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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Online vs. Television Advertising for Auto Dealers

So these days a lot of auto dealers use online advertising or cable TV ads. Which works better now, and what does the future hold for each? BlogPro Automotive recently posted an article to their blog and Auto Industry Startups posted their own article, both discussing behavioral targeting and how it can be applied to online advertising. I was speaking with someone a couple of days ago about a TV ad for a local dealership and asked if they had seen it. Their response was a reminder that as technology changes, so does the effectiveness of advertising. They told me that they are rarely home during the time this dealer's ads run, so they're always seeing the TV show by watching it on TiVo. As a result, they don't subject themself to the commercials by virtue of a fast-forward button. It really got me thinking....as TiVo and digital video recording becomes even more mainstream, how much will the advertisers be hit with inefficient advertising? Cable advertising, like online, can be very specific - targeting certain neighborhoods or demographics is common. How much data does that little cable box collect anyway? When will it start letting the company know things like my typical viewing habits? When will they start targeting advertising based on those habits - if I always watch comedies but throw on a sappy Lifetime movie on a Friday night will they start showing me anti-depressant ads? It's a joke, but it's also a very real possibility.

Back to my original questions: as DVR becomes more mainstream, how will TV advertising change for car dealers? I'm sure the cable companies give out viewer numbers/reach when trying to sell advertising spots, but how accurate are those numbers when you take the "commercial skippers" into account? At this point I can't imagine internet users leaving a reputable site because of advertisements, but what's down the road? Popup blockers have already impacted online ad conversion rates. The bottom line in our present world of advertising is that online currently offers a high level of targeted advertising. The more targeted, the higher the conversion rates, in theory at least. The targeting is getting to be more and more precise (behavioral targeting being a great example of the next level), and who knows how precise it will get. So is it better to have highly targeted ads to a small group of prospects, or is it better to have a broader reach with lower conversion percentages? This is obviously a debatable issue, since car dealers use both. As someone who isn't paying the advertising bills at a dealership, I say you cover your bases with diversification.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Mercedes-Benz and the Golden Rule of Advertising: Repetition

I'll often leave a television on while I work. Sometimes to listen to the news, and other times just for a little background noise. Lately there has been one commercial that catches my attention EVERY time. Mercedes has been running this one commercial lately about their most recent sales event. They've been running it a LOT. Some young kid playing with his Mercedes pedal car and it asks the viewer how long they've dreamed of owning a MB. At first look I thought the commercial was great....a little nostalgia, a catchy jingle, etc. Now it's starting to be annoying.

The fact that I'm annoyed by a decent commercial is not the point. The point here is that Mercedes has a commercial that I'm sure EVERYONE is familiar with. Why? Because of the repetition level. (Note: No joke, I just heard it for the second time since I started typing this post.) If they only ran it once or twice a day would anyone know about this commercial? Not likely. Would it be effective at driving home the point that there's a sale going on? Nope. Repetition in (most) advertising is necessary to make it effective.

The same is true with advertising your dealership website. Even though we explain the entire concept of websites to clients ahead of time, we've had some dealers who expect thousands of customers to come the day a website is launched. It takes time to build up some areas such as search engine rankings, and the dealers who have the most success use their site as one arm of a comprehensive marketing plan. This means advertising it, and doing so on a regular basis. If you use a full page ad in the local magazine, make sure your website is listed. Using a particular graphic or font to display the URL and keeping it the same each week will help build recognition. One of our dealers does a lot of radio spots, and they end their ads the same way each time - by repeating their website address twice.

So is it worth it to run your ad so frequently that you annoy some guy in Virginia who is involved with advertising? Probably....I am writing about it, aren't I?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Your Future is in the Hands of Your Website Provider

How many car dealers really think ahead when it comes to internet marketing? My experience tells me that most dealers are right here, right now personalities. While that may be OK for right here, right now, it's inevitably going to hurt them down the road.

I spent the past weekend attending two birthday parties for family members. Saturday was a surprise 60th birthday celebration for my aunt, and Sunday was a party for her granddaughter's 1st birthday. Looking at a lot of old photos put together in a slideshow presentation which eventually moved toward recent photos, it reminded me how much things have changed in the last 60 years....the last 30 years....even the last 3 years. I found myself imagining what sort of party the one year old will have in 59 years. Some sort of virtual reality display based on home videos where guests are able to "be there" for the 1st birthday? Brain implants so they can experience being there? The way technology changes, it's probably well beyond what anyone can even imagine at this point, but you get the idea that it's going to be different than this past weekend.

As a website company that specializes in independent car dealerships, our typical clients don't need a lot of the bells and whistles that some of our competitors offer....yet. Our business model dictates that we provide only those tools that are needed by our core client base. Someone who is relatively new to internet marketing and/or technology in general does not want to be overwhelmed with products they don't use or understand. As a dealership grows and puts more emphasis into an internet department I believe the average dealer will want these extras. The way I see it, there are thousands of dealers across the country. Some are ahead of the curve and some are behind the curve. Our company's role is to get the "behind the curve" dealers up to speed. At the same time we do this, the curve continues to move, and we as a company need to evolve and adapt.

A few years ago videos on dealership websites were rare. This is a perfect example of a technology trend that's growing and becoming closer to par for the course. While our early dealers did not even consider such things for their sites, we're starting to get more dealers who are. As a reputable web design company it's our obligation to advance the technology with the times. Complacency may not kill a company, but it shortchanges that company's clients.

Whether you have an existing website provider or you are searching for one for the first time, it's important to consider how progressive the leaders of that company think. One company may fit your needs today, but if they maintain the status quo, chances are they won't meet your needs for very long. Choose a web design company wisely, and although I know most car dealers don't like to think about the future, doing so when it comes to the technology side of your business is one of the best moves you can make.