To understand how smartphones are impacting automotive digital marketing, first look at why. According to a 2020 study by Pew Research Center, more than 80% of an automotive marketer’s most prized demographic—adults 50 and younger making a good living (at least $75,000 a year)—own smartphones. And they spend more time using them than desktops or TVs.
So it should come as no surprise that smartphones have also become an important component of the vehicle-purchasing process. A recent study by J.D. Power found that 34% new-vehicle shoppers use smartphones to research automotive purchases, up 70% from 2015. A 2019 study by Cars.com makes an even stronger case, listing smartphones as the most popular device to research vehicles, used by 59% of shoppers prior to visiting a dealer.
So that’s the why. Now let’s look at five of the hows, and what manufacturers and dealers can do to capitalize on each opportunity.
1. Take a mobile-first approach
Digital marketing is now mobile marketing. The numbers speak for themselves:
1. More than 50% of all searches are on mobile, per Google
2. 87% of people access Facebook on mobile
3. More than 60% of digital media time is spent on mobile, according to comScore.
Automotive marketers must recognize that their digital marketing is being viewed on smartphones and think mobile-first when creating search, social, and display campaigns. Use geotargeting to show consumers ads tailored to their physical location, and smartphone-friendly calls-to-action such as “call the dealer now” or “find the dealer nearest you.”
Optimize your website for smartphone browsing, making it easy for shoppers to find information on the vehicles they want quickly, including up-to-date pricing and availability.
2. Calls: The crucial conversion
According to JD Power, phone calls are one of the most popular ways new-vehicle shoppers contact dealers, second only to showing up unannounced on the lot. Shoppers researching vehicles on their smartphones are particularly prone to calling dealerships. Always remember that smartphones are still phones, and tapping on a click-to-call button in an ad or on a mobile webpage is much quicker and easier than filling out a Web form on a smartphone screen.
Be sure to include click-to-call buttons in your search ads and on every page of your mobile website. It’s also important to use call-attribution technology to understand what keyword searches, digital ads, and mobile pages are driving the calls that lead to in-store visits and sales. Understanding how your marketing drives these calls is essential to optimizing your ad spend to drive even more.
3. Don’t fear on-the-lot research
A study by Placed Inc. found that 63% of car shoppers do online research while on the dealer lot, using their smartphones to compare vehicle pricing as well as search for inventory and special offers at other dealerships. Automotive marketers shouldn’t view on-the-lot smartphone browsing as a threat, but rather as an opportunity to close more sales and steal business from competitors.
Make sure shoppers know you will beat any competitor’s price, and market how you differentiate from other dealers—tout your services, for example. Create special Google and Bing ads with offers targeting searches made on or near your competitors’ lots. Include a call button in your ads so searchers can speak to your sales reps immediately.
4. Keep it simple
According to a 2019 Facebook study, more than 70% of mobile-first car shoppers feel overwhelmed by too much information. Smartphone users are three times more likely to find it difficult to get the information they need to make a car-purchasing decision. And 65% of these mobile-first consumers worry that they will make the wrong decision.
To help smartphone shoppers struggling with information overload and anxiety, auto marketers can optimize their mobile landing pages and website to provide information in bite-sized, easy-to-digest, and highly visual and relevant formats.
5. Video influences shoppers earlier
Most digital car ads are delivered in the final month before consumers make a purchase. But the same Facebook study mentioned earlier reports most shoppers have already settled on one or two models by then, making the ads redundant or irrelevant.
Because 60% of car shoppers start their research six months prior to purchase, that’s when you need your digital ads to grab their attention. Facebook offers ad targeting that gets your mobile ads in front of buyers at the beginning stages of their research.
Consider including video in your ads: A Google study found that 65% of auto shoppers were able to narrow down their car options after watching a video.
With vehicle shoppers becoming increasingly rely on smartphones for research, auto manufacturers and dealers must ensure they are prepared. By tailoring your digital marketing to align with mobile-first behaviors, you can better influence consumers during their research, drive more shoppers to your dealerships, and steal business from competitors.