In the first installments of this series, we discussed how to best manage your campaigns around heavy Tier 1 and Tier 2 digital marketing investment in your market, as well as how to benchmark your Q4 digital marketing effectiveness last year for success this year.
In the third and final installment of this series, we’ll discuss how dealerships can (and should) adjust their channel mix to make the most of remaining 2018.

Q4 Digital Marketing Strategy: Alignment with Campaign Budget Allocation

Think about it like this: Aside from the few new car makes with very little of their own natural demand, the primary objective at this juncture of the year is to capture the largest share of in-market shoppers for your make as is possible. Creating awareness and expanding audiences — or even driving conquest consideration — will very likely not help you this year. The time to do that and see any return from it in 2018 has passed.
So what does that mean tactically?
It means your budgets need to be heavily allocated to the lowest portion of the funnel — to where the greatest amount of in-market shoppers are. And that means an exceptional focus on SEM and re-targeting campaigns.

Automotive SEM and Re-targeting in Q4: Closing Strong with Basics

The average new car sales cycle is more than one month. With time ticking down on the year, your dealership simply doesn’t have time to play in the near-market or “researchers” ballgame.
The 4th Quarter — and December in particular — is time for the nitty, gritty basics of what drives the most conversions in automotive digital marketing in order to help close 2018 strong. Most of you know that means search and re-targeting.
But what does a strong potential allocation across these channels to close the year look like? And how can you adjust each channel to deliver even more this year?
On average, our dealership clients’ spend by channel last Q4 had the following average allocations:
  • SEM 88%
  • Display re-targeting 8.7%
  • Social re-targeting 3.3%
While it’s heavily aggressive (by my own admission) toward SEM, the results are that it led to the best campaign and sales Quarters on record for our clients.
And let’s consider what it means for this year: in a declining sales environment, you need to be more than concerned with your own make’s shoppers — you need to be over-concerned with them, because sales are fleeting. Bottom line: you’ll probably need more shoppers than last year to achieve the same results, and these bottom-of-then-funnel tactics are the best place to find them.

Squeezing More out of Your Dealership’s SEM and Re-targeting 

This Q4, we recommend focusing SEM campaigns more heavily than last year on “Ready to buy” moments, which means search phrases with the following terms or topics:
  • Price
  • Financing
  • Deals
  • Specials
  • Incentives
  • Dealer terms
  • Dealer actions
  • Geo-modified
In another change for 2018 from 2017, we recommend pausing your conquest and high-funnel SEM keywords through year-end. Again, in a tough environment, you need as many resources as are possible supporting your on-make, in-market shopper acquisition — and that means putting the conquest and “looker” battles on the back burner at this point.
Squeezing the most out of your re-targeting efforts is a little tricker at this point in time (since it’s too late to build any meaningful, new audience buckets), but still doable.

Here’s how we do it:

  • Allocate a large majority of your re-targeting budget to a geographic area within 15 miles of your rooftop; allocate the rest to a 16-30 mile radius (for new cars)
  • Review last year’s re-targeting December campaigns to see which areas, or ad specs (ie. sizes) were the best performers in terms of CTR or CPM
    • Find the top 20%, and make bid adjustments anywhere from +7%-12%; consider 15% if an ad spec or area is truly essential and has proven itself for your dealership
    • Find the bottom 20%, and pause those same ad specs and areas this year
    • Adjust destination URLs on all ads to your best converting landing page for re-targeted traffic based upon 2017 Q4 conversion rates for this same audience segment
      • If your 2018 Q4 data has out-performed your December 2017 data here, use the page/page(s) leading the way in 2018
    • If you use different re-targeting audience segments, such as one for financing leads, another for trade leads, and another for e-price leads, pause the bottom third (1/3) of audiences by conversion rate performance
While it may seem very granular, the entire goal of the above re-targeting optimizations is to focus your funds on the cream of the crop.

Q4 Automotive Digital Marketing Optimizations: In Conclusion

There’s no guarantees in life, but we’re confident if you follow the steps here, and in this post and this post, Q4 2018 will be your dealership’s biggest digital marketing success yet. We hope you learn from our experiences and use these tips to your benefit.
Good selling, and happy holidays!