Feeling frustrated with your marketing campaigns? We hear you. The world of automotive digital marketing can be a twisted trail with gnarled roots jutting out of the ground waiting to trip you up at any moment. Dealer Teamwork is here to help you navigate the trail and shine light on those dangerous trip-ups so you can successfully avoid them and succeed with your digital campaigns.
After analyzing millions of campaign results, we’ve come up with a list of the top reasons dealer campaigns fail, or appear to fail, and outlined ways to avoid these pitfalls.
Goals don’t align with campaign objectives or budgets
Campaign outcomes are misunderstood
Campaigns don’t have enough time to perform
Poor campaign structure
There’s no omnichannel strategy
Campaign evaluation & optimization breakdowns
Poor lead nurturing after lead generation
1. Goals don’t align with campaign objectives or budgets
When it comes down to it, every business cares about the bottom line, “did my marketing dollars lead to sales?” However, marketers know that drawing that conclusion isn’t as straightforward as many would like to think, especially for the automotive industry.
Since dealership transactions primarily happen in the store, it eliminates metrics that other industries, like ecommerce, can use to tie marketing efforts directly to sales. Currently, the closest dealers can reliably get to tying sales to marketing efforts is measuring leads and then separately tracking which leads converted to a sale afterwards.
Some digital channels, like Facebook and Instagram advertising, allow for sales matchback reporting, which is a great tool for dealers to utilize. Facebook uses offline events to measure offline conversions, in this case, sales. This type of sales matching shows your advertising’s influence on sales, but it’s not widely available across all digital channels at this time.
This leaves many marketers in a state of frustration. Marketers understand that there are metrics other than sales to pay attention to when measuring the success of a campaign. However, marketers answer to executive teams, GMs, dealership owners, etc. who may not care, or understand, that all campaigns do not directly tie back to sales efforts.
Some campaigns aim to drive shoppers down the funnel towards the next step in the buying process, rather than directly driving a sale. In these cases, directly tying campaign performance to sales isn’t just difficult, it’s a bad data conclusion. It’s like a gardener saying daily watering of a tomato plant was the sole reason for a great crop yield. Gardeners know that there are a lot more factors than watering that go into a healthy crop yield, i.e. sunlight, fertilizer, time of year, potting, soil type, etc.
The first step in avoiding this frustration is to ensure your goals align with your campaign objectives and budget. As marketers, we know we need a healthy campaign mix to nurture in-market shoppers on their journey towards a sale.
Some campaigns will drive awareness to plant a seed in the shopper’s mind that you can help them research and find the right vehicle. Some campaigns give shoppers more specific pricing and comparison information about specific vehicles so they can narrow their choices and see that your dealership has those vehicles available. Some campaigns will act as the last stepping stone between car shopping research to making a purchase and aim to drive leads to your store.
Make sure your campaign messages and campaign set up align with the goal you have in mind. For example, if you are trying to drive leads, don’t expect a Google display campaign set up with a cost-per-thousand viewable impressions (vCPM) bidding strategy to do the trick, that tactic aims to drive awareness. Google has a quick how-to article on this subject to help you align bidding strategies with goals. Facebook also has a quick guide for their channels as well.
Aligning your campaign goals and objectives with your budget will be very contingent upon your market, time of year and dealership. For example, a large dealership near a major metro area will likely not be able to run campaigns with only $3000 per month that help drive shoppers through each stage of the car buying process. If you have a limited budget, you may need to scale back your campaign efforts to focus models or a smaller targeting area to get results.
The second step is effective communication with your teams. If you can educate internal stakeholders on the importance of each type of campaign and what the different KPIs are for each tactic, that’s great! However, don’t feel slighted if a GM or executive’s eyes glaze over when you talk about organic traffic lift and campaign clickthrough rates. If you see this happening, it means it’s time to change your “internal” marketing strategy.
Showing the value of campaigns is essentially an internal marketing effort. Your external campaigns have specific audiences and messages in mind, and so should your internal “campaigns”.
Instead, focus on high-level metrics those stakeholders care about, i.e., how much we spent this month, lead volume, lift in leads, cost per lead, how you see these factors contributing to sales goals and any other KPIs your stakeholders want to see. Have granular metrics ready so you can back up your claims and dive into the details if you are asked. The more growth you can show (whether it be quarter over quarter, year over year, etc.) and how efforts lead to business outcomes, the better off you’ll be.
Dealer Teamwork clients use their MPOP® Analytics reports to make this process easier and faster. Your dashboards and monthly recap reports consolidate KPIs from your digital channels into one report. They are also designed to help you highlight high-level KPIs and then dive into more granular metrics if necessary.
Misunderstood campaign outcomes are not the fault of the campaign, but are the likely culprit if stakeholders think a campaign is failing, yet you know it’s performing and set up properly. To avoid this pitfall, make sure you have regular communication and meetings with stakeholders and have a mutually agreed upon agenda.
Additionally, make sure you reiterate the following:
Campaigns that are running
Objectives of those campaigns
High-level KPIs & lift
What’s coming next
What you expect to gain from future campaigns
What’s needed to make these campaigns a success
Another reason campaign outcomes may be misunderstood is that disproportionate comparisons are being made. For example, let’s say you switched vendors 6 months ago and lead volume or sales are down.
First thing’s first, are you comparing proportionate time periods? If sales typically trend up or down at certain times in the year, that would definitely skew the numbers. For example, if your goal was 200 cars in June and 150 in November, a drop in sales was expected when you set your goals, so that’s not a fair comparison.
Second, are leads being measured the same way between vendors? For example, Dealer Teamwork does not count a VDP view as a lead, while other vendors may do so. A VDP view may be an important factor to consider when doing campaign analysis, but that doesn’t mean it should count as a lead. A lead is an actionable opportunity such as a phone call, text, form fill or store visit. You connect with the shopper in those cases, you do not with a VDP view. Different vendors may track metrics differently, so make sure you understand how things are being measured, especially when it’s a metric or goal that can be customized.
Always make apples to apples comparisons. Comparing inconsistent time frames or customizable metrics of the same name from different vendors doesn’t work. It’s not just apples to oranges, it’s apples to french fries.
3. Campaigns don’t have enough time to perform
Whether you are trying a new campaign strategy or working with an entirely new vendor, a major shift in your campaigns needs time to adjust before you can judge the effectiveness of the strategy.
Many modern advertising strategies involve using AI or machine learning to make campaign management faster and more effective at driving goals. Take Google Ads or Facebook Advertising for example. Both have robust campaign and ad set up tools designed to help you achieve specific goals. These tools use algorithms and machine learning to automatically target and adjust bidding to ensure you reach the desired audience and objectives as effectively as possible.
Machine learning doesn’t happen overnight and automated campaign management needs to take in many factors unique to your dealership and campaign parameters. It may take a short ramp up period, but this type of campaign management is far superior to most manual management strategies.
For paid search and social media campaigns, it will likely take a minimum of 2 weeks before you can start making any sort of performance judgments. Furthermore, it takes a minimum of 30-60 days before you can have a full picture of your account performance. Many conversion metrics such as, non-last click attribution conversions, store visits, assisted conversions, sales matchback, etc., are still being attributed to your campaigns depending on the conversion window (most are 30 days out).
Additionally, one down month doesn’t necessarily mean the campaign strategy is flawed. A business is made up of many parts and processes, so a full analysis needs to be done before that kind of judgement can be made.
For SEO strategies, it typically takes 6 months to a year to realize the effectiveness of a strategy. Organic performance is a constant, long-term effort that never goes away. Positive organic signals over time have a compounding effect on your business in the “mind” of a search engine.
4. Communication breakdowns
Communication breakdowns fit into many of the reasons listed in this article, so it’s important to look at it as a larger issue as well. These breakdowns can happen internally and externally.
We’ve touched on some internal communication breakdowns already, but let’s recap and expand on the list here:
Lack of communication between the team that handles marketing and other stakeholders in the dealership
Misunderstanding goals vs strategy / campaign set up vs outcomes
Cross-department communication / hand-off issues
Some of the main external communication breakdowns are listed below:
Missing meetings with vendors / external partners
Missing key people in those external meetings
Campaign or budget changes shared late (for example: if you want a new message in your campaign the last week of the month and it’s not shared until the first day of that week, you might not be giving the message enough time to reach your audience, even if it’s updated right away)
The best ways to limit communication issues like this are as follows:
Set expectations with all stakeholders in any situation and confirm expectations are understood.
Ensure the appropriate people are coming to meetings.
Plan ahead whenever possible.
When in doubt, over communicate.
Set expectations with all stakeholders in any situation and confirm expectations are understood. For example, the marketing team sends a monthly recap report and meets with the GM once a month to review the past month’s performance, set future goals and review the next month’s plan.
Ensure the appropriate people are coming to meetings. This can mean making sure the right people come, but it can also mean not including people who don’t need to be there. If you constantly meet with a vendor and find you need a decision maker on the meetings, it’s likely time to find a schedule that includes that decision maker.
Plan ahead whenever possible. We all know vehicle pricing may change multiple times throughout the month. When there’s no way to avoid last minute changes, involved parties need to work with the timelines they have. However, that also means when you can plan ahead, do so. If you leave something like planning a Labor Day Sales Event with associated marketing messaging until the last week of August, you are setting yourself up for failure. You know that’s coming every year, so don’t let it wait and then be stuck with other unforeseen changes happening at the same time.
When in doubt, over communicate. This doesn’t mean you need to overload someone with unnecessary information. However, let’s say you need approval on a marketing campaign before you work with your marketing vendor to have it running. If you have an upcoming deadline that you need to meet for the campaign to go live on time and haven’t received approval, it’s time to follow up more persistently until you get your approval. Another example would be if a stakeholder is constantly missing meetings. Then it’s time to make sure the meeting time still works for them, see if there’s an alternate person who can attend in their place, and/or make sure meeting recaps with action items are emailed out so they know what they missed.
Communication breakdowns are one of the hardest things to overcome in any organization. Be diligent and lead by example.
5. Poor campaign structure
Digital marketing opens up the options for more campaign tracking, better audience targeting, more customized campaigns, and more control over your message at any given time versus traditional advertising. However, more technology can be complicated and opens advertisers up to errors in the campaign set up process.
Poor campaign structure comes in many shapes and forms, but we’ve highlighted the main pitfalls for the automotive industry here:
Lack of campaign segmentation.
Misusing channel campaign structure.
Sending ad traffic to irrelevant landing pages.
Generic ad copy.
No negative keywords.
Lack of campaign segmentation. Campaigns and the associated messaging should be segmented by intent. Meaning, you shouldn’t lump your low-funnel branded campaign in with your model-specific campaigns. They should be set up separately so you can target audiences and choose keywords accordingly.
Misusing channel campaign structure. For example, Google Ads has a hierarchy when it comes to campaign set up. Each account has campaigns, each campaign has ad groups, and each ad group has ads and keywords within it. Leverage this campaign structure to your advantage, especially when segmenting your campaigns.
Sending ad traffic to irrelevant landing pages. A good rule of thumb is one page, one purpose. For example, landing every digital ad on your homepage is not sufficient. Your homepage may work for some campaigns, but let’s say you are trying to drive more service appointments. Wouldn’t the service scheduling page be a more relevant place to direct those who click your ad?
Generic ad copy. Many vendors use template campaigns in order to scale the work they can do for their clients. Templates are great for campaign management efficiency, but if they don’t have room for customization, they will fall flat. For example, if you cannot list your dealership’s specific pricing and offers, how will you differentiate yourself from the competition next door?
Outdated messaging. Running campaigns with monthly offers or special sales event messaging is great, but if you don’t have a system in place to update the messaging or take campaigns down when the message expires, you’ll run into issues. For example, Dealer Teamwork campaigns with pricing are controlled by the vehicle offers you have live in the MPOP®. So if an offer expires, it will automatically be removed from your ads.
Bad targeting. Ensuring your ads are only targeting your PMA or areas you are willing to do business in may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a mistake made more often than you think. Make sure your vendor isn’t wasting your money by running ads outside your service area.
Bad keywords. Keyword management is a delicate balance and different marketers have different theories on what works. Google recommends a minimum of 5-20 keywords per ad group, but the exact number you choose will depend on your campaign/ad group/ad objectives. Keyword strategy is an entire article in itself, and there are many tools available to help you choose keywords. But in general, make sure you choose terms relevant to your ad group, and terms related to searches you want your ads to pop for. Keyword type is also important depending on your objective. Learn more about keyword types here.
No negative keywords. Lack of negative keywords can lead to huge wastes in ad spend. Words often have multiple meanings, so you’ll want to choose your keywords and negative keywords accordingly. Again, there are different types of negative keywords that can be used for different outcomes. One example of a poor negative keyword strategy would be only bidding on the term “Ford” but not excluding a search for something like “Harrison Ford” as a Ford dealer.
6. There’s no omnichannel strategy
Breaking through the clutter and reaching in-market shoppers is more complicated than ever before. That’s why a robust, omnichannel advertising strategy is so important. Your message needs to be wherever the shopper is likely to be. If it’s not, your competition is likely there to grab their attention and win the sale.
If you don’t have enough representation across the primary marketing channels available today, your campaigns may collectively seem to fail at driving sales opportunities. It can be frustrating because each channel may seem to be performing well on the individual level. However, you need to be there for the full shopping journey from research to driving them into the dealership to drive leads and sales.
Many channels have different advertising options to meet shoppers at different stages of the car shopping journey, so you need to plan your presence accordingly.
For example, in the beginning of the car shopping journey, a shopper is likely to start their initial research online. Are you ranking for organic search and do you have search ads running to pop for these shopping moments?
Throughout the entire shopping journey, whether they are actively conducting their shopping research or not, the shopper is also likely checking their social media, spending time on YouTube and just doing general web browsing unrelated to car shopping. Do you have ads running on social media, YouTube and display advertising reinforcing your message with the shopper? Are you running dynamic remarketing ads that showcase inventory the shopper may have already started viewing?
As the shopper gets closer to finishing their shopping journey, they likely have narrowed down to a few dealerships that meet their needs. Are you reinforcing the benefits of choosing your dealership? Are your local listings like Google My Business, Bing Places and social profiles fully claimed, optimized and verified to showcase your reviews and offer easy ways to connect with you or come into your store?
These are just a few considerations to take into account as you develop your omnichannel marketing strategy. However, it’s easy to see how a dealership could fall out of sight if they are underrepresented on digital channels. Don’t waste your hard work and advertising dollars by going dark during key stages of the car shopping process.
7. Campaign evaluation & optimization breakdowns
There is no set-it-and-forget-it strategy for marketing. If you aren’t reviewing campaigns during and after to gauge the effectiveness of the strategy, you are leaving the performance up to a game of chance. Even long-term campaigns need to be monitored and optimized over time.
You should check in on your campaigns at least once a week to collect baseline performance for your KPIs.
Some slight fluctuations up or down are normal, but if there are major drop-offs of performance or steady downward trends, it’s time to do some digging and find out why. If the reason for the dip in performance can be attributed to factors within the campaign that you can control (i.e. budget, messaging, targeting, media mix, etc.), then optimizations are recommended.
Evaluation is just as important at the end of a campaign as it is throughout. If you don’t do post-campaign evaluation, you won’t know if you ultimately met your goals. Post-campaign evaluation is also important for determining strategy for future campaigns. If you keep repeating the same strategy or campaign set up over and over again, it better be because you’ve proven it helps you achieve your goals.
8. Poor lead nurturing after lead generation
Campaigns may also appear to fail if there’s a breakdown after leads are generated. This disconnect is a big reason why leads don’t convert into sales. Drops in sales or missing sales goals leads to a system analysis for the dealership to find the point of failure.
Marketing is an easy scapegoat because the intricacies of running marketing campaigns are often not understood by non-marketing team members, marketing is a large expense for the dealership, and direct lines cannot always be drawn from marketing to sales.
Marketing’s end goal is to drive leads for the BDC and sales teams to then nurture into a sale. So, if lead generation is strong, leads are high-quality, and sales are down, there may be a breakdown in the next step in the sales funnel.
Make sure your marketing support extends to the BDC and sales teams so they are prepared to nurture leads when they get passed to them.
To diagnose a drop in sales, you’ll want to start by considering market conditions or changes in your dealership. For example, have you had a lot of sales or BDC turnover meaning your staff is not as experienced or versed in the process? Have you made any major process changes that impact the shopping experience from the time a lead comes in to the time they purchase a car? Has a competitor made any major changes or started pricing their inventory more competitively? Is the process for passing a lead to the BDC and sales team efficient and trackable? Are you supporting lead nurturing efforts by providing campaigns and marketing materials to help the BDC and sales teams be successful? Is the process for completing the sale streamlined and flexible to the buyer’s needs? etc.
If you are experiencing issues with your marketing campaign performance, this article contains many tips to help you get started repairing what’s broken. Another important consideration for dealers who partner with agencies or vendors to run their campaigns and produce marketing assets is partnership health. Is your partner transparent? Do they help you with campaign and strategy evaluation? Do they make your job of reporting on marketing campaign performance to internal teams easier? Can you reach them quickly with changes or if you need help?
All those factors and more can make or break a partnership. If you sense it’s time to audit your partners or strategies, Dealer Teamwork can help! We offer complimentary website and marketing audits with no strings attached. Sign up for your audit here.