Joe Webb had just the job for high-school students taking creative-writing classes. He hired them to write inventive descriptions of vehicles his car dealership featured online.
“Those descriptions are so important,” Webb says. “They are like a walk-around. You need to have a shopper see and smell the vehicle, and imagine driving it.”
He and other marketing experts participating in a Cars.com webinar entitled “Dominate the Online Jungle” cite creative copy as one way dealers can enhance their Internet marketing efforts.
Other ways include posting competitive prices, photos and videos.
Some dealers say they lack the time and talent to pen inspired copy for inventory listed on Internet selling sites. Webb’s advice is to get someone to do it for you, such as honor students who work cheap.
“At my former dealership, I would devote so much time to copy,” says Webb, now president of DealerKnows Consulting in Chicago. “When we hired the students, we told them what we wanted, but we let them be creative.”
He recalls that online photos of a colorful Chrysler PT Cruiser were accompanied by text “describing how Batman would feel driving it.”
Mike Page, Cars.com’s vice president-advertising products, offers examples of good copy that sells and bad copy that doesn’t.
Bad: “For more information about this car, please call the Internet sales department.”
Good: “This 2008 VW New Beetle convertible oozes fun! I tried sitting in this car without smiling. I couldn’t do it. It just makes me happy. Come and get some Vitamin D in this cream-on-cream beauty.”
A lot of lousy copy is out there, laments Steve Stauning of Kain-Stauning Marketing Services and former e-commerce director for the Asbury Automotive dealership chain. “About 50% of it isn’t worthy of being written.”
It’s worse than that, Webb says. “About 10% of all dealers do copy right.”
Well-written descriptions that tout both vehicles and dealerships selling them increase customer contacts 17%, according to a Cars.com study.
Photos – lots of them – also play a starring role in getting consumers interested in a car listed on Internet selling sites such as Cars.com.
“One photo is no longer enough,” Page says. “Photos are most influential in getting shoppers to click.”
He points to his company’s data showing a 170% increase in customer contacts when 11 or more photos of a car are shown.
“If you are not doing 12 photos per car, it’s a hindrance to your store,” Webb says. “The best dealers are doing 24 for every used car they post.”
The photography need not always show how great the car looks. Including a shot of a scratch or ding with a ruler held against it can boost a dealership’s credibility. “Customers will appreciate that you are upfront,” Webb says. “They’ll respect you for it.”
At least one photo should “brand” the dealership by featuring the dealer or the sales staff, Page says.
A few dealers post videos of vehicles. More should, Webb says, because, “videos will get you more clicks, and it doesn’t take much to get into the video game.”
He suggests video-recording a vehicle walkaround. “Turn that camera around and get yourself in there. The customer is looking for someone to buy from, as well as looking for a car to buy. You’ll see a tremendous benefit.
“You don’t need $3,000 in equipment to pull it off,” Webb says. “A $150 flip video is fine.”
Upfront pricing is vital to Internet sales success, say the marketing advisors.
“It doesn’t have to be the lowest price, but it has to be competitive,” Page says. Listing a used-vehicle price that’s competitive lifts contacts by 263% and page views by 191%, according to Cars.Com.
When an online listing tells shoppers to call the dealership to get the price of a vehicle, shoppers interpret that as, “You have the highest price,” he says. “No other merchandising can overcome a price that’s too high.”
Some dealerships “get” Internet marketing. Others don’t. A Cars.com survey of online inventory indicates 7% are without pricing, 13% without photos (although that’s an improvement from 25% a few years ago), 13% without creative copy and 97% without videos.
“A lot of managers say they don’t have time to write copy or do photos and videos,” Webb says.
Stauning isn’t buying that.
“The busy, successful dealerships find the time to write copy, take photos and shoot videos,” he says. “The slow stores are the ones that say they don’t have the time. That is a poor excuse.”
It should be a team effort, Webb says. “One person shouldn’t take it all on, not if you have eight people out on the floor.”
He recommends dealers incentivize sales people who do video walkarounds. “Hand them the lead if that video brought someone into the dealership.”
He adds: “Five to 10 years from now, everyone on the lot will be an Internet sales person. We need to prepare for that giant change. We need to do a better job utilizing the entire sales force for Internet marketing.”
Dealers spend a lot of time and effort on how their showrooms look, Webb says. “They should dedicate as much time to how their online listings look.”
“They should spend more time on that,” Stauning says, noting that Cars.com lists 2 million vehicles. “That’s a lot of cars competing for shoppers’ attention.”