SMARTPHONES and online audience behemoths like Google and Facebook, among others, are fundamentally changing the importance of dealer websites.
Long the poor cousins in the online automotive world as the bulk of leads came from the buyers grazing through listings in third-party websites, dealers are now finding that advertising technology can draw a buyer in from a relatively detailed search request for a car from a smartphone to land directly on their vehicle details page for that car.
By taking car buyers directly to dealer stock in the branded environment of the dealer selling the car, an auto retailer’s investment in its own online presence is now becoming a far more important weapon in the dealership’s sales armoury.
Third-party websites like market leader Carsales have been around for two decades now and the business model – pumping huge amounts of advertising money into assembling the biggest number of car seller listings, and corresponding audience of buyers – is maturing and being affected by the arrival of the large online audience magnets.
While these longstanding classified websites are still a very important part of the online auto business, the massive audiences gathered in by Google, Facebook, Instagram and others – and the rise of smartphones over desktops – means that dealer sites can become a far more cost-effective window through which car buyers can reach dealerships and their cars for sale.
What has changed is that digital advertising agencies like Cox Automotive’s Digipurple are using web technology to tap into the audiences of the online behemoths when people express an interest in a specific car and then link them directly to dealer inventory matching that car.
According to the recently appointed general manager of Digipurple, Chris Smith, who has arrived from the US where he was running a similar digital advertising agency for Cox Automotive, dealers now really value the fact that their cars for sale are basically only a click away from a vast social media site.
“We are seeing that dealers are valuing their own inventory and they are showing they understand that because they place all their inventory on their own websites, which is what car buyers are looking for on mobile devices,” he said.
“What we picked up on successfully in the US with a pretty large business similar to Digipurple was that we see consumers looking for information about vehicles and when they land on a dealer’s website – and they can locate all the information they want about the individual cars in stock from that site – then that is a good experience for them.
“It connects them to the dealer’s name. ‘It has all the information about the vehicle that I’m looking for, it is well presented, I trust it because it is on the dealership’s website and he is a franchise dealer or an independent.’
“So we have seen that, in the consumer journey, this has become very important to the customer. We have seen that they want to get the information about the vehicle on the dealers’ websites and in studies by Google and Cox Automotive we have seen dealership websites rank in importance in the car buying process only behind an in-person visit to a dealership or a test drive.
“So we are helping dealers to drive customers to their own website and that’s where they can learn about the vehicle, and ultimately call, message or text to buy the vehicle.
“Consumers like to see information about the specific vehicles at the dealer’s yard. That is the number one thing that they are searching for.”
Digipurple is a technology agency rather than a creative or media agency and has been set up to help dealers derive traffic from these large audiences which have plenty of car buyers. It is a division of Dealer Solutions and is made up of a team of automotive marketing experts within Dealer Solutions.
Mr Smith is steeped in media. The son of a New York Times journalist, he cut his teeth in the advertising world at television stations and worked with creative agencies for Honda, Toyota and Nissan and then at Motor Trend magazine in the US “when advertising cost $100,000 a page”.
An entrepreneur, he comes to Australia from Cox Automotive which he joined in 2013 after he and partners sold a digital advertising start-up to dealer.com – one of the Cox Automotive family of companies in the US.
He told GoAutoNews Premium in an interview that Digipurple was able to leverage five out of the top 10 most trafficked websites on the internet to find car consumers.
“Primarily that is Google, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and many news and information websites,” he said. “These are all the top website destinations in the world. In any market, whether it’s regional market or urban market or a big city market, car customers are gathering on these websites. We can target those customers with ads that contain the specific vehicles they are looking for.
“So when a customer is searching for a Ford Falcon with certain features we try to drive them to the most relevant listing for what they want. Google rewards us for that. The customer has a good experience and the dealer now has a buyer online looking at actual product that they have in stock and that can convert to a sale.
“So our vision at Digipurple is to help dealers in the most transparent and authentic way to drive buyers to actual vehicles which is what dealers have for sale.
“As you know, lots of automotive studies have proven that at life-changing moments like graduations, a new child or a new job, people are often seeking a new car at that point in their life.
“So, we are tapping into the dealers’ inventory, audience data and website pages, to set up our campaigns with Google, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to drive traffic to dealership websites and we try to target people who we think are in one of those moments where they are ready to purchase a new vehicle.”
Mr Smith said that one of the biggest changes he is seeing is that car buyers want and expect to see more information about the car immediately and on their phone.
“The consumer activity to purchase a vehicle 15 years ago was to look at print and then, subsequently, lists of online classifieds. So we are used to searching in a list-like format,” he said.
“Today we have evolved into a digital mobile society where consumers are used to getting information fast and right in their hands.
“Google – it is a verb. What subject matter or group can you not find on Facebook? Third-party reviews and information are available from valuable sources. There is more data about pricing and inventory within your city or town. Offers are just a few swipes away on our phones.
“So I think today, with the evolution of mobile devices and the immediate information available, consumers now just want to type in what they are looking for and they want to get back really relevant information as quickly as possible on their mobile device.
“Then one click to that vehicle and hopefully one more click to call the dealer or just walk into the dealership.
“I don’t think there are many consumers left who are not researching cars online and what proves that is that in 2005 a buyer would visit five dealerships to make a purchase and now a consumer will visit 1.4 dealerships to make a purchase.
“So they are really making their decision of what to get and where to get it before they set foot in the showroom.
“So we are trying to help our clients at Digipurple and Dealer Solutions win that battle online before buyers actually decide where they will purchase the car.
“A lot of general sales managers are telling us that fewer people are walking into the dealership but when they do walk in they are closing at a higher rate.
“They have done the research, they know we have the vehicle they want and they are here to buy a car and we just need to do a good job of converting them into a sale by being transparent and helpful.
“The trick is you don’t have to worry about it as long as you embrace a few fundamental tactics and strategies to be present and be the first among your competition within your market area.”
Mr Smith said Digipurple was more a technology advertising agency that a creative
“We focus on the inventory. We are about using technology to become more efficient for our clients, drawing on those audiences on Google, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube,” he said.
“So we are much more technology-focused than we are on creative although we do have an in-house creative design department to help our clients generate creative for their web designs and their display advertising which continues to have a place in the marketing mix.
“So we might run a Google search campaign for a dealer and run a campaign on Facebook for that dealer and then we will build some display retargeting ads around a price promotion that will attract that same customer back. We run all of that at the same time and it is all designed to drive traffic to the vehicle details pages on that dealership’s website.
“So there is creative involved but is it mostly a technology play.”
Mr Smith cited a recent Digipurple campaign for a Mazda dealer in which they put in place an inventory-based advertising program on Google and Facebook. They created a display campaign that was geo-targeted to their PMA and a used-car campaign that was broader than their PMA.
“Within the first 14 days of working with them we increased their traffic 142 per cent,” he said.
“Views of the vehicle details pages increased by 79 per cent and we were able to drive phone calls to that dealership at $33 per call.
“Those numbers to me really make sense for a dealership. We have increased their brand recognition because more people are exposed to the dealership name on the website and we have more eyeballs on the vehicles they are selling which is really making an impact because people are looking at the actual stock that they can purchase.
“I really like the idea of getting eyeballs on vehicle details pages because we know the consumer is ready to buy and we can generate a phone call, message or a form lead or a lot of times they just decide that is the dealership they are going to visit and that is what we are looking to achieve.”
By John Mellor