Newspapers, including the Denver Post, have responded to shifts in consumer research practices and have grown Internet capabilities, beefing up their significant print reach by doing more and more Internet connectivity to their broadsheet offerings. Just as the Internet has revolutionized retail sales, it is revolutionizing the way Americans buy cars.
Gone are the days when a family spends a whole weekend, or even a month of weekends, kicking tires, collecting brochures and going for test-drives. Now when a potential buyer hits the showroom, she (yes, she – more about this later) has a clear picture of what she wants, including make, model, options, trim package and color. This is an educated buyer because she did significant research, often including print, electronic and online.
One recent survey indicates that 75 percent of new car buyers use the Internet as a component of their car buying experience. Another survey shows that what primarily leads car buyers to purchase from a dealership is Internet presence (51%), drive by impression (27%) and prior experience with the dealership (12%).
Colorado’s new car dealers are working aggressively to meet customers on this electronic playing field. At a recent “Innovative Dealer Summit,” more than 200 people packed into 36 different forums and heard from a raft of speakers about serving their markets – and their bottom lines– better by promoting many new technologies and expanding Internet-based marketing practices.
Resourceful Summit information ranged from the basics of Facebook, Twitter and blogs, to more arcane subjects such as search engine optimization (SEO), tracking metrics, the fine points of presenting online inventories, and using ecommerce techniques to return service customers for new and used car buying opportunities.
For many of its early years, the automobile business gained the reputation for not being responsive to customers. One local dealer, for example, pokes fun at it in a recent advertisement, telling his disbelieving “doctor” that the dark area in his chest really is a heart because while everybody knows car dealers don’t have hearts, he does because all his used cars are certified by CarFax. The commercial references a historic image that has largely transformed.
The paradigm has shifted; dealers understand that unlimited online information gives customers much greater knowledge, information and control. So when an advertising executive pointed out to the dealers that the number of Facebook users is equal to the third largest country in the world, that there are 75 million Twitter users and YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world, you bet they listened. And when Dale Pollack, of vAuto, who offers software for managing used car inventories and sales said, “Documentation is the new negotiation. Buyers have more information than ever before,” the light bulbs began going on over heads all around the room.
The message repeated over and over was, “…join the conversation.” The Internet revolution, especially when it comes to social media, is increasingly about conversing with customers as opposed to talking at or down to them.
The new ways of communicating with their customers also extend to minority groups and especially women. Jody DeVere of AskPatty.com, an automobile advice site for women, pointed out that it doesn’t pay dealers to ignore women, since they buy more than 60 percent of all vehicles and influence 85 percent of all auto purchases.
Just as the Denver Post leads most print publications, nationally, with social media and Internet online followers, the automotive retail social media scene’s transformation is historic and continues to grow and change. Yet most local dealers already have active online presences and it’s clear from the number of people in top management positions attending the Innovative Dealer Summit that Colorado’s dealers have joined the revolution, which in this case means that they’ll enthusiastically join the growing online conversation. Most effective car dealers now incorporate a mix of print, electronic and Internet to ensure they reach consumers where consumers seek to be reached.
The Summit program closed with an interesting yet compelling line, “We’re not here to sell you a car…We’re here to drive you toward our point of view!”
Tim Jackson serves as president of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association