How to Market Your Car Dealership in a Post-COVID World

While potential car buyers are at home during this quarantine, they are online more than ever, and they’re researching and shopping for cars. The demand for new and used cars that existed in January and February didn’t disappear; however, customers may be waiting for the storm to pass before they pull down their umbrellas and peek at the skies again. According to U.S. News and World Report on April 3, 2020, in this time of economic uncertainty, “automakers and their dealers are adapting to deliver vehicles to customers who need them. Consumers still need new cars because their current leases are ending, their previous cars are declared a total loss after an accident, or they need more repairs than they're worth.”

We are in uncharted territory because the market is locked up, but it won’t stay locked up forever. When the floodgates open again, the market will experience a massive surge of trade-ins and end-of-lease returns. J.D. Power reported that 1.8 million leases will end between March and July, which opens the door to a number of possibilities for dealerships paying attention.

By rolling up your sleeves and staying in the market, you are rewarded with experiential knowledge of what's working and not working for marketing and selling vehicles. This is critical for adjusting your marketing process, as long as you are doing something; the only wrong answer is to stay stagnant.

So buckle up and work as hard as you can. These marketing approaches will give you the edge now and will roll right into when customers start coming back to your dealership.

Four Marketing Strategies to Employ Now

1. Refine your target marketing

Good marketing starts with reaching the right audience, especially in ever-changing times. Know that the customers listed below are still likely to be in market, even with the shelter-in-place orders:

  • Lease-end customers will want to know next steps and options, and by offering a way forward, you have a better foothold into a sale. Keep track of the lease terms and ensure you’re ready to swoop customers into the next one.
  • College graduates will be reliably seeking vehicles in the next few months. Know what’s available and where the college student demographics reside in your area.
  • Buyers who like to have a car every couple of years are low-hanging fruit for your team. Tease out their interests with targeted messaging to grab their attention.
  • As customers pivot into new lines of work, some will need a personal vehicle. You can leverage certain channels and messaging to reach these people at the time they need to make that purchase

This is a great time to data mine your existing customers and offer them pre-sell or pre-buy opportunities - help them find their next car or a buyer for their current vehicle, and you can get them in line for a sale.

2. Market your unique service propositions

Targeted, easy-to-understand language about your customer service adjustments will attract the attention of potential buyers. For instance:

  • We deliver test drive vehicles - Buyers still want to take a test drive – and in fact, it’s a great way to spend some free time and shift focus – and you have a chance to provide that. With the quarantine front and center, an emerging trend is offering delivery of vehicles for test drives. Alternatively, buyers can book appointments for an unaccompanied test drive on-site. Once customers get a taste of this service, don’t be surprised if they keep asking for it.
  • Every vehicle is sanitized for your protection - while obvious given current guidelines, customer safety and trust will take a while to return. Continue to over communicate this message long after shelter in place is over
  • We’ll carry the car for you - If your dealership offers free pickup and delivery for service appointments, now is a prime moment to capitalize on that amenity. If you’re giving them a hassle-free way to complete scheduled and unscheduled services, you’ll be an easy choice. Focus now on promoting your reputation for efficiency and dependability instead of volume and tradition.

3. Shore up your digital retailing

Dealers with a strong digital presence have had a leg up on the competition for years, and now their advantage is table stakes for the entire industry. If you’re behind the ball, don’t panic - there are a few key areas to give your attention to ensure you area presenting your best face online. The first order of business is great photography: capture those gorgeous cars, trucks, and SUVs with the best resource you have available to make those vehicles shine and stand out. Our dealer-to-dealer auction platform features 60 pictures per vehicle for a reason: the array of images inspires buyer confidence through transparency, and it works for your retail operations, too. Your pictures should invite buyers in and create an emotional connection. Conversely, it only takes one bad picture to ruin the experience and turn a potential buyer’s head away from a piece of inventory you want to move.

Videos are a big plus, as are walkarounds for every vehicle on your lot. It doesn’t take long to put together a quick video to showcase what you have – create a brief script of information you can share with potential buyers and put your aging inventory front and center. Your attention to detail will help your customers make confident decisions online.

Right now, there are a whole lot of people at home and online. Car shopping is easy to access and it’s right in front of them; thinking about the future is one-way people cope with stress and find a positive path. What does the experience look like for your customers? Engage a small focus group to help you evaluate your site and make adjustments to keep your site as sticky as possible. You’ll want to know that your site setup leads customers in a natural progression from research to buying and makes it look easy.

4. Communicating with your customers is more important than ever

Right now, it’s about much more than price. Your customers have high expectations of you regarding their health and safety, and their assurance rides on your messaging.

  • Explain in a variety of ways how you clean and disinfect your vehicles and your facility.
  • Promote a touch-free process from test drive to signing on the dotted line.
  • Plug your return policy, job loss protection, and vehicle return plan on your used vehicles, if you have them.

Words, photography, and targeted, deliberate missives matter in varied degrees when you’re imparting confidence in your dealership. Think about the feelings you want a buyer to experience when they are working with your staff and the associated benefits: embed messages of trust, transparency, flexibility, and availability in your advertisements, social media messages, mailers, and the showroom itself.

Even after the “all clear”, customers now more than ever will want to know how you are protecting them from unsavory pathogens. Their comfort level may be diminished, and some will be hesitant to come in at all, opening an opportunity for you to offer new shopping models.

Do buyers know how to reach you? You’ll want your contact information to be crystal clear and the options funneled into each medium. Shoppers want to know you can walk them through the vehicle on the phone, via video chat, text messaging, or email, and it will behoove you to provide your sales staff with all of the tools they need to respond in the way that suits your customers best. Each one will be different.

Summary

ACV Auctions is committed to helping you and your dealership ride the wave during the recession and thrive in the aftermath. While we’re an auction provider first, we want to see your inventory get sold and put cash in your hands in these trying times. We want our marketing tips to do just that.

Did we leave an idea out? Contact us and let us know.