Advertising is always a fair-sized chunk of any successful business budget, and you need to ensure you’re getting the best return. It isn’t how much you spend but how you spend it that can make the difference in how effective your advertising is.
There’s no question that digital advertising has emerged as the number-one way to reach people, but not all online campaigns are equally effective. And while most experts agree that traditional advertising has lost its lustre overall, there are still some “old-fashioned” promotional investments that can provide a return.
Digital is relatively inexpensive compared to the number of people you can reach, either through your day-to-day online advertising or through special campaigns. It’s estimated that the cost-per-car for digital can be one-tenth the price of traditional advertising. But even so, you need to focus your resources on where they’ll do the most good, and that can include a variety of advertising choices.
Your website needs to be updated regularly, with new vehicles on offer and news about your dealership. If you have a “Meet Our Team” feature, update it if someone joins or leaves, and replace the “Photo Coming Soon” square with an actual picture as soon as you can. Anything that makes your site look dormant will turn off people who happen upon it.
The site should be feature- and fact-filled, but it shouldn’t be too busy, which can make it difficult to navigate. Be especially careful with your pop-ups. They’re almost universally hated by users and many people will use a blocker to avoid them. Studies show that they do work, as much as people dislike them, but they should be used with caution. Don’t have too many of them, don’t have one take over the screen as soon as someone visits your site (studies show they’re most effective if they appear after someone’s gone through two or more pages on your site); change them regularly so repeat visitors don’t get tired of seeing the same ones over and over; and use them to help engage the viewer, not simply to figuratively yell, “Hey, look at me!”
Spend your money on having your site optimized for SEO (search engine optimization) so people can easily find you. Many dealerships also find an enticing ROI on social media advertising, such as on Facebook and Instagram. Your website and paid online advertising also give you the opportunity to use digital tools to monitor their effectiveness, so you immediately know what’s working within the advertisement, or what needs to be tweaked to improve it.
But what about the traditional methods? It’s no surprise that dealers are spending far less on these than they did in the past, but there may be some life – and some return – in some of these “old-fashioned” ways of reaching out.
Direct mail can still work, but it needs to be targeted, rather than the “Hi, how are you?” letters that dealers dropped in the mailbox in the past. These could include a note when a lease is coming due, or warranty is expiring and there’s a chance to sell an extended plan. You’re most likely to do these through email, but especially for older customers, an envelope and a stamp might be worth the investment.
Newspaper advertising is the least likely outlet for most dealers, but could be worthwhile if you’re in a smaller city or town that’s served by a local free community paper. People often leaf through them for local news and coupons, and they’ll notice your ad. Mall displays have also generally fallen out of favour but still generate interest, especially in colder weather when people are more inclined to linger indoors.
Television and radio advertising has also dropped, but it may be worth looking into what’s involved and how much it will cost. People listen carefully to radio during traffic and weather reports, so focus your advertising there. In all advertising, repeat your website address as often as your physical street number.
An excellent resource, especially for dealerships in suburban areas or smaller towns, is community-building through sponsorships and events. When they’re car-shopping, people will remember that you sponsored their child’s sports team, especially if your dealer’s name is on the jerseys.
You can also participate in charity events such as food or toy drives, where people come into your store to fill a truck or SUV with items; offer shuttles or tow vehicles for fairs and parades; or buy advertising at hockey arenas or charity golf tournaments. People may be more receptive because sponsorships don’t really look like advertising, and it promotes worthy causes in the community.
Overall, you should be looking at your advertising budget on a monthly basis at least, to determine what’s working, what isn’t, and what you can do to improve. Customers only find out about you when you reach out to them.