in the comments. 


Michael Cirillo

In my opinion, before the technology is considered, it's important to gain a clear understanding of the objectives that are most important for the dealer.

A major challenge I see in our industry is that every piece of tech conditions the dealer to believe they'll get more leads or more business. 

The reality of it is that the 1:1 exchange isn't always going to be leads and sales.

For example, if a dealer updates their website design, the goal shouldn't be "more leads". It should be to have a better-looking website that more accurately reflects the business and provides a streamlined ability for the consumer to acquire information.

There is so much tech out there, and it's always positioned as the be-all-end-all for growing business. There is tech that was released a year ago with a bang that we don't hear about anymore...

Where am I going with this? I think it's important to focus on providing the best experience for the customer at whatever phase of the buying process they're at. Most tech is still focused on the intent/purchase phase of the process and excludes those that are still in the research phase. In so doing, they lose the competitive advantage of building relationships of trust with the market and increasing their ability to transact.

Russ Chandler

Thanks for sharing your opinion Michael. I agree the goal can't always just be 'more leads', there is a lot more that can be done with dealer website traffic than just getting more leads. I especially agree with your point around the narrow focus on just the purchase phase of the buying process. I think we're going to start to see more entry and research phase content, especially interactive content, be utilized on dealer websites. It's also likely that we start to see more partnership providers of technology solutions than just your typical vendor. The market is continouing to change so rapidly that dealers need solutions that can adapt at the same pace without having to hop providers everytime a trend pops up. Partnership solution providers with technology can develop more of a long term strategy with dealers and use technology in a variety of ways to be successful. 

James Lawrence

Great post, Russ.

You touched on a very important insight "For consumers, landing on a dealership’s lead capture tool and discovering entirely different logos and rich media mentally skews the experience for them. It often times leaves consumers feeling confused."

Dealers wishing to capture the lead (and the imagination of the prospect) need to consider a more "blended branding" approach that brings their brand front and center and relegates the trade-in tool brand to a more appropriate level of perception, the supporting role. 

We work with dealers on their email response templates, which includes dealer branding and messaging that captures the "top of mind" you want from "in-market" prospects. Dealers should leverage the tools provider brand, not rely on it to enable prospect engagement. 

Control of your dealership's brand identity in every marketing channel should be a primary goal for marketing management. But, between the tools' overpowering branding and cookie cutter websites OEMs support, brand identity can get lost in the translation.

Russ Chandler

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and support James! 

You hit the nail on the head with "blended branding" at a appropriate level of perception, a supporting role. It sounds like you must be doing a great job with your dealers an the email responses you mentioned. 

One way to see of this philosephy being applied by a dealer is to look out at the leading dealer websites in competitive markets. You'll notice a lot of effort in their design, messsaging and approach with consumers to be unique. These dealers have caught on to this "lost in translation" situation and are taking advantage of it. Typically you'll see a lot of good branding, transparency and trust driving benefits being display on their site. It's also likely that their site is very interactive, personalized and does not reflect a typical cookie-cutter dealership. 

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