The best part about the business history of America is free enterprise. Capitalism in its purest form works because it rewards innovation, creativity, hard work, and strong business practices. There are little guys and big guys in every industry and most have no excuse for not overcoming the roadblocks to success.

With that said, sometimes it can seem very unfair. Some dealerships seem to have a surplus of cash laying around that allows them to spend thousands of dollars on different digital marketing strategies, tens of thousands of dollars on PPC and other paid digital ad mediums, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars on traditional media. This can make it challenging for frugal dealerships that have relied on word of mouth and modest advertising budgets to try to compete.

If you can’t buy your way to success, it’s time to get creative. It’s time to get aggressive. It’s time to take your strengths and put them on display to as many people in the local market as possible. The next logical statement would be that it’s time to get a quote for Octane, but I’ll hold that until the end of this article. First, let’s talk about you.

You’re probably a dealership that has to work smarter and harder. You know you have a compelling value proposition whether it’s a more diverse selection, being in your cars for the right money, a commitment to customers that your competitors don’t have, a benefits program that is unique to the area, or any number of intriguing reasons that people should buy from you rather than the competitors. Maybe you price better. Maybe you have world-class customer service. Maybe your service department has an incredible cappuccino machine that brews better espresso than Starbucks. Whatever the reasons are that people should do business with you, the challenge is getting that message out to the right people.

Let’s look at those challenges and find solutions.

The Right People versus All of the People

The biggest mistake that we see dealers with modest budgets make is in improper targeting. Sometimes, they’re casting a bigger net than they can afford which dilutes the reach. Other times they are too focused on the local area and they aren’t reaching out far enough. The most prevalent example of this mistake is in trying to reach everyone in the area when you should only be focusing on the right people: buyers.

The big spending dealers can afford to try to go after everyone. They flood every venue possible with prime time television commercials, drive time radio ads, top ranked PPC listings, premium classified posts, and anything else they can think of where people in the area spend time.

If you’re selective with your spending, you can’t try to compete in this manner. You have to make the most out of every dollar spent which means that more is not always better. For example, social media dark post advertising is a cost-effective way to reach the right people the same way that television reaches the masses. In both cases, people are going to television or social media to be entertained. In both cases, their minds are in a state that makes them receptive to advertising. There are four differences:

  1. Television goes out to anyone regardless of whether they’re in the market for a car or not. Facebook dark posts only go out to those who are targeted. For example, a dealership can use Polk buying intent data to put the ads in front of the people in the local area who are in the market for a new Honda.
  2. Interaction, for now, is exclusive to social media. TV viewers cannot click on the screen and go to your inventory or landing page.
  3. Facebook is waiting for them to log on while television is hit or miss. With Facebook dark posts, the ad will pop up in front of them on their schedule. Regardless of when they check their news feed, they’ll see the ad that’s targeting them. With television, you can miss shoppers based upon whether or not they like the shows during which your ads are running.
  4. The cost is exponentially lower. Even our “big spenders” are in the $4000-$6000 per month range to reach every new car buyer on Facebook with new car messages, every used car buyer with used car messages, and every model owner from your make with service messages. Most are spending less than $2500 per month. Compare that to television which costs more and is less targeted.

This is not an attack on television or traditional media. However, if you’re going for the bulk with a television budget in the tens of thousands, you should spend a percentage of that at the very least on highly targeted interactive dark post advertising.

Another great example is in keyword targeting for paid search ads. This discussion will be a unique blog post of its own but for now, let’s look at examples. Most big spenders blanket the search engines with high bids and broad keywords. This might seem like the best way to go, but the reality is that even with a huge PPC budget there’s a much better methodology.

The broad methodology would put the same ad and the same landing page for these three keywords:

  • 2015 Chevy Silverado Review
  • 2015 Chevy Silverado Long Beach
  • 2015 Chevy Silverado Best Price Long Beach

This is a basic example of three different types of searches with three different intents at three very different stages in the buying cycle. The top one is still thinking about whether or not they want a Silverado. The second is probably looking and are getting close to buying. The third is buying right now; they might be at another dealership on their smartphone waiting for their salesperson to bring them numbers.

Proper targeting is not broad. It’s very specific. It requires less money and can actually achieve better results than the big spender mentality.

The Best Destination Possible

We’re going to skip the middle portion for now and go straight into landing pages. Today, the big spenders are doing anything they can to drive everyone to their inventory. It’s the most popular technique that is based upon a myth perpetuated through false logic and laziness by most vendors.

Let’s start with the myth. They say that most lead come in from inventory. Most buyers look at inventory before they come in to shop. Therefore, if you send them into inventory you’re increasing your chances of making the sale.

This is a classic example of correlation versus causation. Of course people will look at inventory when they’re shopping. They’ll look at inventory regardless of what page you send them to if their in the market for a car. The fact that most leads and buyer visits hit inventory doesn’t mean that you will increase sales by landing them directly in it.

There’s no opportunity to give a compelling message when you land them directly into inventory. That’s not to say that you don’t ever want to do it. There are certain messages (which we’ll discuss in a moment), certain keywords, and certain times in the buying cycle that make it practical to send people into inventory. However, the bulk vendors are pushing everything to the inventory because the trends falsely support this ideology and it’s much easier to automate when they do this.

The real way to do it is to present your dealership’s value proposition in a way that is congruent with both the targeting (keyword) and messaging (ad). The sale doesn’t start once they get to the dealership. It’s not like that anymore. Consumers are gathering so much information before they come in that they’re partially sold based upon your web presence. Take a shot at helping them through a landing page. If they want to see inventory, make it easy for them to get there in a single click.

You shouldn’t believe that people are either too dumb or too lazy to be able to click through to inventory from a landing page. Give them a strong reason to buy from you. Then let them choose between contacting you immediately or going to inventory. If you start selling the dealership up front, they are less likely to eliminate your from consideration if you don’t have the exact car they want in stock.

The Middle Step: Messaging

This is the bridge. It’s the most important step and it’s also going to require the least amount of time to explain.

All too often we see social ads, organic listings, and paid ads that are about as compelling as a box of tissues. The invoke nothing. They’re just taking up space.

Every dealership has special things about them that can be portrayed in advertising. These special things should be matched up with the intent of the target audience or keyword based upon their position in the buying funnel.

We’ll use the three keywords above to demonstrate messaging in the ads:


  • 2015 Chevy Silverado Review – “If you’re thinking about buying a Silverado in the future, you need to see this information first.” In this case, the message is designed to draw them into a landing page that talks about how it’s their lucky day because this month has the best specials available for the whole year. Even though they’re at the top of the funnel doesn’t mean we can’t draw them lower into buying mode.
  • 2015 Chevy Silverado Long Beach – “Incredible prices on Silverados are the start. We finish by giving you the best buying experience in SoCal. #BestOfBothWorlds” The message for someone in the middle funnel needs to be focused on what makes you special as a dealership. This is a crucial stage; forgive me for the semi-generic variation of the message but we can’t give away all of our techniques, right?
  • 2015 Chevy Silverado Best Price Long Beach – “Before you buy, get the ABC Motors pricebuster on Silverados. The deals flow freely at ABC Motors.” Again, this isn’t our best creative, but you get the picture. This is your only shot with this particular customer. Make the most of it by taking them to a page designed to impress them enough to act immediately.

In advertising, being the biggest doesn’t mean being the best. Stop fighting dollar for dollar and start fighting smarter. You can beat them with the right message to the right people at the right time.