This year’s National Automobile Dealers Association convention in San Francisco, Feb. 9-12, reflected the tough times that have hit the industry. Themes at the show didn’t go much beyond the convention’s official title: “Focus on Profitability.”
But a sub-theme at the show was the transition of auto marketing to the Web, and the importance of auto dealers to various Web (and other interactive) entrepreneurs. These ranged from eBay Motors, which is reaching out beyond its auctioneer roots to provide SEO/SEM services to local dealers; to Marchex’s VoiceStar, which gets a whopping 30 percent of its call tracking business from dealers; to AdMission Corp., which handed out 250 apple pies to thousands of dealers on Monday (“Pie Day”) to enlist them for its searchable display ads.
So went the conversations on the Moscone Convention Center floor with various industry execs. AutoTrader CEO Chip Perry, for instance, says the one thing dealers want to know from him is “why do you raise your rates 20 percent every year?” But they seem to get the value of a medium that is used “seven times more than newspapers,” he says — even if their spending doesn’t nearly reflect it.
Cheaper solutions, of course, are available for dealers. But they don’t approach the traffic levels of “the auto industry’s search engine,” as Perry likes to think of AutoTrader.
eBay Motors, meanwhile, continues its evolution from a narrowly focused auctioneer of auto parts and classic cars to a marketing partner for dealers, providing SEO/SEM services and a rich assortment of Web authoring and analytic tools for local dealers that sign up to its recently launched Local Market service.
eBay Motors already works with 15,000 dealers. Now it hopes to sign many of them — and others — to the Local Market package, which is $1,000 a month. They should probably do it. Some dealers at the show said the service provides better-than-average leads, and was helping them sell “six or seven” cars a month.
Other convention participants really zeroed in on helping dealers better engage their users — basically trying to create an automotive equivalent of a Zillow or other social site. Kelley Blue Book is a pretty good example. In fact, the site, which provides new car pricing, trade-in values and related info, has been totally reengineered around a new “life stages” campaign designed to attract highly targeted banner ads.
“Life creates experiences,” goes the pitch. “We turn them into Car Shoppers. From a job promotion to a new addition in the family, life events occur that leave millions of consumers in need of a new vehicle.”
Cars.com, which is taking on AutoTrader with a $200 million promotion campaign that started with several Super Bowl ads, is following along the same path with the handout of Lifestyle awards. The awards acknowledge “the best cars across a number of categories that car shoppers can identify based on their personal vehicle need.” Categories include “Best family car,” “best play car,” “best commuter car” and “best green car.”
Life stage efforts always make sense, at least to consultants. But they’ve been hard to pull off. We’ll see how these sites do.
Besides life stages, the industry is also getting gender specific (again, like the real estate industry, where Scripps’ HGTV has launched frontdoor.com, a women-friendly site). Askpatty.com has certified “female friendly dealers” in an effort to engage, sell and retain women customers. The service provides a number of additional features, including online chat, narrated credit application, online preapproval process and schedule maintenance.
Another social site, Carsdiva.com, has built an online social networking community “by, for and about women and the car business.” The site provides an easy-to-use automotive dealer ranking and review system, where consumers can go to both rate their dealership sales and service experience, or find out what their neighbors think of their local new and used car retailers. It also provides a Wiki, and classifieds enhanced by video and audio.