Buying cars, buying tyres or buying anything else in autos is similar in that the search initially begins online. Creating a car dealership brand using effective online marketing strategies has become more important than ever

If we look at AutoTrader’s past, the days of print, there were two competitive advantages, print and distribution. Facings on the retail shelf also drove the brand into the mind of the consumer, we didn’t have to market much outside of this.

But, there was one inherent problem, we couldn’t reach scale. The magazine that we printed could only publish around 10,000 cars for sale. And we all know that many multiple of that get traded in South Africa.



The internet forced car dealerships to think about marketing differently

Back in those years, it was easy to start an online competitor to AutoTrader because there wasn’t any barriers, no printing, high costs or distribution networks. Many digital players started to come into the market. We had a big barrier, it was called the 600-page magazine and a lot of revenue tied up inside that magazine. New entrants could have disrupted us, but they didn’t. Now 13 years later, AutoTrader is still the clear market leader. How did we do it? We invested in building an online brand — a brand in the mind of the online consumer.

Consumer car buying attention has moved online

Consumer attention has moved on online for car sales and it will for tyre sales. These platforms are not only a reflection of where consumer attention has moved to but also shows how much potential there is out there for growing your car dealership brand.

  • LinkedIn has over 6.9 million users
  • Twitter has over 7 million users
  • Snapchat has over 7 million users
  • YouTube (watch out for YouTube, I believe it’s going to become bigger in the next couple of years – with over 9 million users
  • AutoTrader – over 160Million adverts viewed in the last year

All these are South African stats! These are people that are consuming content on-demand when THEY want to.

So just from these numbers, it is evident that consumer attention has moved online and what hasn’t, will move online in the next couple of years. This means your audience’s attention is shifting onto the internet and in a very short space of time, it’s going to have shifted entirely onto the internet.

Transparency – the new normal for car dealerships

The other thing that the internet has caused on top of all of this is the transparency of demand, supply and pricing or car valuation. The new normal for car dealerships. We all know that if you put this layer of transparency on top of the internet, an interesting thing happens. The internet then commoditises prices to its lowest point. This doesn’t mean that prices will be commoditised down to zero; it just means it prices will be commoditised to where they should be in the economic model.

The anonymous car buyer and your car dealership

The car-buying consumer wants to be anonymous.

More and more businesses like car dealerships are battling to get their hands on the consumer because in days gone by, the marketplace was walking down the streets on a Saturday morning, shopping for cars.

Now the average car-buying consumer visits 1,6 car dealerships before they buy a car versus 5 car dealerships before. Our data shows that 62% of consumers don’t fill in a form online and don’t call the dealer. What do they do? They create a shortlist of two or three cars and remain anonymous for as long as they can.

Have you been called by a car insurance salesperson recently? That’s because you gave your data to someone. So in this world of the internet, how do you then get the attention of the anonymous car buying consumer? Even though one of my passions is technology. Technology will become, if it’s good at what it does, wallpaper in our lives. And if technology is around long enough or is good enough, it disappears into our lives, “becoming part of it”, unnoticeable. Technology can also be copied. That’s why it’s not THE game-changer, effective communication with an anonymous consumer is.

Sales & Marketing Car Dealerships is here to stay

I don’t envisage a world where computers will do everything in the near term. Why? Because fortunately or unfortunately, computers can’t code one thing – human emotion. You and I instinctively understand human emotion. You understand how other humans work.

The psychology of marketing a car dealership

Besides marketing, sales, and technology, one of my other passions is psychology.

I love books on why people behave in the ways they do. In reading and trying to understand human behaviour over the years, leading teams, watching what they do, and trying to understand, I’ve learned that humans are very complex. And communicating with consumers isn’t a one size fits all, especially on the internet.

Car dealerships should not think of themselves as a dealership that has to market cars, think of yourself as a marketing company that sells cars.

And if you just have that subtle mindset shift, you will be on the path to effective communication with the car buyer instead of thinking about everything in terms of “advertising”. If you just use some of the tools and tricks, I’m going to tell you about in a second, you will be well on your way to creating your car dealership brand by effectively marketing your car dealership and not just advertising your car dealership online.

First, while BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen, etc are brands of their own, you still have your own brand to build a brand in order to get the attention of the car-buying consumer. Your local car dealership brand. Besides, how else do you stand out from the crowd?

The internet to market your car dealership and build a brand

Once you start using the internet in the context of the car-buying consumer to market your car dealership and speak to their circumstance, they will begin to consider your car dealership. It gives you the ability that traditional media can never give, no radio advertising, no TV advertising, and no billboard advertising can do this.

Let’s say a 22-year-old, single female with two children living in Mpumalanga is looking for a car. How do you get to her? How do you sell a product to her? The answer is you give before you receive. A lot of us are in sales mode all the time, we want to sell something. When we put something out on the internet, we want to sell. Are you allergic to people trying to “sell you”? It’s no different for the people you are trying to sell to.

And once you’ve given before you receive, then can you get into selling mode. You can make the sale. So if you want to get to the context of your customer, you have to first understand the journey to your products. Deeply understand what questions your customers are asking before they buy, and answer those online.

So I encourage you to go out and create online content and give away some of the intellectual property to the consume. Learn about the customers in your area. Because I believe that the internet is about psychographics, not demographics and age is nothing but a number.