<p><strong>Does Alexa know your address? As voice-controlled tools such as Amazon’s Echo grow in popularity, dealers must ensure they will lead customers to your store. </strong><em>Photo courtesy Amazon</em></p>

The final tally has yet to be determined, but experts predict that 2017 will be the first full year since the Great Recession in which U.S. new-vehicle sales declined. With dealerships across the country fighting for the same customers, it’s more important now than ever for dealers to use digital marketing strategies to drive customers to the lot.

As we move into 2018, competition will remain fierce. It’s crucial for dealers to stay on top of the latest trends to meet their customers’ expectations during the research stages. In order to remain ahead of the curve in 2018, here are four trends to be aware of:

1. Small, Local Dealerships Aren’t Ready for Voice Search.

Customers are relying more and more on smart devices to conduct voice searches. During the 2017 Black Friday holiday shopping weekend, it was reported that millions of customers purchased an Amazon Echo. However, just because more consumers are using voice search on a day-to-day basis, dealerships shouldn’t immediately put all their money toward the technology.

Before investing resources in voice technology, you need to ensure your online presence is ready for smart searches. You must build a digital doorway that makes it easy for consumers to find and access information across platforms.

Voice search engines like Siri and Alexa source information from Google and Yelp, so you need to ensure your location and contact information is accurate wherever it is found online. The stronger your online presence, the more likely it is that your dealership will be found by a voice search engine.

2. Video Advertising Requires a Holistic Approach.

As we’ve seen year after year, most of the advertising world is pouring their resources into Facebook. But many dealers are missing out on other opportunities by betting it all on this one solution. Today, utilizing a single platform or ad format won’t cut it. Instead, focus on more deliberate and connected campaigns.

When weighing the options of where to place your next video ad, it’s critical to think about your overall goal for the campaign, as well as the context of where it’s being placed. Audience should be the top consideration. For instance, when selling cars, Facebook might not be the most beneficial platform, as the average user age for Facebook is 25 to 34, whereas the average age for buying a new car is over 50, according to recent stats from Automotive News.

3. The Video Market Is Changing.

As the advertising industry continues to shy away from TV, many dealerships have struggled to tell their story through digital platforms. Marketers have become accustomed to the typical 30-second spot on TV, but are now faced with the challenge of conveying a strong, similar message, but in a shorter timeframe.

According to AdWeek, digital video ads should ideally clock in at no more than six seconds in length. Obviously, this can become a huge challenge when attempting to repurpose the existing footage and general storyline from a TV ad into a spot on either Facebook or YouTube. But the fact remains: We live in the age of short attention spans, and dealerships will need to dedicate time in 2018 to brainstorm and determine new ways to more succinctly tell a story that resonates.

4. Developing Store ‘Communities’ Will Win Over Customers.

Enhancing the customer experience within a dealership is critical, and automotive marketers need to develop unique ways to take this experience to the next level. Recently, we’ve seen many businesses find success by leveraging their physical dealerships for various community events, allowing them to connect the business to the customer in way that transcends a pure shopping experience.

For example, some progressive auto dealerships have introduced local movie nights on days and nights when the location would normally not be open for business. Similarly, some dealers have begun offering their spaces to area charities and nonprofits to use for fundraisers or events, free of charge.

By turning your dealership into a community space and not just a point of purchase, you will establish and strengthen your bond with existing and prospective consumers before they’re even looking for a vehicle.

Consumer buying trends continue to change, but the answer to staying ahead of the competition is reaching your customers before they even arrive at the lot. In 2018, a strong digital presence will help bring customers into your dealership, increasing sales and overall customer loyalty.

Gary Galloway is senior product marketing manager for Netsertive.