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Guidelines for Building a Successful Automotive Marketing Strategy

Updated: Mar 21

In my time as a marketing professional, I have heard a lot of interesting phrases thrown around by clients: “We need something that will go viral!” “Let’s just toss something at the wall and see what sticks!” or even, “I don’t need marketing!”. I get it. With TV, radio, print, OTT, social media, SEM, SEO, and hundreds of third-party providers, how can you really be sure your marketing strategy is working?

It all starts with the right partnership. Whether you’re working with an agency or with an internal marketing team, you need to start with people who are going to work with you to determine the best direction for your dealership or group based on the goals you set.

Let’s talk about what that looks like.

Be S.M.A.R.T.

Create goals. The best way to determine the success of your efforts is to set S.M.A.R.T. goals for your dealership and your marketing campaigns. For example, a conversation I had with a client once went something like this:

Me: Let’s talk about your goals. How many units would you like to be selling by next year? Them (somewhat facetiously): More.

We both laughed at how vague that statement was. After further discussion, we determined their ultimate goal was an increase in YOY units. So, we took that goal and made it S.M.A.R.T.

Specific – In this example we took the dealership’s goal of ‘more’ and put a number to it. Based on their pump-in / pump-out reports and their potential for growth we concluded a 3% increase in sales year over year was our goal.

Measurable – Sales are one of the easiest things to measure, but no matter what your dealership’s goals are, make sure to consider how to measure success and which metrics are needed to do it.

Achievable – You know your market best. Have a candid conversation with your agency or marketing team about how you are performing as a dealership and where you think you can gain market share.  This will help you create achievable goals.

Realistic – Many dealers want to shoot for the stars, with goals like becoming a top-ten dealership nationwide for their brand. Our agency has helped more than a handful of dealers achieve exactly that, all the way up to becoming #1 in the US, but it’s not likely to happen overnight. Better to plan carefully and increase strategically, as many of our most successful clients have done.

Time-based – Set a timeframe for your goals. This will help you track how you are progressing.

I have my dealership goals… now what?

This is where a strong marketing strategy comes in. In my experience, many dealerships are so budget-focused that they miss the importance of covering the foundations. To showcase this, I’ve included the buying cycle. Each step is supported by different levels of marketing.

Matt Hayward in Maine is Director of Brand and Business Development and a Senior Account Manager at CBC Automotive Marketing, an ad agency working across the United States with successful dealerships and dealership groups. Matt is a lifelong Mainer, originally from Dayton Maine and still resides in Southern Maine. Maine values and work ethic are ingrained in everything both Matt and CBC Automotive Marketing do.

The awareness level is supported by your broadcast buys (TV,cable, radio) and is very important to get your brand and message in front of potential buyers. This is also the part of the buying process where consumers are recognizing their need for a new vehicle. It’s important to be in front of the customers at that moment.

From there, consumers will enter the research level. This is where your intender- based targeting comes into play (social media ads that deliver in-stock inventory, targeted SEM banners for specific models, OTT, pre-roll video, etc.) Being present at this stage means consumers will know you have what they are looking for, whether that is the latest Ford F-150 or a pre-owned Hyundai Sonata.

The comparison level is where your lead generation comes into play.  Consumers are comparing prices on third-party websites and deciding to submit inquiries when they find a good option. This is why it’s important to be comparable to the competition and present at this level of the buying cycle. Third parties and e-mail marketing are important at this point to push competitive pricing and comparable vehicles.

At the purchase level, the consumer has decided what they’re going to buy, and now they need to find a dealership. Everything you’ve done in the previous stages helps here, but most importantly, this is where a well-constructed SEM campaign comes into play. Focusing on low-funnel keywords where consumers are looking for specific vehicles will help pull in leads for your dealership. For example, “F-150 lease near me” indicates the consumer knows what they want, but they just need the place to buy.

So, How Do I Know Where to Spend My Money?

This is the ultimate question; one that a reputable agency will help you answer based on your specific goals and budget. Start with a solid foundation that addresses each stage of the buying process. If you’re concerned about budget you can always start small and build up. By examining your metrics regularly, you and your agency can make educated optimizations based on data as you progress toward your goals. This includes examining market research, provided your agency offers a research program that will help you navigate which marketing channels are best-suited to reach more customers.

As mentioned earlier, building a successful automotive marketing strategy all starts with the right partnership. If you’re looking for an agency that will customize the right plan for your dealership or group, now’s the time to have a conversation with CBC.

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