The April 21, 2014 issue of Automotive News quotes AutoNation CEO, Mike Jackson in a report saying AutoNation will move away from third-party sources and make its own leads. AutoNation is actually going to spend more money than ever on digital marketing, it simply is moving that money toward a better website strategy and more digital marketing, bringing shoppers directly to the site.
The first 18 years or so of automotive internet was dominated by companies like AutoTrader.com, Cars.com, kbb.com, Edmunds.com, and eventually Truecar.com creating consumer audiences. Third-parties either used their audience to create leads or brought subscribing dealer’s inventory to those shoppers. The latter system eventually dominated with the vendors adding value through a kind of matching service.
Today, search engines provide a superior matching service and consumers are responding. More and more shoppers are performing long-tail searches, looking for a vehicle via search rather than a site from which to find a vehicle. As dealers consider moving more resources to where consumers are shifting their search, they need to consider this is a two-vendor play. You have to pay for the search, either directly or through a digital marketing service. (The latter is often more cost effective.) Then you have to land the shopper onto a fantastic Vehicle Details Page (VDP) on a very good website. This combination can be far more cost effective that paying an automotive audience provider for their match-making service.
Thousands of dealers have gone at this half way. They either pay for a digital marketing service that is not effective or transparent, getting them burned, or they choose a good, transparent service only to land the shopper on a poor website with a poor VDP. As more and more of these searches are done on mobile devices, the dealer’s mobile site experience becomes as or more important than their traditional site.
Going where the consumer and AutoNation are going can make fantastic sense, but you must go all the way. When you see a company as big as AutoNation moving hard and fast in this direction, it’s important to stop asking whether it works and begin asking whether you are working it.