Recent years have brought an onslaught of new products and services designed to help dealers find, entice and close more car buyers. To help identify the most impactful digital marketing trends and emerging technologies, Auto Dealer Today met with Andy MacLeay, director of digital marketing for Dealer.com, a Cox Automotive company.
ADT: Andy, what is driving the latest wave of innovations in the dealer space?
MacLeay: I think everybody has a pretty clear idea that the car-shopping process is changing, and that change is being driven by the consumer.
ADT: What is the ideal buying process?
MacLeay: Any process that lets me shop the way I want to shop. There is a significant demographic that wants to shop primarily online. They want to do their research, value their trade and submit their credit application before they visit the store. Another demographic might like to have the car delivered to them. If I’m a dealer, I’m trying to shorten the least fun parts of car shopping — including finance and insurance — and allow the shopper to take pleasure in the fun parts.
ADT: Ron Reahard recently wrote an article explaining why F&I managers should reward, rather than argue with, customers who have researched financing options and aftermarket products.
MacLeay: When we give people the ability to choose and research their own products, we see higher gross margins. It takes the guesswork out of what people are actually seeing, and it avoids cases where the F&I manager doesn’t even bother to offer the tire-protection product, for example, because the customer doesn’t “seem” like a buyer.
ADT: I know the Cox family was busy at NADA. Did you have time to walk the show floor?
MacLeay: I did, and in terms of trends at the show, it was refreshing to see not only auto dealers but a number of startups looking to capture this movement behind digital retailing. People are beginning to understand how to catch people at the right time in their car-buying process. Behavior is becoming a real competitive differentiator. When it comes to your digital advertising strategy, not having access to technology that measures intent is going to cost you more money in the end.
ADT: Any surprises?
MacLeay: The one piece that I thought was surprising — and this might shock you — is there was a sort of reverse pivot toward talking about mobile again. It feels like we’ve been saying every year is the “Year of Mobile.” But this is a recognition that there are a number of different ways people are using their devices to shop for cars. Smartphone traffic is currently 39% of all of our traffic, which is a 47% increase from last year.
ADT: What did you introduce for Dealer.com and Dealertrack?
MacLeay: The big “mic drop” moment for us was Audience Targeting, which is integrated with Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book. We are now able to target those audiences that are shopping on both of those portals and bring them back to local dealers’ websites. There is also a lot of buzz around our Dynamic Product Ads, which we are working closely on with our partners at Facebook. These are not righthand advertisement but in-stream carousel ads. We’ve actually run a pilot with a very big dealer group and we have seen some great results from it.
ADT: Are those examples of technology that measures intent?
MacLeay: Yes. There is no denying that Autotrader and KBB are two of the largest automotive shopping and research sites. We know about 78% of car shoppers are visiting some sort of third-party site as part of the shopping process, and we know that 68% of people shopping are going to buy a car within two months. So the ability to pluck people out of that audience pool and help dealers target them with advertising becomes a powerful tool.
ADT: Same for the Facebook ads?
MacLeay: Facebook has now made it easier to integrate your organic social strategy with your advertising. They’re allowing people to introduce the lookalike audiences they have already put together. Or, if you partner with them, you can utilize your lookalike audience. It’s the ability to pick and choose, based on shopping behavior, who you’re going to target for your advertising.
ADT: Sorry, what is a lookalike audience?
MacLeay: Lookalike audiences are people who are more likely to be interested in your message because they're similar to your existing customers. Dynamic Product Ads essentially allow us to upload an inventory feed to Facebook, and Facebook knows which users to target. They’ve done a great job of making the content in the ad units relevant to the person who is reading it. And like everything else with Facebook, if you don’t like it, you can unlike it!
ADT: What is one thing a dealer can do today to raise their digital profile?
MacLeay: Understand that people are raising their hands and asking questions. They are out there looking for cars in their local areas. Give yourself the ability to answer their questions.
ADT: And make sure they can find you and call you.
MacLeay: One of the main reasons people call is to ask for hours and directions, and they do that by Googling the dealership on their smartphones. We know many dealer sites are still not optimized for mobile. You have to have an adaptive website.
ADT: Beyond digital marketing and research, can you identify any trends that will emerge in the real future?
MacLeay: I think you will see more people asking how car buyers will view ownership and how they will interact with their vehicles in the future. I own a 2015 Jeep Cherokee. I get telematics updates and I can lock, unlock and start the vehicle remotely. I can step off an airplane on a 20-degree day, start the car, and have it warmed up by the time I get to the garage. And if I miss a service interval, the OEM can remind me.
ADT: And they can tell you if your Cherokee is ever subject to a recall.
MacLeay: That’s right. I get a monthly health report emailed to me. I had — I wouldn’t call it a recall, but a software update that needed to happen.
ADT: This will all seem pretty normal pretty soon.
MacLeay: No doubt about it. We’re getting a little philosophical here, but if you look at the number of connected devices we have, including refrigerators and other appliances, it all feeds into the “Internet of things” concept. We are already utilizing embedded mobile technology. By the year 2020, your calculator will be a connected device. Whether it’s a car or a calculator, the point is that we need to allow these devices to enrich people’s lives. That’s the way they’ll embrace technological changes.