If there is one thing we’ve witnessed over the past two years in retail automotive, it’s that car dealers can adapt and pivot faster than they thought. The narrative over the last 10 years has largely been a warning cry from analysts in the industry that, in the near future, car dealers would soon be put to the test.
While that test isn’t over, the last two years specifically have underscored the importance of getting one's house, er, dealership in order. Dealers have had good reason to pay attention to their marketing budgets and to identify which channels are contributing to a desired sales opportunity, and continuing to do so will be vital to success moving forward.
I believe that the pandemic along with its economic tentacles has forced us as an industry ahead by at least 5 years. All of the important conversations around dealership marketing that perpetually saw the bottom of the rug began to mount the top of the priority list. You know the ones — mixed-media modelling, attribution reporting, ad performance beyond “click-through and conversion rate.” There’s a good reason, too.
Car shoppers evolved quickly during the pandemic. They were already making strides toward an online buying experience, but being locked at home wearing stretchy pants for two years pushed people to feel more comfortable shopping online and doing much (most?) of the buying process on their own sans the dealer.
When I interviewed Lissette Gole, Head of Automotive Retail at Google on The Dealer Playbook Podcast, she explained that their research noted a 10% increase in online buying behaviour within a single year. Previous years tracked a mere 1% increase. So what does that mean for dealers?
Listen to the soundbite featuring Lissette Gole
“Oh great, so here’s another guy that thinks car shoppers want to bypass car dealers!”
Well, yes and no. As a marketer, I can’t help but recognize that there is a growing segment of the market who are increasingly comfortable buying a car on their own.
I also believe that there is a need for the car dealer network, and that there is nothing that Carvana or Vroom or Canada Drives can do that local dealers can’t.
Accessibility is the biggest hurdle that companies like Carvana have overcome. They’ve made inventory and shopping tools readily available to the customer, and are continuing to make investments in that direction. In order to remain relevant and competitive, dealers can (and should) do this, too.
The first step to making your dealership more accessible is to meet car shoppers where they want to shop. For example, Facebook’s inventory advertising exploded during the pandemic due to the fact that over 2 billion people actively use that platform each month.
The Flex team has helped our client partners achieve incredible results utilizing Facebook in terms of lead generation, but also lowering the overall cost to acquire the lead. Rather than spending thousands per month buying the same leads that other dealers are buying, we’ve helped our client partners secure their own books of business opportunities.
I’m confident that Google’s Vehicle Listing Ads (VLAs) are going to be a strong investment for car dealers in 2022. Similar to Facebook’s dynamic inventory ads, Google’s VLAs will show car shoppers live vehicle placements right at the top of the search engine results.
In other words: ultimate shopping accessibility when and where the consumer wants it.
For example, look at Google’s results page for the query “cars for sale near me.” The “vehicles for sale” section is reserved for car dealers who are running vehicle listing ads.
When you click on the vehicle image, it links directly back to that unique piece of inventory (VDP) on the dealership’s website. (Side note: don’t forget the importance of creating an engaging virtual showroom on your website for when those customers land on a VDP; you can read more about this topic here).
In this way, car dealers have a powerful opportunity to be more accessible to car shoppers at the precise time and location of their search. Another side note, look at the last two placements in the image above. What do you see?
Yup, Carvana. The competition is ripe, but that’s why we’re here to help our clients come out on top.
Don’t hate me for saying this, but I’m not necessarily in camp “destroy Carvana.” I’m actually inspired by the moves they have made over the last few years. While industry spectators enjoyed pointing out Carvana's quarterly losses, I was grateful that they spent and lost their money figuring out what car shoppers want so that we didn’t have to. Now it’s time to learn from their mistakes and develop winning strategies for our dealer partners.
With that in mind, now is a great time to get ahead of your competition by gaining early access into the Google VLA Alpha program - and my team at Flex, as an approved Google Vehicle Listings Ad Partner, can help.
If you’d like more information about pricing, how it works, and other frequently asked questions, visit our VLA FAQ page here.
You can also book an appointment with our Director of Client Marketing Strategy for a free consultation about how this new digital resource can work for you and your dealership.