In 2019, online commerce finally eclipsed traditional purchases at a retailer’s physical location. Clicks, it appears, have prevailed over bricks. The automotive industry, however, is an exception. Even now, the majority of vehicle purchases still happen at automotive dealerships. But while fully digital transactions are rare, the internet is strongly tied to how well vehicles sell.
Today, the overwhelming majority of car buyers start the purchasing process by researching vehicles online via automotive publications and review portals. From there, they typically move on to searching third-party listing and dealership sites for the models they’ve chosen or filtering search returns to find cars with the features they want most. In this environment, standing out from the crowd is essential. But, of course, successfully marketing cars online is about more than listings. Dealers that simplify the research process and provide resources beyond just inventory listings are better positioned to connect to customers. With the following strategies, car dealers can ensure they make the most of online marketing opportunities.
1. KNOW KEY VEHICLE FEATURES AND LEAD WITH THEM
Every customer has his or her own reasons for wanting a vehicle and questions about whether a particular vehicle satisfies those reasons. Successfully marketing cars online means knowing how different features offer different benefits and being able to concisely explain those benefits to customers. Entry-level vs. top-of-the-line trim. FWD vs. AWD vs. RWD. Fully electric vs. hybrid. Conventional vs. 5th-wheel towing. Whatever a vehicle’s stand-out features are, online marketing should begin by explaining the benefits of those features.
Often, automotive listings rely on—and lead with—stock dealer phrasing that can have little to do with the vehicle being marketed. Taking the time to tailor marketing to tout the fuel efficiency of compact hatchbacks, the powerful turbocharged engine in a performance sedan, or the impressive towing capacity of a truck makes listings stand out in a crowded field.
2. CHOOSE THE RIGHT IMAGES
Show, not tell is old and proven advice for writing, but it also applies to marketing cars online. The best photos for car dealers can translate even arcane vehicle specifications into something concrete, understandable, and desirable. Ideally, each listing should include exterior photos from every angle, interior views of the driver’s side, dashboard, and passenger areas, as well as pictures of the vehicle’s engine and cargo compartments. These photos should capture true-to-life colors and maintain uniform quality, lighting, and angles across cars to better facilitate comparisons between makes and models. Consistency is a key element in dealership and automotive group photography.
However, auto listings are not the only place where car photos help in marketing cars online. Dealer and automotive group websites, social media, and digital advertisements need to present a professional and attractive appearance. Consider choosing a car photo database with the quality, depth, and breadth necessary to create a cohesive aesthetic and cover all marketing channels.
3. INCLUDE WARRANTY AND SERVICE SPECIALS
Virtually all manufacturers offer warranties with their new vehicles that cover service or parts for a range of miles or a number of years. In fact, one of the most attractive selling points for new vehicles is that major repairs are covered for a certain period of time. However, these warranties can differ drastically between automakers. Meanwhile, warranties for used vehicles can vary even more—if they have them at all. Including this information in automotive listings in a way that is easy to see and understand can make car listings more appealing and help car shoppers determine if a vehicle suits their needs. If there isn’t enough room for all the information in a listing, a link should be provided to a page where this information is explained in detail.
Providing service and warranty information—or being forthright about their absence—helps to build trust in the manufacturer, dealership, or dealer group that is selling a car. That is a major advantage in standing out from the competition when marketing cars online.
4. USE VIDEO TO CONNECT TO CAR SHOPPERS
If pictures are worth a thousand words, videos may be worth millions. Exterior spins, fly-arounds, and showroom videos can often capture a vehicle better than is possible with still images alone. With video, car shoppers get a more comprehensive idea of how the lines and features of a vehicle relate to each other. It brings the disparate elements of a car together into a complete whole for the customer to see.
Editorial videos with narration that explains what is being shown can further enhance the appeal of a vehicle. However, these videos must be kept brief and compelling enough to retain a car shopper’s attention. This can take the form of a single short video that offers an engaging, aesthetically captivating overview or several short videos that focus on one area at a time and allow the viewer to choose what is most important to them. Regardless of the exact form they take, including video elements in car listings, websites, social media, and ads is an excellent way to connect to car shoppers.
5. OFFER INNOVATIVE XR EXPERIENCES
Extended reality (XR) experiences open up new ways of marketing cars online using the most cutting-edge imaging technologies available. Although the novelty is undoubtedly attractive to many, virtual reality and augmented reality have meaningful, practical applications for car dealers and can bring a new dimension to car shopping.
Virtual reality allows you to create a fully virtual showroom in which car shoppers can experience each vehicle as if they were seeing it—and sitting in it—in person. In this immersive environment, they can gain a deep understanding of whether a car meets their needs before ever setting foot in the dealership. Dealers can also use VR to create guided virtual sales presentations that walk customers around a vehicle and highlight its features.
While virtual reality is increasingly seeing use in automotive marketing, augmented reality is a powerful and more accessible way to reach car shoppers. With augmented reality, virtual assets are projected into a real-world environment. This allows car shoppers to project a full-scale vehicle into their garage or shrink it down to look at color options at the kitchen table—and it’s all done via the devices they use every day.
6. TALK ABOUT CARS OUTSIDE OF SELLING CARS
Marketing individual vehicles is only half of marketing cars online. There are dozens of auto manufacturers with reputations and perceived strengths built up over the course of decades. Within a dozen miles of any given customer’s residence, there are likely to be a few franchise dealerships and several dozen independent dealerships. A major component of digital automotive marketing is capitalizing on—or countering—the reputation for the make and building a trustworthy reputation for a dealership.
One of the best ways to build trust and rapport with consumers is to talk about cars outside of the traditional sales channels. Nearly everyone in the automotive industry—from sales, to maintenance, to design—started because they loved working on cars, love driving them, or both. Providing opportunities to talk about the past vehicles they loved, discuss upcoming cars that excite them, or answer questions from car owners via a newsletter, blog, or podcast gives customers a reason to visit a dealership’s website beyond listings and specials and can create lasting relationships. Showing an honest and sincere enthusiasm for cars in general will stand out from competitors.
FINDING THE COMPLETE SOLUTION FOR MARKETING CARS ONLINE
Manufacturers, automotive groups, and dealerships have more ways than ever before to reach customers, and most of it involves online marketing efforts. By presenting cars and the dealership itself in the best way possible in online environments, dealers can more effectively speak to car shoppers and make their mark in the digital world.
When it comes to the visual aspects of car photos, car videos, and XR assets, dealerships must take care to partner with a stock library that understands the automotive industry and the vital role images have in selling cars. Leaders in automotive stock images can offer the quality and variety of images needed and provide white label and customization options to strengthen impact their impact. By partnering with the right library, dealers can find a complete imaging solution for online marketing.