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IT Insight: Online marketing, computer-generated sales

Having a strong web presence is virtually essential these days, but dealers can also boost sales by investing in computer-powered marketing tools for their real-world showrooms.

Quite simply, the internet has changed everything.

Any dealers yet to embrace the cyber revolution must have missed the widely- publicised research showing that 82% of buyers now use the internet first to search for new and used cars.

Fortunately, there are plenty of marketing agencies offering website design services, and it makes good sense to go with a specialist auto-motive supplier.

Their in-house design teams can quickly create websites that link to the dealer management system for automatic stock uploading and include popular features such as a car or deal of the week on the homepage.

Dealers can also add more advanced features such as video slideshow functionality.

This software can take a few static pictures and transform them into eye-catching slideshows.

The same logic applies to digital signage.

Auto Trader, for example, has found its electronic showroom display system (SDS) to be three times more attractive to consumers than traditional advertising, such as posters and leaflets.

Craig Stevens, group sales director for the Trader Media Group, told AM: “The dealer’s role is changing. It is no longer about casting a net far and wide. It is about keeping your current customers, capturing their data and matching their needs to the right vehicle and finance.”

In addition to the large web design and marketing agencies, there are plenty of niche service providers.

For instance, texting solutions company Text Marketer supplies many of the larger car dealer groups.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# As increasing numbers of customers choose to leave a mobile number as their preferred means of contact, dealers should take the opportunity to fully utilise SMS technology.

As well as cutting the phone bill, this simple contact method enables dealers to send warm customer service texts such as ‘Service Reminder’ and ‘Thank You’ messages.

Another company with a strong track record of delivering effective marketing programmes for dealers is Portfolio Europe.

Part of Manheim, Portfolio offers products aimed at delivering competitive advantages and increasing sales prospects.

Exploiting the fact that an advert displayed with images is 10 times more likely to be viewed, Portfolio has more than 100 photographers providing a nationwide service.

While pictures are good, video is better – it is the next best thing to actually visiting a showroom.

A combination of faster broadband connections and developments in digital cameras led to the internet phenomenon You Tube and increasing numbers of dealers are now using this same technology to get films of their vehicles online.

Thanks to its use of the .Net platform, Portfolio can provide dealers with sophisticated yet easy-to-use tools for managing all website content, including video.

Carl James, marketing manager at Portfolio Europe, comments: “Consumers are increasingly using the internet throughout the research and buying cycle.

“However, dealers can take advantage of this by regularly updating their website with their latest stock.”

On the never-ending discussion as to how much a decent website should cost, Jay Nagley, of Spyder Automotive, has some good advice.

He recently told dealer delegates at the Autoretailing conference that they should not be nervous of IT investment.

“Think like a sensible car buyer and consider who is in charge – the customer or the design agency?” he said. “By spending less than £50,000 you can create a good website.”

In cyberspace or on the shop floor, IT is changing the way dealers go to market, and what’s more, consumers like it.

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