Deciding where to put your dealership’s marketing budget and strategies can be challenging. The world of technology has brought about many options, but with each one there are pros and cons to seeing it through. Dealers have always had third-party sites like Cars.com or Autotrader to lean on, but does it make more sense to take the message straight to the people and solely invest in social media marketing instead? This is not an easy decision, but we hope to help dealers make the choice that best works for them and their dealership’s marketing efforts by laying out the pros and cons of both methods.

Third-Party Websites: Putting Cars in Front of Buyers

Third party websites put cars right in front of interested buyers. Dealers can rest assured they are reaching a clientele that is ready to purchase a vehicle and are already primed to do research. According to Autotrader’s 2016 Car Buyer Journey survey, third-party sites are the most used sites for online car shopping. Most consumers know they can locate the make, model, and price point they want through using sites like Cars.com and Autotrader.

Even if dealers do not actively use any of the tools from these third-party sites, it is likely they can secure a sale by having their vehicle listed and searchable by zip code, make, model and price point. Autotrader even allows consumers to search for cars based on credit level; something dealers can use to attract car buyers from various income levels.

Cars.com is even ramping up their marketing offerings to dealers by creating car ads targeted at consumers based on their social media car search activity and location. They have also utilized AI-based chats to help drive car buyers to dealer VDPs. Third-party sites are employing new methods to help put a dealer’s inventory in front of consumers who are looking for a car they offer.

The Possible Downside

While it makes sense for dealers to invest in these sites, they have to be aware that they are not in control when it comes to driving consumers to their listings. Most of the onus is on the consumers in the area and the marketing efforts of third-party sites. Creating an ad for a third-party site is almost leaving dealers with the hope that someone will eventually view the VDP. It also may keep dealers from understanding that they need to put as much attention and resources into their own website. Third-party sites should not be used as a substitute for creating a responsive and well-designed dealership website that drives conversions. Relying only on a third-party site might not bring in the amount of business a well-rounded marketing strategy involving a well-designed website could bring.

Social Media: Getting in the Marketing Driver’s Seat

There is a reason why Cars.com is utilizing Instagram and Facebook to get ads in front of consumers. Developing a social media strategy allows dealers to get their cars in front of interested consumers actively. According to a 2014 CMO Report, 38 percent of consumers reported that they would consult social media the next time they purchase a car, and 84 percent of all automotive shoppers are on Facebook. This is a vast market of which dealers can take advantage.

Through promoted ads from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, dealers can create ads that directly target consumers based on location, search history, and other relevant factors. On Facebook, auto ads are clicked twice as much as regular ads, and Twitter has over 320,000 auto-related tweets sent out daily with 75 percent related to owning or shopping. Dealers can use keywords to reach out to consumers about their purchasing intent directly.

Social media is also a great way for dealers to craft their dealership’s brand and narrative. Staff can directly interact with customers, share car buyer stories, photos, and video. Showing potential customers what the dealership is doing in the community can create an even stronger bond. Investing in social media allows dealers to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to marketing.

It’s Isn’t All Roses

Social media take a long time to get going. For efforts to indeed be successful, dealers may even have to hire someone to cultivate a strategy and keep the plan going. It is not something someone can start with, and expect a massive turnaround in a matter of days. It takes a while to develop trust with consumers on social media platforms; therefore, dealers may be a bit overwhelmed with how much work it takes to reap the benefits. Also, social media can be a shot in the dark, while a third-party site ensures their audience is car buyers, this might not always be the case with a social media audience.

Final Thoughts

Honestly, dealers should embrace a strategy that includes both third-party sites and social media. Both have benefits that dealers can take advantage of in making sure cars get in front of those who need them most. Nicely enough, third-party sites are embracing social media in getting specialized ads to consumers. However, to indeed control their destiny, dealers should incorporate both marketing methods to get the biggest bang for their buck.

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