According to Philip Zelinger, the President of a national network of independent affiliated automotive advertising agencies — Ad Agency Online, L.L.C.– and the host of AdAgencyOnline.Net and their featured blog talk radio station — WAAOL, All Automotive Advertising News All The Time, automotive advertising agencies must re-evaluate who they actually work for. Of course their auto dealer clients sign their pay checks but in today’s pull/push Internet market the customer is driving the deals on the Internet Super Highway.
Consumers prefer to go to the Internet to shop for a vehicle to get information to make a buying decision without having to visit a dealership. Sometimes they turn to the World Wide Web vs. their local car row to avoid being pressured by a self serving car salesperson — real or imagined. Other times their objective may be to save gas and time before they jump into the real world where they may be pressured into making a premature buying decision based on emotion and limited information. Frankly, in many cases, they are right; can you say — spot delivery.
Job one for search engines, like Google, is to provide relevant information to their online customers to help them narrow down their list of vehicles of interest and answer associated questions like trade-in value, payment options and the many items that must be addressed before they can select — the — vehicle vs. — a — vehicle. Once those issues are resolved, they need to help their online shoppers find an auto dealer that can provide a vehicle that best satisfies those terms and conditions; in that order — vehicle first and dealer second. My point is that when Google first directs their customers to the most relevant source for their desired information it is not necessarily limited to a particular dealership. Today’s car shoppers are much better educated than yesterday’s. They know what questions they need to ask before they can make a buying decision so their online search words are more able to target vehicles that warrant their consideration rather than limiting their search to their local car dealerships. For better or worse, auto dealers can’t put that horse back in the barn!
The adversarial relationship between consumers and auto dealers that governed old world selling processes originated in the real world to help auto dealers control the shopping and negotiation process and they survived briefly on the virtual showrooms being built one on the Internet, but — today and tomorrow — not so much! Once auto dealer’s realized — or more correctly — once customers told auto dealers that they no longer controlled the access to the information that they needed to purchase a vehicle the dealers tried to control the information on the Internet; how is that working out for auto dealers!
Automotive advertising agencies first assumed that S.E.O. and S.E.M. was a way to put Google on the auto dealer’s side of the Internet Super Highway. If they placed the right search words, meta tags, URL names — and the various manipulations of the Google search algorithms that automotive advertising agencies have memorized as fast as Google changes them — then they could manipulate the search results to place their auto dealer clients as the most relevant source for the information that customers were searching for and earn the auto dealers a position on the car shoppers short list. Given the vertical priority placed by Google to position a listing on page one based on relevancy to their customers search words or phrases, that technique certainly has value. However, since customers are prioritizing finding a vehicle before a dealer and/or to answer related questions before they open negotiations on a specific vehicle at a particular auto dealer, auto dealers that base their online marketing efforts to accomplish that priority are positioning themselves mid-sales cycle and they may be a day late and a dollar short for a large portion of today’s and tomorrow’s shoppers/buyers.
Automotive advertising agencies have attempted to answer customer’s questions on their auto dealership’ websites in an attempt to earn them a top position on vehicle based searches. Their assumption is that the more information the better — as long as it is relevant — however, once at the auto dealer’s site the more accurate priority is “transparency!” More time on page, and more page visits used to be considered a good thing but today, once again — not so much! The easier and faster the online car shopper can find the specific information that they need to make a buying decision the better! Site designs are being simplified with more intuitive user interface and dedicated landing pages or linked micro sites to allow customers to limit the amount of “clicks” or wasted exposure to information that may be relevant to the dealer but not necessarily to the customer; at that time in their shopping cycle at least.
Once the shopper actually ventures onto an online showroom the plan is to keep them there by providing direct or linked access to anything that they need to move themselves further down the sales/buying funnel. The dealer may see these information resources as a conversion tool or a lead generator but if they lose track of the truth — that the customer is still in charge — they risk losing them with the click of a mouse. Sorry, but throwing their trade-in keys onto the roof won’t work in your virtual showrooms!
The solution is for auto dealers to listen and learn from their online customers before they presume to sell them anything! Human nature has survived on the World Wide Web and relationship based selling still has a strong influence on consumers. Today’s online shoppers are being directed by Google and the other search engines to social networking sites because the marketplace is a conversation and people are social animals. Auto dealers who want to attract customers with a message that they are the best source for information to serve the customer’s interest vs. their own are better served to have their customers make that case for them.
Next generation inventory based search portals — like ronsmap.com — accept an auto dealer’s inventory for free with the ability to push their vehicles into social media using their vBack application to Ask-A-Friend or Tell-A-Friend about the vehicle — and the dealer –that they are considering within their social networking communities of online friends. Google has already admitted that they are prioritizing real time social media to establish relevancy, and automotive advertising agencies already know that more vehicles on a site provide more relevancy to more online car shoppers. As a result, they have found that the way to attract more online customers to find their auto dealership as the place to go to get all of their questions answered will be the message that is carried along with their individual vehicles listed on this communal consumer-centric site; which is what the customers are looking for to begin developing their shortlist of dealers to do business with!
Customer friendly applications that distribute the information on an auto dealer’s individual website which have the secondary value of functioning as a conversion tool or lead generator are also key differentiators that quickly build branding value for an auto dealer’s virtual showroom and enhance their online reputation as the place to go to get customer’s questions answered vs. their being sold something. For example, GetAutoAppraise.Com is a next generation appraisal tool that provides credible third party trade-in values sourced through NADA with integrated inventory information that allows the customer to review the entire transaction more efficiently. Their trade-in appraisal form includes vehicle, price and payment information to and from both parties to the transaction in one easy transparent and customer friendly process.
Video platforms, like SiSTeR Technologies Video CarLot, is another transparent Google friendly application that converts pictures on an auto dealer’s website into interactive videos with human voice that are also pushed out onto the World Wide Web through their dedicated API to You Tube and soon to be announced applications that push their vShock platform onto social networking communities like Face Book. Their proprietary video platform is fully index able for the search engines and it provides relevant information to the customer from within the video as well as direct links through their vShock application that opens a dedicated micro site with similar vehicles chosen from the dealer’s inventory using algorithms and business rules custom designed by the dealer to improve the customers vehicle selection. This process is another example of a customer friendly information delivery system that will improve transparency for the customer once they find an online dealership which will also extend the auto dealers S.E.O..
The point is, the more information that an automotive advertising agency provides through their auto dealer client’s websites in the most relevant and transparent manner the better. However, auto dealers need to get online car shoppers to find and visit their virtual showrooms first, and since information is a key differentiator between them and their online competition — or according to Google and online shoppers, it should be – then the information alone won’t make it! Automotive advertising agencies must focus on consumers’ interests in order to best serve their auto dealer clients because Google does; and Google does it because their customers demand it!