Automotive advertising agencies are challenged to provide more for less to serve a consolidating auto industry and today’s Internet has provided them with the media and the methods to do it. Budget conscious consumers are firmly in the driving seat on the Internet Super Highway and auto dealers have directed their marketing messages to their online showrooms vs. their brick and mortar facilities to get their attention. More accurately, they are following their customers onto the World Wide Web and hoping that their past and pending customers will find them there.The days of hard sell retail messages in conventional media like radio, T.V. and newspaper as well as dealer-centric banner ads and websites promoting daily dealer specials are numbered. Today’s car shoppers have been empowered by the search engines to filter out dealer messages in favor of information on exactly the new or pre-owned vehicle they are searching for. In addition, Social networking communities of online friends have rallied their support and opinions to help car shoppers decide what they should buy and from which dealership they should buy it from. After all, what are friends for!The consumers’ new found source of information on the Internet to assist them in their car shopping process hasn’t replaced the need for automotive advertising agencies in the retail auto industry, but it certainly has changed their role in it and the methods that they must use to earn their agency fees. The first adjustment that an automotive advertising agency must make in their business model is to recognize that the internal profits that they used to realize in their radio, T.V. and print production departments can no longer be supported by their auto dealer clients. Reduced sales volume and profit margins on the auto dealers’ side of the table demand a better R.O.I. for every dollar and while these departments are still required to produce digital marketing material for online campaigns the production costs must be a fraction of previous pricing to remain competitive with the newly developing online resources that an auto dealer has access to.The agency must still provide creative that is relevant to the market and they must define the target audience that would be most receptive to it, but once again the World Wide Web has changed the rules and automotive advertising agencies must learn what they are and follow them. Top of the mind awareness is still job one for automotive advertising agencies who understand that they can’t time the buying cycle for everyone on the Internet Super Highway and therefore they must maintain a consistent message across multiple channels to be on the short list when the customer is ready to purchase a vehicle. Diversification across multiple media and frequency of targeted messages to qualified buyers isn’t a new practice but the methods, media and skill sets required to get the job done have changed.Networking and the related referrals and sales sourced from it has been an integral component of internal selling processes for auto dealers since the first vehicle was sold but it has had little to do with conventional advertising — until now that is. Social networking and the related Internet media channels that have grown to support it are now a primary target audience for automotive advertising agencies. Word of mouth advertising has grown exponentially as viral messages travel through social networking channels with the opinions of like minded car shoppers who use these online communities of friends to share their car shopping experiences before, during and after their buying cycle.Initial attempts by automotive advertising agencies to market to these social networks from the outside through the use of banner ads or as wolves in sheep’s clothing trying to invade a network of friends were soundly rejected. Members valued each other’s opinions and shared experiences over a self serving auto dealer or their automotive advertising agency.Monetizing social networking has been a challenge but new technologies that integrate established marketing channels with social networks from the inside out have provided the solution. ronsmap, for example, is a game changing consumer-centric online inventory marketing platform that embeds a social networking engine on their communal site as well as every vehicle posted on it by participating auto dealers. Their application, vBack, provides an Ask-a-Friend / Tell-a-Friend feature that solicits feedback from friends on the various social networks that an online car shopper trusts. These influences then act as agents of the auto dealer — without their knowledge — under the direction of a friend which allows the automotive advertising agency to market from the inside out vs. from the outside in. C2C marketing vs. B2C marketing is the key to monetizing social networking and ronsmap is a new technology based exit on the Internet Super Highway that has opened this new channel to auto dealers.In addition, ronsmap enhances the value of the leads generated from within the social networks by accumulating the information gathered through their SellersVantage application. In addition to the anticipated name, IP address and vehicle information requests their new Intelli-Leads include the online shopping selection and vehicle preferences of the initiating car shopper and the comments accumulated by his online network of friends. These enhanced leads allow the auto dealer to anticipate the needs of their potential customers before they open negotiations with them. As a result, the consumer is provided a more relevant and transparent vehicle selection in response to their initial inquiry and the auto dealer has a competitive edge to quote the best price on the best vehicle for the consumer. This is a win-win scenario that increases closing ratios and profits for the auto dealer while offering the consumer the advantage of the information and referrals he gathered from his online car shopping experience.The internet is far superior to conventional media on many levels and social networking is only one of the newest reasons. Automotive advertising agencies must be prepared to direct their clients beyond marketing through social media. They must also provide more than advice on search engine optimization, S.E.O., search engine marketing, S.E.M. and banner ad placements or transparent and relevant website designs. The search engines hold the key to the Internet and understanding the algorithms that determine the rules of the road on the Internet Super Highway that they control are the responsibility of the automotive advertising agency.Google, for example, has clearly stated the weight that they place on video vs. copy or other means of online digital marketing. Today’s Internet consumer grew up watching television and the explosive growth of YouTube proves that their preference for video has survived onto the World Wide Web. One vendor that has listened to Google and their subsidiary YouTube is SiSTeR Technologies with their Video CarLot platform. SiSTer is able to take the existing pictures and vehicle information posted on an auto dealer’s website and convert them into professionally produced videos.More importantly, their videos are fully index-able with multiple schema layers making them interactive and more transparent to the online car shopper. These videos are placed on the auto dealer’s website as well as any third party advertising sites that the auto dealer is linked to. In addition they are driven through a dedicated API to YouTube with individual URLs that extend the reach and frequency of the dealer’s inventory and marketing messages — a proven formula for success in conventional automotive advertising that also applies to Internet advertising.Automotive advertising agencies are not reinventing the wheel by extending their reach and frequency with consistent messages across multiple channels by leveraging access to social networks or by manipulating the algorithms on the search engines. They are simply applying proven and established advertising wisdoms and best practices to an auto industry that has only one constant — change!
Online advertising versus print advertising. In my line of work, I get asked this question a lot. Which is better, online advertising or print advertising?The answer is two-fold. One, it depends. Two, they’re both important if you are serious about marketing your business. I’m big on the “360 degree” comprehensive marketing plan that utilizes many different touch points. Think about your ideal customers right now. It is likely, no matter what industry your business sits in, that they are fragmented, don’t have a lot of time, use a lot of different communication methods (email, phone, Instant Messenger, mail, etc.), and use a lot of different methods to consume content and information (iPad, BlackBerry, Magazines, Search Engines, etc.) Because of this, a marketer has to use a lot of different tactics as part of their marketing strategy.But sometimes, there are clear advantages to focusing your time in online advertising versus print advertising. I came up with a list of ten advantages, and I will present four of them here for you. (My next post will take the reverse approach and provide the advantages for print advertising versus online advertising.) In no particular order:1) SpeedI have been around print advertising all of my life, and the one word I could use to describe it is “slow”. It takes time to create a print advertisement to fit specifications. It takes time to provide the files. It takes time for the publication to go to print or for the mailing package to get produced. It takes time for the postal service to do its job. Then, it takes time to see results which are sometimes measured in weeks! Contrast all of this with the online advertising process. It takes time to create the advertisement, sure. But everything after that can basically be measured in hours, not days, weeks or months. Once you have created the ad, you can have the ads running on a website or in a search engine within minutes, have the ad appear within a few more minutes, and have data on your ads a few hours later. That’s fast.2) ScaleMost print publications, or direct mailings, have a pretty finite amount of reach or circulation. In other words, you’re able to reach only people associated with that print advertising effort. To get any sort of multiplier effect in order for more people to see or react to your advertisements, you have to repeat the process noted above over and over again or buy more ads. In the online advertising world, achieving scale becomes easier due to a lot of factors including but not limited to word of mouth, viral marketing, technology, and exposing your advertisements to a lot more people. Sheer numbers are easier to achieve online.3) TargetingIt is quite simply just plain easier to target your best prospects or customers online versus through print. Take search engines for example. You can target advertisements solely to people who enter search terms related to your product or service, thereby qualifying them and getting exposed to people who have a high probability of being interested in what you have to offer. Another form of targeting easier to do online is geographic targeting, which goes with “Scale” above. Many businesses only want to reach people in a certain geographic area of the country, and it is infinitely easier to do this online versus offline. You can advertise on the web ensuring only people in a certain zip code, city, state or region see that ad. In short, there’s no “waste” which occurs in paying for ads that appear to people who aren’t relevant to your business because they don’t fit a basic geographic criteria.4) CostProbably the easiest one, because I think it is common knowledge that 1) most forms of online advertising are cheaper on a dollar to dollar basis than print advertising and 2) taking into account everything you can do listed above, the value and upside of online advertising is much greater than in print.Now, this doesn’t mean that the sky is completely falling for print advertising. But the factors above are some of the reasons why the online advertising industry is growing (and is forecast to grow for the foreseeable future), while the print advertising industry is seeing difficulty (and is forecast to continue to see difficulty). Even still, there are some tremendous opportunities that are unique to print advertising which I will talk about next time. I always recommend a comprehensive approach to marketing, which includes a print component, but especially if you’re in the early stages of forming a business or are looking to transition from an offline ad strategy to an online ad strategy, you will want to focus online and take note of what I list above.