By Joe Overby
CARY, N.C. –
For car dealers looking to reach consumers during COVID-19, social media advertising may be the best way to get their message across.
In fact, PureCars advised in a report released Friday that “an aggressive budget shift from search to social is an area of opportunity for most dealers,” as consumers are spending more time on social media channels.
Most of the country is facing stay-at-home orders and interactions with others are limited.
“We’re all lonely. And social media is a good way to try to have some semblance of connection around us,” said Jeremy Anspach, chief executive of PureCars, which provides marketing automation and business intelligence software for the car industry.
According to statistics provided by Digital Air Strike, which provides dealers with consumer engagement and digital retailing tools, 53% of consumers are spending more time on Facebook.
Asked how consumers are engaging in the automotive process online amid the pandemic, Anspach said they are interacting everywhere, given how big the ecosystem is. The biggest area of change, however, has been with social media, which “has surged,” he said.
“Over 70% increase in messenger, over 100% in group communication, and with that we have been able to see massive improvements in performance on social, whereas with search, although it can be very effective in a low-funnel measure, the ratio — if you think about the normalization pre-pandemic of 1:1 — we’re still seeing tremendous demand digitally. It’s just not dropping at the same ratio (into) the showroom, because most Americans are following the stay-at-home orders,” he said.
“Social has performed the best for us, of late. It’s always been a great channel for us, since we buy on Google, Facebook, YouTube, Bing, etc., but the performance has accelerated in a big way,” he said. “So, many of our dealers have moved a lot of search budget over to social and to video.”
In terms of Cost Per Click and Cost Per Mille (1,000 views), PureCars said in the report that these metrics for social have stayed at all-time lows, with people still on social media much of the day.
“This further supports a social-first strategy for the foreseeable future,” the company said in the report.
Anspach, who founded PureCars in 2007, was asked to step back into the CEO role about a month ago, he said. Amid the pandemic, the company has shifted its focus from selling product to a more consultative approach to help dealers through this time.
In fact, they have stopped sales and “redeployed” their sales team to serve as consultants to dealers.
PureCars looks at media channel demand through engagement in Google, Bing, Facebook, YouTube and so on, then examines how it converts to digital traffic and eventually showroom visits.
“And what we’ve seen during this health crisis, with over 80% of America with stay-at-home orders, is that there is still a tremendous amount of online activity to suggest demand,” Anspach said. “But it’s not flowing into the showroom at the same rate, which is naturally acceptable since people are being asked to stay at home.”
They are still online though.
In the report released Friday, PureCars indicated: “Dealership website sessions and visitors remained relatively steady over the past week. While we’ve seen a negligible drop on unique users in the past few days, overall volume remains high enough to confirm the value of intelligent ad spending online.”
And consumers are heading to where the incentives are. In a pattern reflecting that of how sales are faring, brands offering big incentives are seeing the strongest online activity with shoppers, PureCars said in the report.
Chevrolet and Ford ranked as the two brands with the largest shares of online shoppers from March 24-31, according to PureCars. They both are offering zero-percent financing for 84 months.
“When people start seeing offers almost too go to be true, they’re taking advantage of it if they can hopefully maintain social distancing and CDC guidelines,” Anspach said.
And perhaps they’re turning some of their car-buying towards digital avenues. At Digital Air Strike, co-founder and CEO Alexi Venneri said the company is “busier than ever in terms of education.” And part of that involves digital retailing and what DAS offers in that regard
The company has been conducting webinars almost on a daily basis, covering a whole host of educational topics for dealers, including explaining the digital retailing tools available.
Venneri points out that online searches are up (according to data shared by DAS, auto searches are up 32% year-over-year) and that consumers are online conducting research.
“This is when you should try some new tools and get creative and be innovative. Because when times are good, they still have people walking in their stores,” she said, and then there perhaps isn’t the same demand to jump on board with digital retail technology.
That said, pandemic or not, “consumers would prefer to do more of the process online,” she said.
“For us, it’s actually helped us build rapport with every single one of our dealers, because we’re having more time with them. Traffic in the dealership is obviously way down, but they’ve got more time to talk to their vendors,” Venneri said. “But really, they’re being given, I think, a very unique moment in time to take a deep breath, re-evaluate everything and be more open to learning some new ways of doing business.”