Using Data to Stay Relevant in the Ever-Changing Digital Landscape

Jan 12, 2022
Kevin LeSage, Cox Automotive Marketing Director

The internet moves fast, from rapidly changing trends and platforms to how we shop and buy. Businesses that fail to keep up get left behind — and that includes car dealerships. The auto industry is in the throes of the digital revolution and despite what dealers might think or want to think, there’s no going back to the way things were before.  

My entire career has been focused on driving quality leads for automotive dealers through digital marketing channels. I could try to list all the variables that have changed the digital marketing landscape over the last few years, but it would take too long. My point is that although difficult, it’s essential to keep up with digital marketing; staying relevant is the No. 1 key to success.  

If you’re not relevant, you’re obsolete. In today’s volatile market and the uncertainty of the future, dealers need to think about how they’re going to stay relevant today and maintain that relevancy into 2022 and beyond. How is your dealership preparing?  

It’s a big question to answer, but I want to get you started with two key strategies dealers can use today as they prepare and plan for the future.  

Strategy 1: Normalize your shopper and customer data 

52% of dealers say leveraging data and systems to identify opportunities is a challenge, according to the Cox Automotive study, “Profits & Efficiency: Implement Best Practices from Today’s Top Performing Dealerships.  

Why is this still a challenge? Are you relying on vendors or consultants to measure return on investment? Do you not fully understand your investment? In the past, you may have been able to skate by without a comprehensive understanding of where each of your dollars is going, but those days are gone, too. If you aren’t activating your data to help drive your business needs and strategies, larger players in your markets will.  

The most valuable asset (and strongest competitive advantage) you have is your consumer data. 75% of dealers say they proactively keep their CRM up to date.1 This data includes — but isn’t limited to — names, emails, phone numbers, vehicle ownership, lease or finance preference. Normalizing the data means scrubbing it to ensure accuracy and eliminate redundancies. Get rid of “Kevin Lesage” spelled five different ways, entered as separate customers and clean up your consumer records. Then, identify customers coming off lease in the next six months or declining service. Bucket your consumer records into specific audiences and situations. This allows you to activate the data and use it to your advantage to drive marketing, communications and operational strategies.  

Strategy 2: Activate the data 

86% of dealers agree that having accurate and complete consumer data is a priority.1 

The next step in your two-step strategy is relative to your business goals, market and specific conditions. Once your data is cleaned up, activate it through your marketing channels. Here’s an example: Send a mailer to all customers coming off lease, making them aware that inventory is low. Communicate that you can help by ordering directly from the OEM now. Then when the car is ready for delivery, you can take them out of the lease.  

You could (and should) also explore the same messaging strategy for a Facebook add or OTT (over-the-top) marketing. Once you realize the importance of quality and relevant consumer data, the ad channel is less important because the strategy is then about reaching the customer, regardless of where they are.  

No matter the ad channel, the biggest variable to your success will be your audience data. With quality audience data, your messaging stays relevant. You’re reaching the in-market shopper, with the message that is relevant to their needs. Targeting customers with relevant content is timeless; it will always be foundational to your marketing strategy.  

Use your data to understand your customers and create a relevant experience for them.  

I own a 2018 Tundra Sport. Like every Tundra owner, I’m intrigued by the all-new 2022 model. The dealership I bought this truck from should be collecting and classifying their Tundra buyers in their CRM and reaching out to them through various ad channels liken email, Facebook, direct mail and OTT. 

This is a prime lead audience; you know they’re interested in Tundras (they already own one!) and you therefore have an automatic pipeline of 2022 in-market shoppers. As a bonus for you, you know you’re earning a great trade-in, with your service records included. It’s a no-brainer!  

Relevancy is the foundation to any digital platform. To boil down an ambiguous buzzword, focus in two areas:  

First, clean your data and find ways to bucket consumer in specific audiences. My example above is specific. To start, think broader. Think shoppers buying under $10,000, luxury shoppers, customers coming off lease—you get the idea.  

Then once the data is clean, activate it. Create cold call lists for your sales reps, invest in direct mail, Facebook advertising, OTT and email.  

The ad channel doesn’t matter to me, the quality of the data does. The data quality and relevancy will define your ROI.