I asked a few industry experts and friends to dust off their crystal balls and share their thoughts, advice and predictions for the automotive marketplace in 2012. We all agree that change is in the air, so let's see what new technology, processes and strategies will top the list of priorities for your dealership this year.
Jeff Clark, DealerON
Savvy dealers are going to be putting more time and resources toward marketing fixed-operations online in 2012. For the typical dealer, service makes up more than 50 percent of their gross profit, yet they only devote a handful of pages on their website to that department. Here are three ways to change that:
• Create high volumes of pages of parts and service content designed to compete for organic search traffic.
• Utilize different primary lead forms (online appointment schedulers, phone numbers in large fonts and printable coupons).
• Be more direct with your website's calls to action ("Schedule," "Call" and "Print" rather than "Click," "Submit" or "Email").
Also make sure that your service department content is mobile-enabled and optimized. Mobile devices now represent anywhere from 12 to 20 percent of a dealership's website traffic and the service appointment pages have an even higher mix of mobile traffic than that. So, make sure it's easy to schedule an appointment and locate phone numbers, and be sure to have a click-to-call feature.
Paul Potratz, Potratz Partners Advertising
Dealers looking to be high performers in 2012 should shift their focus to three crucial areas: mobile marketing, content engagement and social media marketing.
• Mobile Marketing: Fifty percent of car shoppers are connected to a smart phone. It's also one of the first tools they use when they begin their shopping process, so what better way to reach them? Dealers should also keep an eye on mobile apps, text and social game marketing.
• Content Engagement: If you are not discussing engagement percentages and averages, shopping cart abandonment rates and return cycles, you are missing a lot of opportunities. It's not a question of how to drive more leads; it's how quickly you convert the traffic.
• Social Media Marketing: Hiring an outside company to manage 100 percent of your campaigns is a waste of time and money. You need to have a social media director, a position which can be outsourced. You also need buy-in from your dealer and key employees.
Todd Smith, ActivEngage
Traditional advertising is giving way to inbound marketing, which relies on putting your dealership in a position to be found by search engines and other means. It's a powerful way to reduce cost per vehicle sold while ensuring their marketing message is in the right place at the right time.
I believe more dealers will begin to put conversion techniques in place for their social media marketing. I foresee a host of new apps and tools coming into the marketplace that will allow dealerships to turn social-media window shoppers into active buyers.
Dealers also will continue to demand better business intelligence.
Raj Sundaram, DealerTrack
Mobile technology will redefine how dealerships operate in 2012. I also think open technology will prevail this year. Dealers demand control, flexibility and access to their vehicle, customer, and transaction information across their entire dealership. Open technology enables that through secure, real-time and seamless integration between all systems running within a dealership.
The increased focus and investment in digital retailing is forcing every dealer to focus on developing user-friendly websites that have rich and timely content. Dealers are succeeding in turning inventory faster and more profitably if their sites have high quality pictures, video and impactful descriptions. The push for 2012 and beyond will be to link payments and financing to inventory.
Dealers must also embrace a commitment to develop their people through training, team building and adding tools to make sales teams more effective. Progress is a process, so let's get started.