There’s a simple truth when it comes to dealership marketing: You will not see sustained long-term growth in car purchases if you are depending only on walk-ins, large advertising banners, or television commercials. The battle for your customers will not be won with grand gestures, but with customer micro-moments and touchpoints.

A slam dunk one-size-fits-all single method for turning leads into buyers does not exist.  According to Google, on average, customers engage in over 900 digital interactions with a dealership before they make a purchase.

So, what does this information tell us? Your dealership marketing strategy needs to include multiple digital marketing touchpoints to reach your audience throughout their customer journey.

Mapping the typical car buyer’s customer journey

A recent Google study highlighted the various touchpoints that typically happen during the average car-buying journey. Here are a few critical touchpoints and customer micro-moments:

1) Awareness

  • Searched on Google
  • Asked family, friends, and coworkers
  • Influenced by online ad

2) Interest

  • Browsed newspaper ads
  • Watched video on YouTube
  • Searched on mobile
  • Read professional review
  • Located a dealer from mobile
  • Visited dealer website
  • Requested a quote online

3) Decision

  • Filled out a form
  • Visited dealership

4) Action

  • Test drove a vehicle

This report also outlines three critical concepts:

  1. Out of the 24 touchpoints mentioned in the original study, 19 are digital.
  2. The entire journey began with a Google search. (SEO and keyword usage are vital to the awareness stage.)
  3. An in-person touchpoint is the result of multiple — as much as ten — digital customer micro-moments.

Ultimately, your dealership marketing strategy needs to include a variety of digital tools that can facilitate several online interactions.

Aligning your dealership marketing to each part of the customer journey

All touchpoints and dealership marketing tactics are not created equal. Each part of the buyer journey corresponds to specific interactions. For example, paid ads, Google searches, and a test-drive YouTube video work better in the awareness stage since these dealership marketing tactics will likely be among the first marketing channels buyers encounter.

On the other hand, actions that require effort on the customer’s part — like following the dealership on social media, or reading a product review — shows developing interest. That’s why these initiatives should be positioned in a way that carries customers from the ‘awareness’ stage on to ‘interest.’

Each marketing tactic has a purpose, and your goal is to figure out what it is and how this impacts your audience at each stage in the customer journey.

What happens when you get it right

When you and your dealership marketing team make the process of strategically developing marketing channels for each stage of the buyer’s path a priority, it allows you to both track your performance and calculate ROI more efficiently.

You, your team, and your customers all stand to benefit significantly from being intentional about this approach. However, you first have to start with understanding what your customers are looking for at each stage. It may seem daunting, but some dealerships have figured it out and are turning their efforts into success.

By way of example, Harley-Davidson may not be selling automobiles, but their motorcycle dealerships across the world are still in the business of selling vehicles. As this Harvard Business Review article highlights, the company has integrated AI into their marketing approach to increase New York Sales leads by 2,930 percent.

New York Harley-Davidson dealership owner Asaf Jacobi, utilized Albert, an AI-driven marketing platform to measure and autonomously improve the outcomes of marketing campaigns, as well as analyze existing customer data from a CRM. This allowed Jacobi to isolate specific buying characteristics, such as those who completed a purchase, viewed website content, or added an item to an online cart.

These were leads who were in the ‘decision’ and ‘action’ stages of their customer journey. From there, Albert examined the characteristics of customers who engaged in these micro-moments and touchpoints, and created segments of look-alike audiences. The program then could make strategic marketing recommendations based on their behavior.

Other dealerships have recognized the importance of customer recommendations, new VR technologies, and Facebook’s Products Shown’ postings to move customers through each stage of the buying process.

All of these examples underscore the importance of properly tailoring your dealership marketing strategy to each stage of the buyer’s journey.

Finding where the customer journey fits into your sales funnel

Once you’ve got a good understanding of how micro-moments and touchpoints help your customers arrive at their final purchasing decision, it’s time to match your typical car buyer’s customer journey to your sales funnel. The sales funnel has many of the same steps as the customer buying journey, but it centers on the probability of turning leads into a sale, as well as seeing where potential customers are dropping off.

With that in mind, let’s take those stages of the car buyer’s journey — Awareness, Interest, Decision, and Action — and explore how to align them with your sales funnel:

  1. The Awareness stage is where car buyers hear about your brand. This stage is where you would include customer journey actions like a social media tweet, an online search for your dealership, or a paid ad click. At this point, buyers may skip all other stages to buy — if they have already done their research — but you most likely will have to lead them to the next stage of the funnel.
  2. The Interest stage is when buyers are likely beginning their research. They may visit a blog post, watch a YouTube video, join an email list, or fill out a ‘request for more information’ form. Your goal at this part of the funnel is not to sell to them, but to provide them with value-added information that helps them decide whether to move forward.
  3. The Decision stage is where you will make the ask. The ask may be in the form of a promotional email that directs them to the inventory list, or invites them to call for an in-person consultation and test drive.
  4. The Action stage is where the purchase will occur. At this point, your goal is to focus on retention practices to foster a long-lasting relationship with the buyer, so they come to you when they’re ready to purchase again.

Each of your dealership marketing tactics should fit into these sales funnel categories. But how can you determine whether these digital marketing methods are successfully bringing leads through the sales funnel? This step is where measuring your marketing success at each part of the funnel comes into play.

How to measure marketing success for each part of the customer journey

It’s essential to figure out how your dealership marketing tactics are helping (or hindering) your overall marketing goals. You may feel strongly about your social media strategy, but if it isn’t leading customers to your website to fill out a form or sign up to receive promotional emails, then it needs to be scaled back.

You can start by establishing KPIs and performance metrics for each potential touchpoint and digital marketing tactic to determine their effectiveness. For example, during the ‘Awareness’ stage you may want to see how many customers clicked an ad and then went on to call a specific phone number.

It’s also critical to keep in mind that your sales funnel will narrow as customers move through it, since only the most dedicated and engaged customers will progress to the final stage. (This is yet another reason why it’s so important to measure your marketing performance at each point in the customer journey.)

Final Thoughts

Arriving at the final sale is all about creating valuable touchpoints that cultivate strong relationships with customers. Understanding how potential car buyers are moving through the customer journey can help you match dealership marketing tactics to your sales funnel, and push potential customers through to the final phase.

There’s so much competition out there — dealerships that develop touchpoints and micro-moments that resonate with customers will win out.