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Attribution: Do Auto Dealers Really Know What’s Happening?

Things have changed considerably with the state of marketing measurement and we wanted to know how dealers are adapting to new measurement tools like Multi-Touch Attribution. So, in April 2017, we decided to ask and surveyed approximately 120 dealers for our State of Automotive Attribution study.

In general, the survey found most dealers feel accurate measurement of their marketing campaigns is important. Most rely on in-house reporting (68%) and/or vendor reporting (64%). However, a key point in this survey is that only 30 percent of dealers report being satisfied with how they currently measure their data.

Out of the many reports dealers use, each puts emphasis on different metrics and different attribution models. This leads to a confusing mess of data forcing dealers to, in a way, compare apples to oranges.

In response to the question, “Which vendor categories need the most blind faith as to if they are working?” 40 percent of dealers stated display ads, followed by third-party listing sites at 38 percent.

The display ad answer is a little curious as, set up properly, they should be easy to measure. However, the third-party listing site answer is not that surprising. The actions a consumer takes following a visit to a third-party listing site and viewing a vehicle of interest can vary over an entire spectrum of possibilities: they could submit a lead on the third-party listing site; call a phone number; bounce to the dealership’s website and convert there; call the dealership; or simply show up. The effectiveness of a third-party listing site can be far from black and white in terms of measurement. And, more often than not, attribution depends on proper sourcing by the salesperson or last-click attribution models – both of which have huge gaps in accuracy.

As far as what dealers want from an attribution tool, 46 percent would like a multi-touch attribution solution. They believe last-click is unreliable for reporting accurate sources and what really influenced the sale.

When asked what their ideal attribution solution should include, 59 percent stated the ROI contribution of each marketing channel, 57 percent replied that they want analytics that deliver actionable insights; 48 percent want a transparent view of a customer’s full purchase path and 41 percent desire reporting accountability and accuracy.

When asked, “How knowledgeable are you about marketing attribution?” 30 percent think attribution and analytics are important, but don’t know where to begin, and 20 percent do not know anything about marketing attribution.

Overall, 68 percent of dealers aren’t effectively using, or are failing to use any type of marketing attribution to measure the results of their advertising. This is a glaring hole and effectively makes measuring marketing efforts and spending a guessing game.

First and last-click attribution is the most commonly used attribution model, used by a full 77 percent of respondents. This is largely due to the fact that these attribution models are used by most vendors, as well as Google Analytics. While widely used, these models give poor results and a skewed picture of what sources truly influence customers in their decision to buy at the dealership.

If dealers can’t – or aren’t – getting the data they need to make intelligent decisions, what are their biggest challenges? According to the survey, 57 percent replied proving ROI for marketing spend, followed by targeting marketing to the best audience, at 41 percent, and evaluating vendor performance, at 35 percent. These challenges, of course, lead full circle back to the same question asked since dealerships first came into existence “Did it sell cars and, if so, how many?”

The survey results show that dealers certainly know the importance of attribution. Vendors increasingly recognize that dealers need and want this data. So, slowly but surely, the back end of marketing is becoming more transparent as vendors are more open to new attribution models and are starting to integrate with attribution solutions. This is a great trend that will see dealers and vendors creating stronger partnerships while bringing confidence and true accountability to both.

These pain points for dealer marketing and decision-making prove that better and more accurate reporting and attribution models are necessary for dealers to maximize their marketing dollars and feel confident that they are not wasting money.

Knowing which sources lead the customer down the road to your dealership, and which are simply a waste of money, can empower you when making your marketing decisions. You no longer have to rely upon skewed metrics, follow different attribution models and then attempt to make sense of it all.


To download a copy of the State of Automotive Attribution study visit:

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