How to Market Electric Vehicles

Despite setbacks from inventory and part shortages, the automotive industry continues to embrace a future in electric vehicles (EVs), especially as consumer interest is on the rise with low-emission commuting demands and government support through subsidies & tax rebates.

“The global Electric Vehicle Market size is projected to grow from 8,151 thousand units in 2022 to 39,208 thousand units by 2030.”

As a dealer, you face two major challenges with this inevitability: lack of knowledge about EVs, both for your staff and your consumers, and standing out from the competition, who may already be ahead of you when it comes to EV marketing.

While you train your staff on the specifics of EVs, try using that same knowledge base for consumer marketing. Encourage shoppers to choose you over the competition by helping them stay informed.

Three major questions can be addressed as a starting point in EV marketing.

1. How far can my electric vehicle go on one charge?

Lithium technology has come a long way since EVs struggled to go even 100 miles on a single charge in years past. Today, most modern EVs can easily surpass almost twice that distance.

Ease potential customer concerns about daily commutes, weekend getaways, and long road trips by letting them know just how far one charge can take them.

2. Where can I charge my electric vehicle?

Charging stations have been spreading across the country, but it is important to note that not every EV is the same, nor is their connector type. Public charging stations also vary in efficiency, as most are at Level 2, whereas Level 3 charging, or DC Fast Charging, can bring an EV’s battery up to 80% in around 30-60 minutes.

Know your community and what is available to your consumers and inform them of where to find the nearest charging stations in your area that suit the vehicles you offer.

3. Will an electric vehicle cost me more?

Even if consumers are aware of the Federal Tax Credit of up to $7,500 for EVs and Hybrids purchased on or after 2010, that single incentive might not be enough to sway them toward making the change. Let them know about every available incentive, such as what your state offers, like California, which has a $2,000 cash rebate for EV buyers.

And do not forget to tout the long-term savings.

AAA states that, the power required to travel 15,000 miles per year in an EV averages out to $546, while the price of gas required for the same distance averages out to $1,255. A savings of about 130%, sometimes even more.”

Given currently rising gas prices across the country, now is the perfect time to push those benefits.

These innovative vehicles also require an innovative and personalized approach to marketing, like being able to automatically focus on areas and customer segments actively considering EVs with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). An AI Customer Data and Engagement Platform, for example, can help you retain EV customers throughout their lifecycle, keeping in front of them with EV-specific service offerings and maintenance plans.

It is important to note that shoppers of these vehicles are upwards of 50 percent more interested in purchasing online than traditional buyers, meaning EV marketing requires an omnichannel approach more than any other segment.

Be everywhere, with all the information an interested shopper might want, such as including a frequently asked questions section about EVs on your website and using your marketing to drive customers to it.

If you do not currently utilize a tool powered by AI, implementing a new marketing strategy for EVs may seem daunting, but remember that this is also an opportunity that can filter into improvements for all your vehicle marketing. Like many dealers, you are probably overdue for a modernization of your go-to-market plan when it comes to new models.

Use this time to revamp your omnichannel approach, the offline experience, after-sales services, and the consumer lifecycle, and the next time a new EV or other vehicle model is launching, you could be the pioneer for reaching consumers faster and more efficiently with the information to drive them to your store.

iOS15 and Privacy – What is the proper way to measure engagement today with new Privacy trends?

Last year, we offered a quick debrief of what updated privacy policies and features mean for iOS users. This will not be the last time that there will be updates like that one, as privacy centers itself as a top concern for the public as we all spend more and more time on our phones and online.

What this means for dealerships, though, is that the way you measure engagement of email marketing campaigns in particular must adapt with the changing policies of your customers’ devices. As open rates and location data phase out, new ways of measurement must phase in.

What Outsell Is Doing

For our clients, we are committed to providing the most reliable reporting to you–no matter what barriers get placed in our way. Alongside our partners, we are figuring out how to stay ahead of updates like iOS 15, with the data that we already have on your customers. We have figured out how to identify those with iOS 15 and to remove “open” data from those customer profiles only. Since iOS mail providers will send back a data signal that the email has been opened with every one of their emails, whether truly opened or not, it is imperative to remove that data so that it does not skew or inflate the numbers over and above what they truly are.

As always, our focus remains on real engagement from active shoppers in your market. This means that our emails have clear calls-to-action, and that those clicks take users to your website–the best place for your shoppers to begin, continue, or wind-down their car-shopping journey. The most relevant gauge on how our email campaigns are doing will remain metrics that are collected from Google Analytics on your website. We are simply a tool to get them there.

Hold Your Vendors Accountable

We know that we’re not your only vendor in the email-marketing space, and we’re okay with that. But we want to equip you with the best possible tools to make sure that your other vendors are making similar shifts in their strategy on your behalf. Here are 3 quick questions to ask your vendor:

  1. How are you adjusting your metrics based on iOS 15 privacy updates?

This is a great question to ask especially if you are still receiving reports at the end of a campaign that include open rates as a measure of engagement. If they do not have the technology to exclude false iOS 15 opens, then they need to provide deeper metrics for you, because their open rate will be skewed otherwise.

  1. Are you using UTM tags on every link?

This is an important question to ask for you to be able to see the email campaign traffic that is clicking through to your website. However, you want to make sure that every link is properly tagged, not just for source and medium, but also for campaign so that you can see how every link in the email performs (or doesn’t).

  1. How are you targeting and personalizing each and every email?

Because we cannot rely on someone opening the email for us to measure their engagement with it, we must focus more on the content within each email. Your vendor should be personalizing these emails based on where they are in the customer journey and offering multiple CTAs throughout the email to provide the most return upon your investment in sending the email.

If you need help reassessing your email marketing campaigns based on new privacy trends, or want us to help you more strongly word your email to any other email marketing vendors you might need to ask these questions to, let us know and we are more than happy to help you.

Apple’s Newest Privacy Update and What It Means for Your Dealership’s Email Marketing Strategy

Big changes are happening in the world of email privacy, and Apple is the first in line to release new privacy features that will change the way you measure the success of your email marketing campaigns and gather data about consumers.

Approach this change as an opportunity to strengthen your email content and gather more relevant data about your customers. This small shift in strategy now will put you at the competitive advantage as more privacy features become the norm in the near future.

What’s Changed

The Apple iOS 15 and OS Monterey updates released September 20, 2021, offer an opt-in privacy feature for Apple Mail that will mean two immediate differences in how you see and collect consumers’ engagement through email campaigns:

  1. Email content will load regardless of whether someone has opened the email or not.
    Apple will now automatically load content for any emails with images or tracking pixels, triggering an “open” regardless of whether a human being ever even sees the email. This will make it harder or even impossible for your dealership to know if emails showing as “opened” in your email platform’s analytics were truly opened by a person, or how many times they might have opened a particular email on that specific model you’ve been trying to sell for months.
  2. Recipients’ location will only be able to be traced to region, not a specific state or city.
    You will no longer be able to automatically collect the particular locale of consumers using Apple Mail. Apple will assign a random IP address to each recipient through a series of redirects so that their location can only be traced to a general region.

What It Means for Dealerships

Your open rates and collected data are likely already being impacted by this change. The number of your dealership’s subscribers using Apple Mail might be as high as 35 to 40% of your email subscriber list – not an insignificant number.

Say you capture your subscribers’ city based on their IP address to understand your engagement density in particular areas surrounding your dealership or dealer group. You won’t be able to collect that data from Apple Mail users anymore – instead, you’ll get a general region which probably won’t give you much valuable geographic information, given the local nature of the dealership business.

Or, if you have been sending follow-up emails for discounted services or other promotions after a consumer shows interest by opening a specific email, you’ll now have to be aware that you could be giving those promotions away to subscribers who never actually showed interest in the initial email at all since their email will show as opened regardless to if they ever laid eyes on it. This is particularly true for those dealerships who use their CRM for email marketing since these typically run on a basic if/then framework (if John Doe opens this service campaign email, then send a 10% off coupon) instead of a program capable of using artificial intelligence to direct the sequence of emails sent.

Reconsidering your strategy for email metrics and data collection now will put you far ahead of the pack down the line and in the not-so-distant future. So, check your email campaigns to ensure they aren’t using if/then logic for sending follow-up emails based on opens.

Workarounds Will Only Make Data Harder to Use

You might be tempted to try workarounds for the privacy update like trying to gauge who has or hasn’t opted in to the new privacy feature by tracking which email addresses start to “open” every email. A lot of businesses, including some of your competitors, will go this route. There’s no science behind this method either, it’s purely subjective.

But these workarounds, however clever they might be, will be a lot of work for an extraordinarily short-lived payoff. Google has already announced plans to release a similar privacy update for Gmail users, and Outlook may not be far behind. These three email clients cover approximately 90% of all consumers.

In the meantime, workarounds will create more disparate data for your dealership team to manage and organize. For example, if you collect information about who opened emails about a new oil change service over the course of six months in one group of subscribers and track only clicks for another group of subscribers, the data you collect for the success of your oil change messaging will be incredibly difficult to gauge and act on to produce new quality email content. And, at the end of the day, quality content is the whole point.

A Shift in Measurement

The truth is, the time has come to think beyond open rates and reliance on the passively collected information. Open rates do not necessarily equal engagement or that the email was relevant to your subscribers. People may open an email just to get rid of a notification reminder or open it and immediately decide they don’t care about its contents.

It’s time to be a bit more strategic and intentionally build in higher quality metrics you can more reliably track. You might try focusing more on the following engagement indicators and ways of collecting data:

Clicks

If a subscriber clicks on a link in your email, that shows definite interest. Clicks are a great indicator of relevance and quality of content. Although not all clicks are created equal; click-through rates on digital ads will be much lower than click-through rates on emails, which use first-party data.

Ask yourself: Are the links in your emails something consumers will find useful, engaging, or valuable? For example, are you sending them to your dealership’s About page that is internally focused and outlines every historical milestone since your business began or maybe useful advice about things, they probably didn’t know they could do with their vehicle’s media settings? Or are you linking directly to a VDP of a vehicle they have shown interest in?

Landing Page Actions

When your subscribers do click through via your email, you have an opportunity to give them an action. Let’s say you send an email about a tire promotion your dealership is running. When the subscriber clicks through for more information, you have an opportunity to learn something about them. You could ask them to tell you what vehicle they drive today, how long they’ve had that vehicle, what vehicle features are important to them, or whatever data it is you’re wanting to collect as part of sending future individualized content to them or those like them.

If you try this, make sure to ask for only a small amount of information at a time and that it’s information you can use to make their digital experience with you better. People like to feel that their online experience is personalized and will answer questions if they trust that the end result will be more content that is relevant and useful to them. Artificial intelligence-driven email communications would already have this information on the consumer, increasing the individualization of the email they receive. Without a solution like this, you’ll be sending blanket emails on Honda Civics to everyone you think is in the market for one, without actually knowing what they currently drive or what stage in the lifecycle they are in unless they explicitly tell you this information.

Responses

Do you ever ask for input in your campaigns via a survey, direct email reply, or other easy response methods? This can be a useful way to learn information that email analytics will never tell you. You could ask for customer stories, get qualitative and/or quantitative feedback, understand where consumers think they are in their buying lifecycle, or get a better sense of their understanding of your brand.

What’s more, you’ll make your audience feel like they’re part of your loop, which increases brand loyalty and trust for your business. Make sure you reply back to them again in a timely manner, even if it’s just to say thank you.

Focusing on More Valuable Measures of Customer Engagement

A privacy update that may seem inconvenient for your dealership’s marketing efforts at first is actually an opportunity to make sure that every time you reach out to subscribers via email, you’re delivering information and actions that they care about.

As you put a focus on the resulting email metrics outside of open rates and try tactics for data collection beyond what your email marketing platform can offer, you will find a whole new set of strategic ways to gain valuable insights about consumers and make a deeper connection with your customers.

4 Things Dealers Can Do Right Now to Succeed Despite Car Shortage

Several brands are facing challenges with low Inventory, yet in April 2021, auto sales were up more than 100% year over year (Yahoo! Finance).  The microchip shortage that forced many brands to slow down production combined with record sales have left many dealers with the extreme new and used car shortage.  

While in some ways the situation may seem dire, there are four things you can do to drive revenue in the short term and to get ready to ramp up sales when you have more cars on the lot.  

1. Focus on Service 

Everyone knows margins are great in the service bay. Keeping customers coming in for service will help you maximize revenue during this period of low inventory. Here are a few tips to keep your service bay full

  1. Pull lists of high engagers with service content at least once a month to follow up. 
  1. Filter by Lapsed Servicers to find consumers for targeted outreach who previously serviced with you. 
  1. Update service offers quarterly, if not monthly, and make sure your communications highlight why to service at your dealership. 
  1. Highlight any perks of servicing at your dealership, such as a free car wash or loaner program. 

Effectively marketing to current and potential servicers requires an omni-channel approach. Not able to reach someone through email? Target them through social. Not seeing any returns from social media? Consider sending a direct mail piece.  

Automation tools powered by artificial intelligence can also help you focus on in-market servicers to avoid wasting marketing spend and extend your dealership’s reach beyond a single channel or profit center. 

In a comprehensive, multi-year data study conducted with RXA and Experian, Outsell found that dealers who engage consumers with A.I.-driven marketing automation saw a 31% increase in service visits. Whether the consumers had previously serviced with the dealership or not, getting them to service earlier in their ownership lifecycle saw an even bigger return. 

2. Find More Trade-Ins 

With the shortage of new cars, many shoppers and dealers are turning to used car sales to satisfy demand. However, this too might become an issue as used cars become less available. One positive from this is that customers can get a lot more for their trade-ins—and may be looking to do just that. 

An average dealer has over 1,800 consumers that are trade-in targets to both acquire used vehicles and move available new vehicles. 

There’s also just 38 days’ worth of inventory at dealerships,” Kelsey Mays, senior consumer affairs editor for Cars.com. “That compares to the usual 65 to 70 days’ worth.”

Outsell’s platform utilizes two equity-based features that encourage customers to consider buying and trading in their vehicles. The Find-a-Trade-In feature helps identify potential used vehicles when inventory is hard to come by. This tool helps prioritize outreach to customers who may be interested in making a change and allows dealers to stock inventory by acquiring that used vehicle. The Similar Payments feature shows customers cars for which the monthly payments would be the same, encouraging customers to use their equity to make a new purchase. 

It’s about seeing which models are moving off your lot the fastest and that might be most desirable and finding more as you seek new trade-in deals with existing customers.  

3. Keep Your Consumers Engaged!!! 

The microchip shortage is expected to impact vehicle production through the end of summer or early fall (and possibly longer), but that doesn’t mean you should sit on your hands until you have more cars on the lot. Now is the time that you need to be keeping your consumers engaged so that they are ready to buy when you have inventory available.  

You should be engaging both unsold leads (a lead that that hasn’t purchased yet) and sales defectors (customers who have made a purchase in the past but have not returned).  

To maintain engagement levels for unsold leads you can change your messaging to focus more on brand awareness, lifestyle, and service content instead of focusing on urgent selling messages for models that are in low supply. 

Industry average indicates that you’re going to retain about 50% of your customers. But really, there is no such thing as a retained customer. As soon as a consumer drives off the lot, you can’t assume they’re ever going to come back.  

Now more than ever, customers are going to defect if only because the higher prices on vehicles that have been more affected by the shortage will cause them to explore other options. 

For both unsold leads and defectors, the previously mentioned strategies hold true for targeting in-market servicers and seeking trade-ins, but there is another level to consider.  

Dealers should not give up on trying to engage defectors. They bought from the dealer once and can easily buy there again when the time is right if the connection to the dealer is strengthened,” said Valerie Vallancourt, Vice President of Marketing at Outsell.”

Outsell regularly augments the VINs of a dealership’s sales and service customers with change of ownership. When a change of ownership is detected, and there wasn’t a purchase from your dealership around that same time, it’s likely the consumer purchased elsewhere to replace that vehicle.  

When Outsell artificial intelligence determines that these likely defectors are back in market, automated content from Outsell tries to win them back.  

4. Play the Long Game

Outsell reported in February of last year:  

Current retail trends suggest that, by the end of 2020, customer experience will supersede price and product as the key brand differentiator. In other words, a well-connected omni-channel experience will no longer be an option but a strategic necessity.” 

We had no idea at the time how drastically that would be proven true.  

According to BDEX analysts, March and April of 2020 saw a precipitous 40% decrease in consumer traffic to auto dealerships in the United States. As the pandemic continued to spread, by May those numbers dipped below 50% and have mostly stabilized in that range since.” 

While car shortages remains unpredictable, dealers need to plan and spend for the long term rather than putting Band-Aids on broken processes that don’t fit today’s market.  

F&I and Showroom said it best: 

The truth is, the automotive industry has been long overdue for a digital transformation. The past year has made it abundantly clear that consumer behaviors have changed, and things may not be going back to normal any time soon. To succeed in this new normal, dealerships will need to evolve and leverage the modern technologies available to them in order to meet consumers where they are – in their homes.” 

The ideal time to implement a data-driven, personalized omnichannel marketing strategy with artificial intelligence was yesterday. The second-best time is today.  

Contact Outsell today to learn how you can utilize Lifecycle Marketing to remain the preeminent service provider of choice every month.  

Keep your service bay full with these best practices

Even when there isn’t an inventory shortage for multiple brands across the country, it’s understood in the automotive industry that margins are made in the service bay.

Drive more service business with these four best practices.

1. Pull lists of high engagers with service content at least once a month to follow up.

High engagers are more likely to convert and typically spend more. Outsell’s Find by Engagement feature, for example, makes list pulling easier. If a list appears unmanageable, our dealer partners can further filter based on their individual goals, such as targeting lessees.

Once you’ve got your list, follow up with a personal touch point – like an email from the service director or a phone call from a service advisor.

2. Filter in Lapsed Servicers to find consumers for targeted outreach who previously serviced with you.

This provides another narrowed list to go after servicers who lapsed and reengage them wherever they are in their lifecycle. Within the Outsell platform, this is another built in feature to make list building easier.

Reaching out to Lapsed Servicers will always give you high engagement since they have already transacted with your dealership before. Staying top-of-mind is critical for continual service business, so don’t let your customers service with you once and then take their business down the road the next time.

3. Update service offers quarterly, if not monthly, and make sure your communications highlight why to service at your dealership.

Customers, even those already engaged, expect to see up-to-date offers. This is also an opportunity to highlight services you want to push as a monthly or quarterly goal.

Customers are always looking for the best deal or experience, so if you aren’t showcasing relevant offers and highlighting the benefits of your service lane, you can be assured that your competitor is. Outsell suggests starting monthly until you can gauge ongoing performance.

4. Highlight any perks of servicing at your dealership, such as a free car wash or loaner program.

Dealership-specific offers and special events, rather than relying solely on brand content, can increase the quality of engagement on communications. Instead of a generic feel, highlighting what matters most to your dealership sets you apart from competitors.

Consider creating a video of what your customers can expect when they arrive for their service appointment. Actual photos of your amenities and even service employees add that extra flair that your communications need.

According to Digital Dealer:

“To drive more second and third service appointments, use customer data and technology to build loyalty. Leverage your manufacturer’s owner retention program (ORP) and explore options to enhance it with digital marketing.”

Contact Outsell today to learn how you can utilize Lifecycle Marketing to remain the preeminent service provider of choice every month.  

The Death of Browser Cookies

If 2020 brought change to every major industry and way of life, then 2021 is on course to see more of the same, but what you might not know is that one of the largest changes is set for 2022 – the death of browser cookies.

I’m sure you can hardly remember the last time you surfed a new web page and weren’t immediately asked to accept the use of cookies that track your activity. Google is planning to phase this practice out, and what Google does, the trends tend to follow.

The way we normally think of browser cookies are based on third-party data, where companies track your activity across sites other than their own, such as for advertising retargeting. In recent years, the use of third-party data has come under more scrutiny, seen in the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), both of which aim to ensure privacy rights and change the way personal data is collected from consumers.

There are also first-party cookies, which allow a website that you frequent regularly to ‘remember’ you so that you don’t have to enter the same login credentials every visit. This is first party because you have explicitly given your permission for this site to remember you – you’re a user, you’re a shopper, you said yes. Whereas, even if you said yes to cookies, you aren’t necessarily giving specific third-party retailers permission to follow you around the web. 

In fact, Apple, Firefox, and Google have all already started limiting the use of third-party cookies on their web browsers.

As Reuters states:

“For years, online ad technology companies including Google could tell a shoe retailer to personalize an ad to someone reading a Reuters.com article after having tracked that person the week before researching a shoe on Nike.com and checking for a specific color on FootLocker.com. Under these new policies, that tracking across multiple websites is unfeasible.”

That doesn’t mean retargeting itself will become unfeasible, just done in a different and more private manner, such as targeting ads to consumers who have similar interests, like Facebook Lookalike audiences.

Reuters continues:

“Brands could target their ads to a cluster interested in buying a car, for example, rather than relying on cookies that have tracked specific users across car-buying websites.”

Another option is Unified ID 2.0.

“When a consumer logs into a website with their email address, an identifier is created based on [an] anonymized version of that email. The identifier regularly regenerates itself, ensuring security. At the point of login, the consumer gets to see why the industry wants to create this identifier and understand the value exchange of relevant advertising, in simple terms (unlike today’s cookies). They also get to set their preferences on how their data is shared. So the consumer is in the driver’s seat.”

Even though UID 2.0 won’t be integrated with Google’s ad stack, there’s nothing stopping publishers from using both, and other options are still being investigated ahead of the shift. Still, it’s no exaggeration to say that the death of browser cookies will change the face of online advertising – or rather, the data behind it.

So, how can dealers capitalize on this change? Simple – provide what consumers expect. When you communicate regularly based on a consumer’s intrinsic needs and interests, they’re more likely to engage with you and share additional information – their first-party data. This further builds their consumer profile so that your marketing efforts are more personalized, more in line with what they want, and more successful at converting them and keeping them as customers.

Or, as eMarketer said:

“…the death of the third-party cookie will mean that winning brands must reduce their dependence on third parties and place a greater focus on first-party data and owned channels. In short, they’ll need more direct-to-consumer (D2C) marketing, and less (though still plenty) advertising.”

Outsell published an article on DrivingSales last year on the importance of first-party data (and the even more valuable zero-party data, when consumers proactively share information with you). Your CRM, DMS, and data you’ve collected from website visitors, social media followers, email subscribers, etc., is your most important untapped resource.

First-party data gives you a competitive advantage because it’s yours – you maintain exclusive ownership of it. It’s also more relevant than third-party data because it’s more accurate. The more you know about your current customers and prospects, the better you can market and interact with them to earn and retain their business.

Before browser cookies are officially declared dead in 2022, now is the time to test with Google, UID 2.0, and maximize what you can do with your first-party data.

Learn how Outsell uses first-party data to engage consumers, detects shoppers, and drive increased sales & service revenue, personally, continuously, and automatically.

Google Analytics Launches New Update from Improved Reporting and Data Tracking

What Does this Mean for Automotive Marketers?

In October of 2020, Google released an updated version of Google Analytics, which they assert runs by a new Machine Learning algorithm. The update provides additional avenues to monitor and track new and crucial data trends, giving marketers a wider lens into online opportunities.

So, what do these changes mean for automotive marketers, and how can you use them to your advantage?

Here, we’ll explore the ins and outs of the update and give Outsell’s point of view on why the improvements impact automotive marketers overall.

Enhanced Trend Monitoring and Predictive Analytics

The key development in this new update is enhanced trend monitoring. The refreshed analytics can now automatically alert users to significant changes in their data by giving users predictive probability outcomes based on sets of data. Alongside this, Google added new predictive metrics that give users the power to forecast potential revenue, site visits, conversions and more.

For instance, say you’re measuring churn by looking at “total users” and “LTV” – Google’s new update forecasts and estimates what your average churn probability will be based on those two metrics.

Re-Organized and Centralized Reporting

Part of the new update gives users the ability to measure app and web interactions together, benchmarking conversion performance by channel through a centralized view. This allows users to monitor and track conversions from multiple apps like YouTube video views, Google Search, and Google Display campaigns, and channels such as traffic driven by your marketing vendor partners.

As part of this, the update simplifies and organizes reporting for users to identify marketing insights based on what area of the customer journey a consumer is most likely segmented in.

What this means for your Dealership?

What does this mean for automotive marketers? Many auto dealers only use Google Analytics to track website traffic and activity. With this new update – along with other existing Google Analytic capabilities – dealers are only scratching the surface of what is possible.

Overall, this new update gives automotive marketers more transparency and power to drive their marketing decisions. With the enhanced reporting and predictive analytics feature, automotive marketers gain a unique view into the impact their various marketing channels and initiatives have on customer acquisition and customer retention.

This “predictive power” helps automotive marketers anticipate future actions a consumer might take and can help them calculate churn and revenue probability to effectively influence dealership budgets.

Ultimately, this entire update not only gives automotive marketers further insights to anticipate future actions but empowers them with data to hold their marketing vendors and partners accountable. Therefore, it is crucial when choosing a marketing vendor to ensure the vendor includes detailed UTM tags that drive website traffic.

Don’t Miss Out

Google Analytics is a large beast, but it contains a wealth of insights automotive marketers just can’t ignore. With this newest update in mind, the power is in your hands: the question is, will your dealership make the most of it?

Lessons of Customer Engagement during a Crisis

There are a lot of things that can be learned from a crisis or any kind of sales slowdown.  One lesson is the following:

Customers who have developed a trusted relationship with the dealership based on consistent, individualized engagement remain loyal and continue to buy and service even through difficult times.

Outsell’s Virtual Customer Engagement platform continued to send communications on behalf of dealer customers throughout the recent sales declines from April through July 2020. Dealers agreed that, especially during slow sales periods, it is important to maintain communication to their best and most engaged consumers. Progressive dealers provided real-time updates, special “dividend” offers, and other vital information through Outsell’s custom offers and ‘Important Update’ sections.

The results clearly make the case cited above. The share of dealership sales from engaged customers who received Outsell communications grew by more than 20% from the six months of October 2019 to March 2020 compared to the three months of April, May, and June 2020. During the slowest sales periods, more than 22% of dealership sales came from these highly engaged customers.

The chart below shows the results.

During otherwise slower sales periods, having an active Virtual Customer Engagement platform that communicates with a dealership’s best customers is vital to maintaining business.

The Persistence of the Auto Industry – Before & After Crisis

More and more each day, one thought that sticks with me and continues to resound: this industry has survived crisis before and will again.

The current crisis is breeding innovation across our industry. Dealerships that may have never thought they’d turn to a virtual storefront or offer pick-up and delivery services for customers are suddenly turning into true digital retailers and engaging consumers however they can.

Vendors are donating to relief causes on dealers’ behalves and providing additional services to help see our clients through. It’s uplifting to see vendors helping dealers so dealers can in turn help consumers, proving that we as an overall community are indeed here for each other.

Peak sales cannot be maintained forever, but when they dip, they recover and often soar to new heights after a crisis. Looking back on the fallout of 9/11 and the Great Recession, with many states under ‘shelter in place’ orders and dealerships across the country closed, we inevitably cannot help but feel panic. To overcome that feeling and start selling cars, dealerships need to take this time to think about how to evolve their business into what the ‘new normal’ will look like when this is over.

While it’s true that current projections for how the rest of the year will turn out for vehicle sales is not pretty, now may be a good time to look back on how we have recovered in the past.

September 11, 2001

In a recent article from AdAge, they reminded us that only 10 days after 9/11, General Motors aired “‘Keep America Rolling’, combining a pro-America pitch with zero percent financing.” Despite the tragedy, they kept thinking forward, and because of this and the acts of other brands, our industry benefited.

September 2001 saw 16M unit sales. A dip from 17M had already occurred in July before 9/11. Rather than continue a downward spiral during what was already a recession year, October 2001 saw an all-time high of nearly 22M unit sales and continued into a steady plateau afterward. “2001, a recession year, ended up as what was then the second-best year ever for U.S. auto sales.”

While this spike didn’t hold long, the recession itself ended only two months after the events of 9/11, in part because of the resilience of marketers and the auto industry giving consumers a reason to spend.

The Great Recession

Beginning at the end of 2007, the Great Recession saw a constant dip from 16M unit sales, hitting a record low of 9M in February 2009.

Here again is that look at US auto sales since the mid-1970s:

Fred US Auto Sales

While eyes immediately go to the dips, it is important to notice the steady rises after each recession, especially after 2009. Brands and Dealers had to adjust their thinking to stay afloat and there were lessons learned then that can apply to now.

Auto News reported on a survey by Cars.com of 94 franchised dealers asked to cite the most useful strategies they employed for surviving into 2010.

  • 38.3% Focused on used-vehicle business
  • 29.8% Reduced advertising
  • 26.6% Relied on fixed operations
  • 21.3% Focused on F&I
  • 21.3% Nothing in particular/not sure
  • 11.7% Cut staff
  • 6.4% Closed underperforming stores to focus on the good ones
  • 5.3% Other
  • 2.1% Kept all staff, but cut salaries across the board

As much as some of this may look how you’d expect, dealers clearly innovated and focused heavily on fixed ops, something the industry had already been leaning toward again in recent months before COVID-19 struck.

Service remains the cornerstone for retention and advocacy, and that may mean instituting many of the changes other dealers have already enacted with at-home services.

As Auto News stated of the Great Recession: “Everywhere, dealers got granular. They analyzed performance metrics and conducted weekly, storewide financial updates. Meanwhile, they made hospitality to customers a priority. Many conducted free service clinics on weekends to attract customers. Overall, more effort went into training, which had an unexpected payoff: brainstorming of unique marketing and sales strategies.”

Sounds familiar? It should, because this is exactly what is happening now.

During the Great Recession, sales recovered with a constant upward trajectory, returning to 16M unit sales in March 2014 and has maintained a nearly consistent 17M for years since. That was certainly a different sort of crisis than we face today and required in some cases very heavy government intervention, but we’re seeing that too, with bills in the works to help automotive dealerships, other essential businesses, and the American public survive and recover when this too subsides.

In the months after the last recession, CNBC reported that the unemployment rate peaked at 10 percent. As of May 2019, Business Insider said it was at a 50-year low of only 3.6%. We knew we were at a turning point, that the good times might not plateau forever but would eventually fall. We did not know how that turning point would hit us.

Regardless of the face of this current crisis, what we have learned and are already striving to do during uncertain times, should offer hope that we will overcome this crisis too. All we must do is look to the past to see that we can survive anything and set new heights together when recovery is upon us.

Outsell is 100% virtual today and for as long as we need to be – we do not shut down. We never stop working. We will continue to be here for our dealers and this industry in whatever ways we can.

Learn more about how you can combat the current crisis with this auto industry infographic and at https://www.outsell.com/covid-19-response.

Your Business is Not Gone – It’s just Different Now

Why it is vital for dealerships to shift their energy toward virtual storefronts and showcase their services across digital channels beyond COVID-19

As dealerships are gearing up and acclimating to the new consumer environment of quarantine, social distancing, and economic uncertainty, it is vital to provide creative avenues for customers and prospects to shop and purchase from the comfort of their own homes.  

It is just as vital to ensure consumers know about your offerings during this shift toward virtual retailing.

Dealerships’ roots are in the relationships they create at their stores, with prospects on the showroom floor, and with customers in their service bays. So, with the outbreak of COVID-19, dealers must reframe their thinking if they want to retain existing customers and conquest new ones – now and in the future.

If you haven’t already, consider implementing immediately:

  • Virtual showrooms

This is becoming more common and available for consumers, and rightly so, giving shoppers an opportunity to better view vehicles online and even make online purchases. It also keeps your dealership accessible to customers when most services and venues are not.

Luther Automotive Group is a great example of this, as they are offering No-Contact Sales and Service, all the way from searching online to delivery.

  • At-Home services

This trend is rapidly gaining traction across the country. Acton Toyota in Massachusetts has service (pick-up AND delivery), 100% online purchases (with delivery), and even 24-hour online service scheduling.

Similarly, Young Chevrolet Cadillac Buick GMC out of Owosso, Michigan, is offering at-home pickups and delivery services, understanding that consumers are not able to venture out to their stores with present CDC and government regulations.

  • Marketing automation

Now more than ever, building a dialog based on consumers’ intrinsic needs and interests is what can set a dealership apart. With the continued rise of hyper-personalization in every facet of our lives, the mission of successful retailers is to engage customers on a 1:1 basis – whether through email, social, or other channels.

Bruce Titus Automotive Group details how they use AI-driven marketing automation to increase sales and ROs.

A successful marketing automation platform tracks consumer behavior, connects to a variety of data sources like your CRM and DMS, leverages that data to drive insights, and engages consumers wherever they are in their lifecycle. If ever there was a time to automate communications and be alerted when a consumer might be in-market for purchase or service, now is that time.

  • Proactive digital engagement

There are many more ways to stay ahead of the current landscape. One element that dealers adding new and innovative services have been missing isn’t the proactive or digital part – it’s the engagement. A shopper shouldn’t have to Google your dealership’s name and ‘COVID-19’ to learn your response to the current crisis.

Some examples for how and where to let consumers know what you are offering are:

  • Website banner – whether as a popup, part of your top image carousel, or in your navigation, make it clear on your homepage what you are offering amidst COVID-19,
  • Social posting – that means on Facebook, Twitter, even LinkedIn, and through video where possible, so you are visible where your customers are,
  • Digital advertising – you may be cutting back on TV and radio spend, but don’t cut digital; stay top of mind while consumers are surfing online.

A great example can be seen on the homepage for Toyota of Irving, where they include information in their image carousel along with an additional popup to make their offerings clear.

Today’s consumer landscape is certainly different and may be forever altered, but consumers still need vehicles and servicing on the vehicles they own. Take advantage of the recommendations above to ensure your consumers are consistently engaged and to gently remind them that you are available to help – even if they can’t come to your dealership in person.

Of the four items we recommend, say you’re doing them all – are you going to keep up with it once we return to a “new normal,” evolving beyond this initial phase of crisis? You should, because virtual storefronts and digital retailing isn’t just “for now”, it is the future and imperative to surviving beyond today.