At the end of the 16th century, Sir Francis Bacon famously said that “knowledge is power.” He was wrong. In truth, knowledge is simply a component within the formula that creates success.

As it pertains to automotive internet marketing, the better way to put it is, “knowledge is the starting point through which discernment, analysis, and common sense can work together to create a powerful marketing strategy.”

I know that it’s not nearly as catchy, but it’s a heck of a lot more practical.

Let’s take a look at some of the things that we’ve learned while helping car dealers find success with their digital marketing.

Analytics and Insights and Dashboards, Oh My!

You have numbers, lots and lots of numbers. You probably have graphs, spreadsheets, and reports flooding your inbox, sitting in a folder on your desktop, or printed out into a pile labeled “Get Around to this Stuff Someday”. Even if you’re one of the exceptional dealers who have set aside the time to truly analyze what’s happening with your marketing, there’s a good chance that you’re not taking full advantage of the data that’s made available to you. Moreover, there’s a better chance that you’re not getting all of the important data points that aren’t always readily available.

We adore String Automotive’s Dealer Positioning System for two reasons: it’s not a dashboard and it’s not loaded with unnecessary garbage. Not being a dashboard might sound like a detriment, but it’s precisely the opposite. Oh, it has a dashboard, but the dashboard isn’t the product. What makes String work so well for some of our clients is that it takes the data and presents it in a meaningful way that allows dealers to draw conclusions about the actions they should take.

The second thing we like about them, not delivering garbage, is pretty straight forward. A plague in the automotive analytics industry is that just about every report or data point we see is loaded with superfluous information that is designed to fluff up the numbers without having real value. String DPS keeps it simple and focused on the real things, the actionable data that compels improvement.

I’m not writing this article to promote them (no, we’re not a reseller or referral partner!), but it brings up an important point. More data isn’t necessarily better data. In the quote above, I mentioned discernment. Whether through a company like String or on your own, discerning between the data that can make a difference and the data that doesn’t really mean anything to you is the first step to figuring out what’s working and what’s not.

Pinpoint Your Targets

Some people see the glass half empty while others see it as half full. Some dealers focus on improving on their areas of weakness while others try to stand on their strengths. We’re right there in the middle. We believe that a dealership should fix their weaknesses and expand on their strengths at the same time.

Let’s take a look at an example of this within our website analysis. Whenever we bring on a new client to improve their website, we’re not just jumping in there to start building pages. This is a big mistake with most content marketing companies who dive in without analysis. At the page level, we look at three things: traffic, conversions, and meaningful exits. Rarely do we see pages that can fulfill all of the needs, which means rarely do we see a page that doesn’t need improvement.

Before I go too deep into the topic, I should probably define a “meaningful exit”. All too often dealers and vendors see websites exits as a bad thing. Bounces, which are exits from the first page visited within a certain period of time, are almost always considered bad. That’s not necessarily the case. You can have a website visitor spend 20 minutes surfing through 15 pages and not buy a car. You can have a person hit your website, grab your address, and come in and buy a car later that day. Which visitor was better, the one who spent 20 minutes or the one who spent 20 seconds? Only one bought a car.

A meaningful exit is when people leave your website from a particular page without engaging (phone call or lead generated) because they got the information they needed and may still come in to buy a car. Over 90% of your customers are “online customers” in that they spent time on your website or a third party site researching you or your inventory before coming into buy, but fewer and fewer are contacting the dealership beforehand. That doesn’t mean that they’re drive-by walkins. They came to you for a reason. They may have been on your website, got the information they needed, and came in to buy.

An example of common pages with meaningful exits would be an hours and directions page, review pages, or about us pages. In all of those cases, there’s a good chance that they surfed your website, found something of interest, and then finished their browsing experience by researching you as a dealership. They found out where you are, who you are, or what people are saying about you. They didn’t fill out a lead form, but there’s a good chance that they’re considering doing business with you based upon the page from which they exited.

Now, let’s gain an understanding of the analysis component. Look at your pages that are getting the most traffic. Are they converting at an acceptable rate or are they pages where we can stipulate a meaningful exit? If a page is getting traffic but not converting, we can conclude that we need to improve the lead-generating components of the page. Conversely, if you have pages that are converting well but that are not receiving very much traffic, then we know we need to send more traffic to them in the form of search, social, or email marketing.

It’s a simple way of looking at it, but to delve too deeply into the topic would make this article much longer than it already is. Suffice to say that analysis is an important step in our process and one that most dealers and vendors are unfortunately skipping.

Applying Common Sense

Now that we understand discernment and analysis, let’s look at the final component that falls squarely within the skillset of most dealers. Common sense has always been a strength within the automotive industry. It’s time to take advantage of it with your marketing.

I’ll cut to the chase: don’t trust your vendors. None of them, not even us. Trust the data. If a vendor comes on with some fancy new product and it doesn’t yield an increase in sales, it’s not working. That’s all there is to it. We take pride in the fact that we judge our success based not on increased traffic (though it’s very obvious that we’re increasing traffic) or more leads (though clients are seeing those numbers going up nicely) but on a tangible increase in sales relative to recent history and the market. That last caveat, history and market conditions, is an important thing to remember when applying common sense.

Are your sales up? They should be, even if you’re failing at marketing. Today, more people are buying cars than they were a couple of years ago. How you’re doing relative to your local competition is a key indicator of whether or not your marketing and advertising are working.

Don’t fear change. Some say that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We disagree. There’s no such thing as a perfect marketing solution. Everything has room for improvement. The better way to look at it is to find the areas of highest potential improvement whether they’re broken or not. Let’s say you’re social media is rocking and rolling. You’re getting engagement, playing around with dark posts, and compared to your competitors your Facebook presence is awesome. It definitely isn’t broken, but is there room for dramatic improvement? In most cases, the answer is a resounding “yes!”

Common sense tells us to fix our flaws and we won’t deny that, but don’t let success turn into complacency. I’ll turn to Don Draper to describe this concept further:

The moral of the story is this: take the information that’s available and draw intelligent conclusions to guide you marketing strategies and advertising spends. If it were as easy as saying that knowledge is power, then you might as well say that France is bacon.