Automotive Digital Marketing

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A Dealership's Website: Selling the Product or Your Dealership

I am writing this blog post and contemplated putting it in the discussion forum because I am eager to hear feedback and what other members think regarding this issue.

I received a call today from one of S.M.A.'s participating dealerships regarding their website. The owner had upgraded from basic html to a flash website and was eager to get my opinion and show off his investment in updating his site. S.M.A. Alliance generates website traffic for the dealership and will always encourage dealership's investing on website upgrades and re-design, although that is not our specialty. While on the phone, I typed his dealership URL in a new browser, as he is excitedly telling me his favorite features and new menu options.

The page pulls up and then I saw and heard it...the horror...the horror.

I was hearing the owner of the dealership talking to me in two on the phone and the other on his website. He had made a video popout that jumped out at you on the main page. It was loud. He was selling to the customer as if the customer was on the dealership lot, and I pondered in my mind whether the simplicity of html code prohibitted what I would consider a marketing catastrophe. But I am interested to what the community thinks regarding this issue, that is only growing as Internet marketing technology increases.

In my humble opinion, a dealership's website should reflect its product and have as little to do with its sales team as possible. Potential customers are searching for a car over the Internet to research before they drive on the lot. If they wanted to be sold or talked to, chances are they would have driven to the dealership lot. When a video pops out and immediantly begins selling, it breaches a line between Internet Lot and Dealership Lot and I am not an advocate of combining the the world wide web with the physical world of interaction.

Get the customer in your dealership door. Show the product. Rather than have a video pop out of a man in a suit selling, have your sharpest car drive over the screen. Customers are viewing the website to see the dealership's inventory and I do believe there are great and flashy ways to do this to impress the customer and show hints of the dealership's personality and artistic spirits.

I suppose I just find these video salesmens as an unnecessary risk. What if your video rubs a customer the wrong way for WHATEVER reason? Why would you risk the possibility and increase a margin for error that you can neither explain or control. I am a firm believer that facts speak so much louder than words: stick with your product and overwhelm the customer and entice them to take a test drive. Then if they don't like the personality of a salesmen or a particular whatever, YOU HAVE THEM IN THE DOOR and can swip and swap with the necessary adjustments to make a sale!

The owner of the store had a business call and never got to hear my reply, which is why I am eager to see all angles of this (I know I will be getting a phone call tomorrow). Like I had mentioned, this is not my speciality and I have no knowledge on it or its success rates. I just know that when I see a dealership's website with the video popout, I always shudder and attempt to make it stop and when it doesn't, I just click that red X on the top right of the screen and enjoy the silence. It is easier to exit then it is to find a pause button on this video popouts and that is one of the risks that comes with these video pop-outs.

The unwritten do's and don't's of the Internet are always developing and it is good to stay focused and learn as much as you can. If a customer searches for a car and sees your website and clicks on your link, you have done a great job getting that customer there before any other dealership website. But as quick as you can click in, you can click out and unlike driving from lot to lot in search of a vehicle, going to the next store in Internet land is simply just another click away...

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Comment by Ted Frazier on March 24, 2010 at 7:35am
Larry Bruce, That "in the middle of nowhere" hotspot on checkeredflag's heatmap is something I usually only see in computer simulated eye tracking - something that can be useful and inexpensive, but I am still a bit skeptical of the technology.

Comment by Rob Fontano on March 24, 2010 at 7:02am
At this point in our history people are more distracted than ever. We are required to multi task on so many levels. Your online approach should be as uncluttered as possible. Any retail website should be clean and easy to navigate. By that I mean that the consumer shouldn't have to search for what they want to research and possibly purchase.

Consumers don't go to retail websites to see a dog and pony show. (That's what Youtube is for, and yes your dealership site is a retail site) A great number of online auto shoppers go online while at work, so the last thing that you want them to do is enter your website greeted by music, fanfare, or a hologram greeter of any kind yakking away.

What are the chances that someone will return to your site later if the first reaction they got was the shear horror that the bus driver in the next cubicle could hear them stealing company time? Not to mention the frantic mouse gyrations searching for the upper right corner of the page combined with the left hand groping for the volume control on the speaker? (damn, spilled my latte')

Keep it simple, keep it clean, keep it quiet and watch your customers “Time on site” and your organic leads increase. Video is very effective, but steer clear of the auto play, and If you must have the walk on, make sure that is optional for the shopper to view (and hear).

Comment by Steve Richards on March 16, 2010 at 6:48pm
I thought the idea was to sell the customer; not the product or the dealership. The dealer sales team, the product, the experience are just a few of the elements that sell the customer. Most dealership websites focus on everything BUT the customer. It's just an extension of the retail automotive sales process that too often is management-centric as opposed to customer-centric.
Comment by Michael on March 14, 2010 at 3:34pm
There are numerous good recommendations for video content on this site and David Kain's site. If it was offensive to you, it will be too many others. Almost common sense, when content is Sincere, Honest, Non-offensive, Community active in conveyance... Larry Bruce provides some fundamental insight below from March 10th.

Comment by Joe High on March 12, 2010 at 6:57pm
This is a great article and speaks directly to the topic I will be speaking about at Digital Dealer next month. We need to focus on what the consuymer wants.
Comment by Eddie Coleman on March 11, 2010 at 7:35pm
@Howdy Larry

Ya the data is pretty limited and we haven’t sold or released it into public domain so chattering about it is probably not much help to anyone. lol I thought about that when I was writing the post re: how environmental conditions affect eye trail. However I will dig up some of the data that started us down that road 10 years ago. Back then we actually had to build the equipment for eye trail tracking. That article was very cool thanks.

Their heat maps and trails don’t match or look anything like ours so I wonder what their actually using for equipment. We’re more about eye trial than tracking however and we also find that the subliminal inlay is the training mechanism of eye-trail more than popping graphics. It’s the scene rather than the dot-by-dot that we focus on for this kind of stuff. Looking at visual elements on a page and seeing who looks at what was kind of that first semester in our 4-year headache that we went through to figure our particular brand of voodoo out.
I gonna dig up and send you out some cool links to a couple good research pieces on the environment’s effect on the brain but essentially the various conditions affect among other things serotonin, which is a regulating factor in stress and the ball sort of keeps bouncing from there.

We like to control the stress, be causative over the emotion, which encourages the willingness to move to the next level towards a lead, contact and condition the prospect for the rest of the sales cycle. That’s why the individual site design should always effect how the BDC or ISM need to disseminate to the prospect.

And on and on and such is the game we play…


Comment by Larry Bruce on March 10, 2010 at 9:14pm
@eddie the click part of what you were talking about, which btw was all I could really follow, is commonly referred to as click confetti and will show you where respondents click most on your site. It is somewhat useful in multivariate testing but offers now pre-conversion segmentation value and one of the reasons I don't value it much. If you want to do some testing on your site with click confetti I suggest

As for weather conditions affecting website scanning and attention, I have never seen and data on that anywhere.
Comment by William Bryant on March 10, 2010 at 7:33pm
you're right -- the number of customers you may win is not worth the number who decide they are turned away from your website for good because it's just darn annoying.
Comment by Keith Shetterly on March 10, 2010 at 7:19am
@Eddie: Can you clairify #6 on your list? The term "heat map" doesn't just apply to clicks, it also applies to eye tracking. Thanks. is a great excerpt from a book I just ordered on this subject.

Comment by Aj Maida on March 10, 2010 at 6:48am

To me video pop ups with autoplay on the first page or horrible. Are you familiar with the term "bounce rate". Most of the traffic we see on our site is during working hours. If a potential customer is at a cubicle and clicks onto your site and you start shouting/playing music/have car horns beeping they are bouncing off your site and coming to another. My opinion is that you should almost always have video be asked to play. Think about how you react when one starts playing to you on a search page??? As you stated 'you look for the red X".

As far as selling the dealership or the vehicle I think they are 2nd and third. The first thing to sell are words. You are selling words to the search engines so that the consumer will find you. Then you are selling them a product and then yes you should sell them on the dealership as well. But you need to not forget that order. I have one owner whose job was to build "the most unique Dealership in the USA." 55 car showroom, diner, barbershop, arcade, playrooms, indoor drive-in movie theater etc. he of course thinks it should be the predominate feature of the site. I don't and just building these internal pages to keep him away from me takes away from my job selling cars, parts and service. Hope this helps, that's what friends are for

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