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Staying ahead in a competitive industry: Digital trends in the automotive sector 

An aerial view of a silver car on a zebra crossing, its high beams are on

The automotive industry is no stranger to tricky market conditions. With changes in product availability and fluctuations in price, a cost-of-living crisis to contend with and the battle of electric versus conventional waging on, knowing how to effectively harness the digital world amidst these challenges can be daunting to dealerships. Businesses can be left scratching their heads wondering what online strategy will best support their bid to increase sales and, ultimately, is it even worth investing in.  

While navigating the digital landscape in the automotive industry is no mean feat, it’s more important than ever that dealerships focus on improving their digital marketing strategy. In this article, we take a look at some of the top trends in the auto sector and how our team of digital experts can help brands excel online. 

Joining the dots: Integrating the online and offline customer experience 

Many of our purchases now take part completely online, from research through to checkout, our shopping experiences are inherently digital. However, some larger ticket items such as buying a new car are not quite so simple and their purchasing journey is often a blend of online and in-person research. While consumers typically still venture to their local dealers or garages to make their final decision on a car and to physically test drive one, their purchasing journey starts well before they enter your dealership.  

With one of the most complex buying cycles for any new purchase, Cox Automotive suggests that the average person spends a whopping 14 hours researching their next car purchase online. So what does this mean? In short, if your online presence isn’t up to scratch, it doesn’t matter how great your products are, your audience will look elsewhere. 

Dealers need to ensure they are highly visible to their audience at all points of their purchasing journey, leaning on PPC, SEO, social media and programmatic. By using all the digital tools available, you can be sure you’re reaching the right audience during their vital research phase. With the foundations in place, you’ve already built a level of interest and trust in your brand products before a consumer visits your physical showroom.   

Our extensive experience in delivering integrated digital campaigns in the market means we can help you join the dots, using data modelling to optimise your digital marketing budget towards actions and interactions that drive conversions rather than potential vanity metrics. 

Commercial Director at idhl, Tom Rigden, shares his thoughts on the importance of data science in the automotive industry: 

“In automotive retail, data science and AI are transformative tools for seamlessly connecting online and offline customer experiences. This omni-channel integration of physical and digital data touch points leads to smarter customer engagement throughout the vehicle consideration and purchase cycle. 

Data science grants us crucial insights into customer preferences and behaviours, facilitating the delivery of highly personalised experiences. From online interactions to in-person showroom visits, we ensure consistent and tailored customer experiences. This approach not only boosts customer satisfaction but also drives sales and fosters loyalty, giving us a distinct competitive edge.” 

Local search: Dominating your forecourt’s local search through local SEO and Google My Business 

Although most car purchasing journeys begin online, over 90 percent end with a purchase in the dealership. Across our automotive client base end to end, true eCommerce transactions are still rare to see but more and more of the purchasing experience is taking place online, such as booking test drives through your website. This once more highlights the need for dealerships to offer a seamlessly integrated online and offline customer experience. 

To reap the rewards in your physical showroom you must first dominate your local marketplace online. Leaning on local search tactics such as: 

  1. Local SEO: Certain products or services benefit from more localised search results. Consider ordering a food delivery, it would make no sense for Google to suggest restaurants from across the UK to you. Instead, local SEO helps Google highlight relevant, local, results in response to your search query.  
  1. Google My Business: To show up on relevant Google searches, you should create a Google Business Listing. Here you can edit your business information, ensuring users receive the most accurate and up-to-date details of your brand such as phone number and location.  
  1. Map Listings: Once your business listing has been claimed and updated, you can look at how to optimise your information for Google Maps. With more and more people using Maps as a way to find nearby businesses, having precise information will help draw in people in the local area who are looking for X,Y,Z that your brand offers.  

Our Head of SEO, Chris Shelbourn, weighs in with his thoughts on how local SEO should play into your digital strategy:  

“Adopting a local SEO strategy remains pivotal in the automotive sector, given how localised the organic search results tend to be in this space. Leveraging Google My Business / Google Maps gives dealerships of all sizes an excellent opportunity to gain page 1 rankings on a localised basis, and start building visibility in a market where franchise dealers and the huge aggregator sites take a lot of page 1 real estate.” 

First-Party Data: A cookieless world  

Moving towards a cookieless world online, the shift to first-party data isn’t unique to the automotive industry but the ramifications for each industry vary. As the digital landscape heads towards a greater emphasis on first-party data, such as data pulled from your website, CRM or social ads, brands need to change tact with their digital marketing strategy.  

For those in the auto sector, first-party data holds an often-untapped gold mine of potential. Providing you with highly accurate, reliable insight into your customer demographics, personal preferences and shopping behaviour, you can use this key information to optimise and segment marketing campaigns effectively.  

While the change from third-party to first seems to offer a whole host of benefits, change is often hard to navigate, positive or not. At WMG, we are well-versed in helping brands to identify and utilise the power of first-party data across PPC, programmatic, social media and email campaigns. 

Idhl’s Head of Paid Media, Tom Walkden, provides his insight on the value of first-party data: 

“As we move into a cookieless future, the use of first-party data becomes the cornerstone of any robust digital marketing strategy. In the auto sector, this transition is not just a compliance need but a strategic advantage. The richness of first-party data allows dealerships to create highly targeted campaigns, from PPC to social advertising, that resonate with individual buyer needs and behaviours. It’s not just about gathering data; it’s about transforming that data into actionable insights that empower dealers to reach potential customers with the right message at the right time.” 

Accurate stock turnover  

Reducing time on the forecourt is critical in increasing dealerships’ profitability from used cars, so ensuring your digital campaigns are aligned with this goal is crucial. Real-time integration of used stock into your paid media campaigns has proven to be an effective tool in increasing overall conversion rates and improving used car stock turnover. Through utilising tools available, such as SearchAds 360 Inventory Management feature, you can be confident your paid media campaigns provide accurate and up-to-date inventory to your audience.   

“Stock control in the context of paid media cannot be an afterthought; it needs to be proactive and real-time. With SA360’s Inventory Management feature, auto dealerships can elevate their paid media strategies to be as dynamic as their ever-changing inventory. This tool allows for automated adjustments to ad campaigns based on real-time stock data, thereby eliminating the risk of promoting models that are unavailable. It’s not only about increasing conversion rates but also significantly reducing ad wastage. In essence, your paid media strategies should align perfectly with your actual stock, ensuring you’re not making promises your inventory can’t keep.”  

  • Tom Walkden, Head of Paid Media   

Make it personal to make a sale  

With a reported 4564 car dealerships across the UK, it’s fair to say that the automotive industry faces fierce competition. And with consumers savvier than ever, how can you stand out from the crowd and win favour, and ultimately, make the all-important sale? As with many other industries, focusing on personalisation is an important step, and an often undervalued one, when looking to acquire and retain customers. Brands need to tap into who their audience are and how they can reach them best with personalised and tailored messaging, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is one surefire way to turn off potential customers.  

From personalised communications to product suggestions based on their previous interactions with your website, consumers now expect a tailored experience online and if they don’t get it, will likely take their business elsewhere. Working with a digital marketing agency, you can rest assured that your customer data is used effectively to create engaging, personalised user journeys.  

Navigating an ever-changing digital landscape doesn’t have to be tricky  

The automotive industry faces its own set of unique challenges and when combined with a shifting digital landscape, it can feel like an uphill battle to ensure your online strategy hits the spot. At WMG we have a breadth of experience helping brands in the automotive space effectively harness the power of digital marketing. If you’re looking to boost your digital efforts and, ultimately, boost your presence online, get in touch.