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A Crash Course in Digital Marketing for Car Dealerships

Image of Pam Georgiana
Pam Georgiana

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated almost every B2C industry's use of digital solutions. The automotive industry was no exception. Online car shopping is now a prominent and accepted way to buy a car. The value, convenience, and safety offered by online platforms have forever changed the car-buying experience. 

According to a PWC study, 44% of auto dealers surveyed said online sales will make up between 20% to 40% of their overall sales and 35% expect online sales will account for 40% or more of all vehicle sales by 2030. 

Consumers agree. The PWC study reported that about half of consumers (49%) recently researched car models entirely online, and an additional 24% reported doing at least some recent research online. 28% purchased their vehicle entirely online, while another 22% used both online and in-person opportunities.

These new automobile shopping options mean car dealers must level up their digital marketing efforts. To be competitive, you must meet your customers where they are. If your team is lagging behind in digital marketing, this blog offers you a crash course in strategic digital marketing for car dealerships. Let's get started.

What is Digital Marketing? 

Digital marketing uses digital channels, platforms, and technologies to promote and advertise products, services, or brands to a target audience. It leverages the internet and mobile devices to reach consumers and drive engagement. Digital marketing channels include websites, social media, email, texting, and apps. Digital marketing tactics include digital search advertising, search engine optimization, display advertising, influencer campaigns, and content and video marketing.

The beauty of digital marketing is the availability of real-time tracking and analytics, allowing marketers to adjust their strategies based on data insights. The dynamic nature of digital marketing enables you to reach a larger audience, target specific customers based on demographics, interests, shopping behavior, and more, and measure the effectiveness of your efforts with greater precision. 

What About Digital Marketing for Car Dealerships? 

The PWC study revealed that smart automotive marketing leaders are making sweeping adjustments to meet their customers online. The most common strategies are increasing their digital marketing spending (52%), changing the sales process (45%) to online, and adopting new digital marketing tools (37%).

But don't despair. The study also said that only 60% of the auto dealers surveyed said they are "very" or "extremely" prepared to engage in digital marketing completely. Everyone is feeling the pressure. The time is now to adapt your traditional marketing strategies and to prepare for increased online sales. Here are the steps to get started in digital marketing. 

Step 1: Create a Strong Digital Foundation

Think of your website as your dealership's digital front door. Your website will be the first impression potential customers make of your dealership. It directly impacts the user experience, your visibility on search engines, and your overall online success. Let's review a couple of significant details that make a good digital first impression.


Recent studies show that approximately 51% of potential car buyers use their mobile devices to research car models, locate dealers, compare prices, and read reviews. Customers prefer shopping on their smartphones for a car, even if a dealership is nearby. A mobile-friendly website is a necessity. It ensures a positive user experience by adapting its layout, design, and functionality to different screen sizes. It makes navigation easier, makes content more readable, and enhances usability. 

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Websites that are optimized for search engines like Google and Bing are more likely to appear on the first page of search results. The better a website's position on a search page, the more likely customers will visit it. Also, websites ranking higher in search results are often seen as more credible. SEO involves creating high-quality, relevant content, improving user experience by increasing site speed, and building authoritative backlinks. These efforts will positively affect user perception of a brand. SEO forms the foundation for a visible online presence and can significantly impact the growth and success of your business. 

User-Friendly Design

A well-organized and easy-to-navigate website is crucial. Users should be able to quickly find the information they need. Your website should be eye-catching and visually appealing. Make sure you clearly display contact information or an easy-to-use contact form. A chat feature on your site can enable visitors to ask real-time questions. This enhances customer support and engagement. Also, include links to all dealership social media channels to further engage customers.

Speaking of social media, let's discuss other digital marketing channels for car dealerships.

Step 2: Define Digital Communication Channels

Consumers use many forms of digital technology to shop, interact, and engage with brands every day. Auto dealers can create a solid online presence by using different digital channels. This helps them reach potential customers at various stages of the buying process. Here are some key digital communication channels to consider. 


Email is effective for sending targeted messages, promotions, and newsletters to your customer list. Email marketing helps nurture leads with information on new inventory and promotional offers. It can also build customer loyalty by sending maintenance reminders and other useful information.

Online Chat

Live chat or an AI-powered chatbot on a website provides real-time communication with potential car buyers. It offers an opportunity to answer inquiries, provide information, qualify leads, and guide users through the buying process.  About 14% of car dealerships utilize chatbots on their websites. Calldrip's AI-driven Sales Assistant can handle your web chat needs by answering questions and booking appointments, even after hours and on holidays. 

SMS Texting

Texting is still a relatively new form of digital marketing for car dealerships, but it is very powerful. 90% of all text messages are read within three minutes of receipt. Marketers use SMS to send exclusive promotions, discounts, and special offers directly to customers' mobile phones. You can also send appointment reminders to customers using text. This reduces no-shows and improves the customer experience. 

If you're not texting customers, you're likely missing sales opportunities. Calldrip’s AI Sales Assistant can start text conversations with customers and turn them into phone calls when customers show interest.

Social Media

Car dealerships use social media to connect, engage, and build relationships with their target audience. If your dealership has not yet used social media for marketing, it's best to start small. Choose one channel to focus on. The best channel is the one your target audience uses daily. We’ll take a deeper dive into social media in step three. 

Step 3: Use Social Media Effectively

The recent Social Media Trends study by Digital Air Strike reported that car shoppers consider social media more important than a dealer's website when choosing a dealership to visit. A CMO Council report also said that 23% of car buyers use social media to talk about a recent purchase experience. 38% said they plan to use social media next time they buy a car. The report also found that 84% of all automotive shoppers are on Facebook, and 24% have used Facebook as a resource for buying a car in the past. 

For your dealership, choose the channel where your potential buyers are most active and share content that would engage those customers. Content could include specific vehicle model showcases, customer testimonials, virtual tours of cars for sale, and exclusive dealership events. Maintain the same visual identity and messaging on social media that you use on your website and other digital channels. 

When done right, social media offers significant advantages for your dealership, enhancing brand visibility, increasing lead generation, and building customer loyalty. 

Step 4: Test Paid Advertising

The fourth step for building a digital marketing strategy for car dealerships is to allocate a budget to test paid digital ads. Because digital advertising can be highly targeted and customizable to any budget, paid ads can be very lucrative. 

Research conducted by DealerSocket found that car dealers using digital ads bring in about $2,514 in profit per vehicle sale. This is the Return on Advertising Spend (ROAS) or the revenue generated for every dollar spent on advertising. ROAS is a valuable metric to assess the profitability of your digital advertising campaigns and make data-driven decisions for a better return on investment. Let's review two common digital advertising tactics you can use. 

Pay-Per-Click (PPC)

In this model, advertisers create ads and bid on specific keywords relevant to their target audience. When the advertiser wins the bid, the ads appear on search engine pages, social media platforms, websites, or other online platforms. However, the advertiser does not pay that bid amount unless the viewer clicks on the ad. That click usually takes the viewer to the advertiser's website.

Display Ads

Digital display ads are visual ads that show up on websites, apps, or social media. Display ads use images, graphics, videos, or other multimedia elements to convey the ad message. Advertisers can choose specific websites or use ad networks that place ads on relevant sites based on targeting criteria. Display ads are typically clickable, leading users to a landing page or a website when clicked. 

Advertisers pay for display ads using various pricing models, and the cost structure depends on the goals of the advertising campaign. They may pay per click (CPC) or per thousand impressions (CPM). Google Ads has dynamic bidding strategies. Advertisers choose a bid strategy, and the platform adjusts the bid automatically based on conversion likelihood. This allows advertisers to optimize for different goals, such as clicks or conversions.

The Importance of Audience Targeting

To build a successful digital advertising campaign, first understand your target market. Use their demographics, locations, devices, and shopping behavior to guide your strategy. When you deliver the right message to the right audience, you will achieve your marketing objectives more efficiently and build stronger connections with your target customers.

Step 5: Connect with every lead in under 5 minutes

Building stronger connections does not stop at targeting. In digital marketing, every click counts. The key to success lies in the speed of your response to that click. According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, B2C companies that get back to leads within an hour are 7 times more likely to qualify the lead than those that respond after an hour. In addition, they are 60 times more likely to win the lead than companies that wait 24 hours. Don't sleep on your leads. 

For more information about rapid lead response and how Calldrip can support your efforts, please read this blog. 

Step 6: Nurture Every Lead

Leads are not always ready to buy when they first contact a car dealer. It takes interaction with your sales team (online or in person) to get them there. It's worth the effort. Lead nurturing helps companies generate 50% more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost. Nurtured leads make 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads. People prefer to buy from people they trust and like. When clients feel they have a good relationship with your business, they are more likely to remain loyal.

Calldrip’s AI Sales Assistant is an AI tool that helps your sales team connect with leads. It provides valuable information to engage leads throughout their buyer's journey. The Sales Assistant is trained to reflect your brand, and you can customize the message in every conversation. It’s important to connect with every lead at the right time on their preferred digital channel. This is authentic engagement, and it will help your team deliver an exceptional customer experience every time.

Step 7: Collect customer reviews

Word-of-mouth marketing is still powerful today. In fact, 95% of vehicle buyers use digital resources like online review sites as a source of information before they ever contact a dealer. It's crucial you control the narrative and build a positive online reputation. This requires deliberate planning and strategy. 

Develop a system to request reviews from as many customers as possible. Empower your sales team to ask for feedback throughout the customer's sales journey and then for a review after a transaction. Make it simple for customers to write and post reviews on Google and other platforms. Calldrip streamlines this process with our Review software solution. Allowing customers to leave reviews online builds trust and social proof for your business.

What’s Next? 

It's go time. Digital marketing holds the key to a successful future for your car dealership. It leads to increased visibility, enhanced lead nurturing and engagement, and, ultimately, boosted sales. As the car-buying experience moves even more online, digital marketing is imperative. 

Calldrip's all-in-one digital marketing and sales software can help - book a demo to see for yourself.

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