Opportunistic dealers are using geo-conquest mobile advertising to steal prospects from their competitors’ showrooms.

Opportunistic dealers are using geo-conquest mobile advertising to steal prospects from their competitors’ showrooms. 

Remember the days when print was the dominant medium for dealer advertising? Many thought that would never change. They were proven wrong by the succession of new media that began with the dawn of the Digital Age and continues with the proliferation of smartphones and tablets.

Within those devices lies a feature dealers can use to conquest in-market car buyers in a way few would have thought possible a decade ago. Because so many of the apps we install on our devices use our location to optimize their service — and because most of us mindlessly authorize them to do so — digital marketers are able to deliver targeted, content-rich ads to individual mobile device users.

For dealers, the implications are profound. You can use geo-targeted and geo-fenced mobile advertising to “geo-conquest” your competitors’ visitors. And if you don’t, you might end up falling prey to those who do. In fact, early adopters in your market may be using this technology to steal the attention of the folks who walk into your showroom today.

Unique Advantages of Mobile

The most unique and compelling advantage of mobile targeted advertising is the ability to geo-fence — that is, to know where your target is and has been at any point in time at which they were carrying their mobile device. The desktop, through its IP address, has some ability to localize targets, but nowhere near as accurately as the mobile device.

Make no mistake: Your mobile carrier knows everything about you, where you have been, what route you take to work, what shops you stopped in last night and where you are at this moment. Not all of this information is shared with the advertising “inventory” providers that control the sites and apps where mobile ads are placed, but it’s there, in aggregate, archived in a database.

And most of the better and more widely used inventory providers have enough “opt-in” location information on mobile users to track their whereabouts directly. (It was in that long agreement of terms you accepted.) The better, more sophisticated inventory providers take this location information and combine it with more conventional geo-targeted data such as demographics, lifestyle choices, income and residence information — all the factors that advertisers have been leveraging for years — to produce the most robust, accurate targeting available in any advertising medium to date.

Verve Mobile, for example, has developed 16 profiled consumer segments, including “Auto Intenders” (as well as “Health Nuts” and “High-End Restaurant Devotees”). For each segment, the company supplements its own data with relevant outside vendor data to make a unique and powerfully targeted group. For Auto Intenders, Verve’s analysts finds those folks that have been inside a car dealership or repair facility in the last month, and cross-references them with people who are over 18 years old, drive a vehicle that is between five and seven years old (information it gets from Polk) and who have recently pulled a Carfax report (information it gets from Carfax). Of course, this can all be segmented by ZIP code, creating a dynamic way to target low-in-the-funnel prospects.

As Ray Green, Verve’s vice president of channel solutions, puts it, “As compelling a technology as any that have come before, real-time location data gives us a 360-degree view of the consumer — where they go, what they do, what they like and who they are.”

Adam Meshekow, executive vice president of SITO Mobile, another mobile advertising inventory provider, agrees. “By using geo-fencing strategies, OEMs and dealers can now easily find not only in-market consumers on their lots, but also consumers on competitive-brand lots as well. Advertising to in-market auto consumers using technologies that are hyperlocal at scale proves a more efficient ROI for Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 verticals.”

Factory to Showroom

Given their available expertise and resources, it should come as no surprise that vehicle manufacturers pioneered the use of this emerging technology. They also produced the first successful examples of mobile Tier 1 and Tier 2 campaigns, many using geo-fenced as well as geo-targeted criteria.

Today, mobile ads from OEMs often feature “rich media,” an ad type characterized by opportunities for interaction. Some allow the consumer to “build” their own customized car, navigate through a 360-degree view of the vehicle, watch brand videos and images, locate a dealer and schedule a test drive — all within the ad.

Nitish Aitharaju is the former CEO of Mobspire, now a part of Aarki. He describes rich media ads as “the single largest untapped opportunity within mobile advertising.” They deliver significantly higher results than traditional static creative executions, he adds, and “allow for infinitely more measurability and customization.”

Aitharaju has found that rich media ads perform two to three times better than traditional static creatives, “both from a click-through-rate and conversion-rate standpoint.”

The Opportunistic Dealer

Because of the relatively new and emerging state of mobile advertising, very few dealers are aggressively acting on this opportunity. Those who are and those who develop this expertise early — before advertising inventory is “bid up” like search engine marketing — have a unique competitive advantage. In other words, the more experience you gain now, the better your position in the market.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Scott Gallaher, general sales manager at Holman Ford Lincoln Turnersville (N.J.), is piloting the use of highly targeted mobile advertising to leverage his conventional media presence.

“Our store’s location is in a very competitive market. We are a standalone Ford/Lincoln franchise within walking distance to an auto complex consisting of 11 of the best brands, as well as a CarMax,” Gallaher says. “Since we started geo-fencing and targeting, our traffic has increased. We still do radio, television, mailers and newspaper advertising along with paid search and Web page banner ads; our sales stayed consistent with our [traditional media] plan but since we added the mobile advertising to the mix, sales have increased. We change our message biweekly and always see an uptick in the vehicle we are targeting.”

Larry Doremus Jr., vice president and general manager of Tom’s Ford in Keysport, N.J., is another early adopter.

“Geo-fencing and geo-conquesting through mobile advertising gives us one of the best ‘bang for the buck’ ways to reach lower-funnel shoppers,” he says. “Through mobile A/B testing, we’ve been able to hone in on an ad layout that maximizes conversions. We pride ourselves on discovering and integrating the most effective emerging marketing technologies, and this one clearly works. … I’m glad we are in the forefront, but am sure others will discover this soon.”

Not even the most aggressive enthusiast would dispute that the current state of automotive mobile advertising is in its very early stages; it will be a number of years before we see the full potential and effect. On the other hand, because of mobile’s unique qualities — and the fact that smartphone usage is ubiquitous already — some of the more aggressive dealers are showing great returns allocating a small portion of their current advertising budget to geo-targeted, geo-fenced mobile advertising. They are literally taking their current advertising messages (including print, video and digital), and getting them in front of folks visiting their competitors’ showrooms.

After all, there was a time when domain names could be easily secured, AdWords were relatively cheap, and no one practiced search engine optimization. The dealers who tried it first lent themselves a competitive advantage, and many are still leveraging that advantage today. If you plan to get in this game, I advise you to get in early — or at least before your competitors.

John F. Possumato is an attorney, the founder of Automotive Mobile Solutions and a nationally recognized mobile marketing expert. [email protected]