Marketers know that a shift in customer behavior brings challenges in targeting the right audience. According to a recent survey published in The Wall Street Journal, 2016 marked the first time that consumers bought more products online than in physical locations. Respondents said that 51 percent of their purchases were made on the Internet, compared to 48 percent in 2015.

For most industries, those trends have been game changers. While the automotive industry has not yet reached the point of purchases being made completely online, that trend may not be too far off. Think about it — people can do just about anything from the comfort of their own home. Besides the obvious ability to purchase consumer goods like clothes and electronics, people are now purchasing their everyday toiletries and groceries online. People don’t even have to call up a restaurant for food delivery. With services like OrderUp, Seamless and GrubHub, folks can put in an order entirely online.

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Given how much online retail has advanced in just the past year, it’s pretty obvious that Internet marketing is going to evolve — especially in the automotive space. Take a look at three trends that are predicted to revolutionize automotive Internet marketing in the next few years:

1. Purchases Made Completely Online

You need to look no further than what Uber did to the taxi industry to understand how your competition can quickly disrupt things. For that reason, it makes sense to pay attention to Carvana, a company that has tapped into consumers’ increasing desire to purchase their cars — from start to finish — online. Carvana recently opened its 20th location, bringing its free, next-day used car delivery model to Indianapolis. There’s no shortage of interest. The company, headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, is the fastest growing in the state.

It’s a development that’s worth taking notice of. It’s not a fluke. A study by Accenture revealed that about 75 percent of consumers said they would make their entire car-buying process online, including financing and home delivery, “if given the opportunity.”

That’s a radical change — a potentially major disruptor in automotive Internet marketing. While you may not be ready to quickly follow in the footsteps of Carvana, you do need to get aggressive about optimizing the car shopping experience on your Website.

While traditional automotive marketing is still an effective tool, a recent study revealed the increasing importance of Internet marketing, showing that automotive Internet marketing brings in an average ROI of $2,514 per vehicle, compared to $1,702 per vehicle for traditional marketing. To engage in a meaningful way with consumers today means communicating with them online.

2. A More Engaging Online Experience

It’s not enough to provide a traditional Website experience. Again, customer behavior trends have significantly changed in recent years. Consumers will be visiting your site on their phones more often than not, driving a demand for mobile-friendly car shopping experiences.

If you don’t deliver this experience with a responsive site, there’s a good chance you could lose traffic to competitors who are providing that type of experience. Research by shows that 63 percent of car shoppers examine merchandise online via mobile while physically shopping at an auto lot. We know that mobile throughout the purchase journey has never been more important for car dealerships.

Expect to intensify your marketing strategies to be more engaging as competition intensifies and consumers spend less time talking to you face to face. For the longest time, static lead forms were the standard for collecting lead information from prospective buyers. Now, it’s safe to say that lead forms are dead.

Unfortunately, many car buyers have found that they don’t like filling out their information into a static form because they aren’t getting anything of value in return. As technology continues to improve, your dealership will be challenged to deliver an experience that stands out from your competitors.

Instead of leveraging static lead forms, interactive experiences (or interactive lead forms) allow for a two-way conversation between your Website and a prospective car buyer. With interactive experiences, you can encourage car buyers to relinquish valuable information by providing them with something of value in return.
It can be a trade-appraisal, a trade offer, an evaluation — anything that will push them further down the purchasing funnel. By gathering better data, you’ll be able to provide more customized and relevant engagement. And the more you connect with consumers in a way that’s meaningful, the more likely you can win them as customers. Lastly, don’t forget the benefits of using video. According to Google, 69 percent of people who used YouTube while buying a car said it had an influence on what they purchased. Posting videos can boost engagement and awareness of your dealership. When creating videos, remember to keep them short. Videos that run between 30 seconds and 60 seconds are shared 18 percent more than longer videos.

3. Email Marketing Modernized

Sure, email marketing has been around for a while — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t one of the most powerful tools you can use as part of your dealership’s Internet marketing strategy. The key is providing a highly personalized approach — as previously noted. Research by G/O Digital shows that 35 percent of car buyers want emails tailored based on their interests. That can’t be more true with products with high price tags such as vehicles.

Your best bet is to use the data you’re gathering from interactive lead forms to directly communicate about your dealership’s vehicles, incentives, trade in deals, payment plans and other features that appeal to your prospects — all through segmented auto email marketing cadences and plans.

Going into 2017, be sure to keep an open mind about all the new marketing strategies and technology that come to light. Although you might feel a little overwhelmed by the number of services and programs on the market, it’s best to view them as opportunities to experiment.

Not every one of your marketing programs and strategies is going to work out; but you might be surprised by the types of strategies that do. One thing I do know for sure is that the elements of the trends listed here have proven quite successful with many of the folks I’ve worked with in the past. It’s just a matter of personalizing those strategies to your dealership’s unique goals.

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