One of the most promising attributes of the internet has always been to help dealers become part of the conversation regardless of their size. Everyone from small town dealers with limited inventory to huge dealer groups spread out across the country could make an impact by becoming an option for a consumer base that was doing less driving and more surfing. The mantra of “location, location, location” quickly became “visibility, visibility, visibility.”

To become more successful, dealers simply needed to put more people in front of their inventory. This has been the focus of so many automotive vendors, particularly over the last three years. Most dealers have embraced it. Entire companies have been formed with a complete focus on getting more website visitors to the vehicle details pages and search results pages.

In essence, the conclusion was made that the more often people visited your inventory, the more likely you were to sell them a car. This is not the article to go into the fallacy of the argument by addressing correlation versus causation. Instead, I’ll stipulate that when website visitors choose to check out your inventory, they’re more serious about buying a vehicle than those who do not. However, I greatly oppose the idea that driving them directly in is the best way to go.

The primary goal for most car dealers with their digital marketing strategy has been to get more VDP views. This accomplishes one thing: giving a dealership the opportunity to be part of the conversation. If a customer can see your inventory as well as the inventories of several other dealerships, they may choose to add you to their list of dealerships to visit. This is good. It’s not great. We know what happens. Today’s consumer mentality dictates that they’ll plan on visiting 3, 4, 5 8, 10, or however many dealerships makes sense to them in their area. They plan on being disciplined and working deals at several dealerships before making their selection. If this is what actually happened most of the time, then a dealership’s goal of being part of the conversation would make sense.

Here’s the problem: at some point, they’re going to meet a real salesperson. They go on a test drive, get excited, and then the emotion that surrounds the entire situation has them driving home in a new car without ever visiting those other dealers lower on the list.

The solution is to do more than being part of the conversation. Dealers and vendors shouldn’t roll the dice and hope that car shoppers make it to them regardless of where they are on the list. Aggressive dealers should strive to be at the top of the list. They must become the first choice, the first place the customer plans to visit on their list of 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, or however many dealerships makes sense to them in their area.

In other words, the goal is not to be a choice. The goal is to be the first choice. Sending website visitors to VDPs and SRPs doesn’t do that. It gets you into the conversation. Aggressive dealers should strive to control the conversation by becoming the first choice.

Through search, social, and content marketing strategies that apparently nobody else is using in the industry, Dealer Authority has been able to take advantage of the antiquated goals that our clients’ competitors are setting. Our goals for clients are to compel the contact, entice the visit, and move our clients to the top of the consumers’ master list.

Car buying conversations can be initiated based upon three factors: visibility, messaging, and delivery. The vast majority of dealers and their marketing vendors do some or all of these but have failed to marry the three into a cohesive strategy. This is arguably the biggest flaw in modern automotive digital marketing. It can be corrected.