We're in a new year, which can only mean two things: new cars and new opportunities to sell them.
As someone who trains dealers in the use and enormous benefits of online advertising (a subject I spoke on at the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention in February), I'm especially excited about these new opportunities for auto sales.
Online auto sales are not just the wave of the future: They're the wave of the present. You should be riding that wave.
There are a couple of buzzwords you may have heard tossed around lately: “multi-platform” and “convergence.”
I want to explain what they mean — more importantly, what they mean to you. But let me first note where today's auto consumer is coming from, and why online auto sales are so important.
In a sense, you could say that the more things change, the more they stay the same. In the old days, consumers who were researching and shopping for cars relied on the media. Then they bought a car, motivated a lot by emotion, from a local dealer.
Today, consumers still rely on the media. They still buy primarily from local dealers (92% of consumers will buy a car within 20 miles of their residence). And they still operate largely on emotion. It's just that the media in question have changed.
The “old” media — newspapers, TV, radio — are still around. But most of today's car shoppers (80% according to one survey) use the Internet to research vehicles they are interested in long before they talk to a dealer. The reasons are obvious.
Using the Internet, consumers can:
- Conduct research across multiple manufacturers and dealerships in a matter of seconds.
- Look at multiple photos and videos of cars they want.
- Control the process themselves.
- Research in privacy and at their own pace, rather than while being “pressured” by a salesman.
I could go on, but you get the idea. The bottom line is that if you're not reaching out to consumers via the Internet, you are missing the boat — and potentially missing out on selling a lot more cars.
So here's where so-called multi-platform and convergence come in. You want your dealership to be seen across a variety of “platforms” that include newspapers, TV, radio, the Internet (even on cell phones and iPods, but let's not go there yet).
“Convergence” occurs when you're able to combine two or more of these platforms. I'm going to specifically address the convergence between TV and the Internet, because I have found that one of the best venues for auto classifieds is on the websites of local media companies — specifically, local news channels.
By associating yourself with a local news station, you immediately enjoy a number of critical advantages:
- The built-in recognition factor.
- Credibility by association with a news organization.
- The power of local. The vast majority of consumers still buy a car from a local dealer. So you want to advertise with a trusted and visible local source.
- Lots of traffic. Visitors head to local news websites regularly for traffic updates. I suggest dealers investigate the possibility of sponsoring a popular feature on a news station's website, such as traffic or weather reports. You'll have Internet users looking at your dealership 24/7.
- Built-in convergence. It comes courtesy of the constant on-air promotions driving TV viewers to the website. You may even be able to gain on-air mention of your dealership as part of your online advertising deal.
In one sense, I'm telling you to do something new, but in another sense, I'm telling you to do what you've done all along: advertise the fantastic qualities of your dealership that make you the one to beat.
The fundamental business practices that have made you successful all this time still apply. You just need to pick them up and expand them to the Internet.
Jack Simmons is vice president of automotive classified for WorldNow Cars. He can be reached at [email protected].