Going Digital: The Dealership Marketing Playbook

By Canada Drives Newsroom | Dealer Services

Grow your business during the pandemic and beyond with this 8-step toolkit...

2020 was a year like no other. With the loss of face-to-face interaction and increased reliance on the internet to connect with customers, COVID-19 transformed the landscape of car sales. 

Savvy decision-makers know that the transition to online car sales isn’t temporary. The change was inevitable; the pandemic merely accelerated it. Waiting for things to go back to the way they were could be costly or worse – fatal. 

Dealerships that are committed to digital transformation will become a magnet for internet leads.

Here are eight tools that your dealership can leverage to reach more customers and sell more cars during the pandemic and beyond.

    1. Paid Search

    If the golden rule of advertising is to get noticed, then paid search is one of the fastest ways of ensuring good-fit, high-intent buyers discover your dealership. 

    Even before the pandemic, more and more car shoppers were researching vehicles and local dealerships online. Why not position your dealership’s website where the right consumers (your target audience) are bound to notice it?

    With paid advertisements, search engines like Google and Bing elevate your dealership’s website to the top of relevant search engine results pages (SERPs), putting your business above the competition and first in line for attention from someone looking for cars, parts, servicing, and more. 

    Paid advertising platforms (such as Google Ads) let you create advertisements that are displayed when a targeted consumer (targeted based on location, age, etc.) searches for products or services that are relevant to your business.

    You have probably noticed these ads before. With Google, they are the first three-to-four results at the top of most searches and are identifiable with an “Ad” label. 

    Any website ranked without the “Ad” label on the first page of search results earned that position gradually and organically by leveraging savvy SEO practices. By contrast, the top ranking that you get with paid search is instantaneous. 

    SEO is another powerful tool that we discuss more below.

    Quick fact: Despite the pandemic and economic downturn, search ad spending experienced 5.9% growth in 2020.

    2. Paid Social

    We spend long hours on social media these days. 

    Canadians spent almost two hours a day on social media and around six hours per day on the internet. With COVID-19 pushing us further online, these usage rates are rising and it’s no surprise that advertisers are rushing to compete in this space for eyeballs. 

    The primary mode of paid social advertising is through the social behemoth Facebook and its subsidiary, Instagram, the wildly popular photo-sharing app. Despite the rise of competitors (Snapchat, TikTok), Facebook is still the most popular social media platform, with 256 million monthly active users in the United States and Canada. 

    Facebook’s ad platform allows you to build custom audiences and target specific demographics using a wide list of criteria. You can target age, location, gender, interests, and employers to get your ads in front of consumers who might be interested. For example, you could upload a short review of a new car and target it to consumers in your region who are interested in automotive topics. 

    Paid social is ideal for targeting top-of-funnel consumers who are not actively searching for a product or service. On the other hand, paid search targets consumers that are proactive about finding their solution online. Therefore, paid social (Facebook) and paid search (Google) work symbiotically. When combined, these tools create a very powerful advertising strategy. 

    Quick fact: Facebook is still the most popular social media platform in Canada. Over 80% of online Canadian adults own a Facebook account.

    3. Native Advertising

    While digital ads in paid search and social are often clearly identifiable to a potential customer, native ads aren't as obvious. You’ve probably seen the analog version in newspapers – an ad that looks like an article? The online version is essentially the same, but usually comes with the term “sponsored post”.

    Native ads take more work to produce. However, they are proven to be more effective at cutting through the clutter. Native ads offer the customer something that feels more organic to the host website. For that reason, native ads can have higher click-through rates than traditional ads. 

    A good native ad example would be content that delivers valuable information from an expert. This could be a ‘helpful tips’ or ‘how to’ article for someone shopping for a new car. What should they look for? When is a good time to buy? What unmissable promotions need to be taken seriously? How are dealerships making the buyer experience safe? 

    To succeed with native ads, your content should not closely resemble another sales pitch. Instead, focus on telling a story, such as a case study or testimonial that effectively highlights the value your dealership delivers to its customers.

    Quick fact: 90% of content publishers either have or plan to have native advertising campaigns.

    4. Organic Social

    By now, we’re all familiar with the pervasive power of social media. But for a dealership, the benefits can’t be ignored: 

    • boosts your online presence
    • promotes your product offering
    • sends traffic to your website
    • legitimizes and humanizes your business
    • builds a community of advocates
    • creates a point of contact for customer inquiries

    Social media is essential for engaging and interacting with past, present, and future customers. You need to show you care about your customers' concerns on all relevant matters from questions about your inventory to any post-purchase inquiries.

    If a potential customer wants to know more about your dealership, there is a good chance he or she will seek out your social media profile to read what others are saying about you in comments and reviews. If they can’t find you on social media (or if your presence is not well maintained) they will often see it as a red flag. 

    From Facebook and LinkedIn to Instagram and TikTok, each social channel presents a different set of marketing capabilities, engagement tools, and user audience demographics that can be beneficial for your dealership.

    But feeding each channel content on a regular basis is no small ask. Spreading minimal efforts across all platforms, and getting minimal engagement on each, is not the way to go. Instead, it would be more strategic to narrow down which channels are best for your needs and audience, and focus your efforts there. 

    Quick fact: 71% of consumers are more likely to recommend your dealership if their social media experience was a positive one.

    5. SEO

    For those who don’t know, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. This practice ensures that consumers can easily find your website because your business ranks well with search engines such as Google. 

    The end goal is the same as paid search except you’re not paying for the high ranking, you’re earning it by following Google’s (or other search engine’s) guidelines and creating unique content that customers love. 

    Broadly speaking, search engines like Google will scan your website for keywords to match a user’s search query. If you host original content on your website that closely matches relevant keyword searches, the search engine will push the most relevant web pages to the top of search results. 

    With SEO, you don’t have to pay for your position, but it requires lots of observation and data collection. That’s why many companies employ SEO specialists to optimize their webpages according to ever-evolving best practices.

    It takes effort (and more time compared to paid ads), but if done right, SEO will deliver more visibility, traffic, and conversions to boost your profit margins.

    Quick fact: The first five listings on the first page of rankings get over 75% of all clicks!

    6. Blogging

    Good blogging is similar to native ads in that you are creating content that is useful to the reader, while ultimately guiding them to an entry point in the car purchase journey. Blogging can also serve to build domain authority and thus achieve a higher overall ranking with Google if you pay attention to SEO best practices. 

    You will need a writer (or team of writers) that can produce content that is well-informed but also utilizes a conversational tone that builds trust with customers. Besides ranking on search engines, customers will also be able to access your blog content via your social media channels. It may not happen overnight, but a blog will further establish your brand as a destination for trusted information on all things car related.

    To get started creating blog content, find out what your target audience’s problems might be and plan blog articles that solve these problems. For example, a blog topic could be as simple as “when is it the right time to bring your car in for an oil change” or “should I sell my car or trade it in?”

    Quick fact: According to DemandMetric, companies with blogs produce an average of 67% more leads monthly than companies without a blog.

    7. Email

    With an average open rate of around 20%, email marketing is a powerful -yet-cost-effective tool for winning mindshare and staying relevant with your target market. By leveraging visually exciting email templates and strategically segmented campaigns, you can generate lots of interest in your brand and inventory.

    Don’t make the mistake of sending random emails with a disorganized assortment of company updates, tips, and special offers. Each email should serve a specific purpose and be sent to the right person at the right time

    For example, you could generate repeat business by promoting new products to previous customers, drive traffic to your website by sharing new blog posts, or keep contacts up-to-date with what’s going on at your dealership with a monthly newsletter. You could also send dedicated emails related to special offers, surveys, service reminders, and service announcements. 

    Customers might be wondering what buying a car looks like in the modern COVID era. A well-timed email would explain how you are keeping them safe with online solutions and heightened customer care, all while encouraging them to take the next step towards their car purchase journey

    Quick fact: Email yields a 4,400% return on investment for businesses.

    8. Text Messaging 

    Text messaging in 2021 offers increasing benefits for business. With text messaging, car dealers can casually notify customers about promotions, deliver images and videos of vehicle walkarounds, discuss price, and send/receive the documents required to get a deal over the finish line.

    Don’t believe your messages will get read? The numbers speak for themselves: 

    The read rate for text messages is 97% within 15 minutes of delivery. With text messaging, consumers are accessible on the go or wherever they happen to be. And with 80% of the total population texting on a regular basis, the spectrum of clientele is covered. 

    COVID or no COVID, the dealership can be an anxious place for car shoppers. Interacting through text messaging lets the customer stay somewhere they feel comfortable and in control. You can still guide the direction of the conversation, but it will be without the guarded front that some shoppers put up over the phone or in person. 

    Quick fact: Despite the undeniable growth of mobile usage, 61% of marketers still don’t use SMS and 65% of brands still don’t have a formal strategy in place for bulk SMS messaging.

Combine all 8 steps in 5 minutes

If your digital presence needs a boost, let Canada Drives be your springboard. We leverage the latest digital marketing technology to deliver more leads to your dealership.

Talk to our team today at 1-877-393-1721. It takes 5 minutes to find out if Canada Drives is the right fit for your business goals.

Why partner with Canada Drives?

Real-time leads: Exclusive, high-intent prospects delivered to your inbox.

Track ad spend efficiently: Get all the customers you can handle with a clear cost per lead.

Consistent customer traffic: You decide how many leads you want with scalable orders that always get filled. 

Pinpoint lead targeting: Leads filtered by location ensure all prospects are near you.


Related articles

10 Steps to Email Marketing Success for Dealerships

What Social Media Should Your Dealership Be Leveraging?

7 SEO Tips for Dealerships: How To Win Google’s Top Ranking


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