Dustin Ackart wants dealership owners to think of digital marketing as a funnel.

“Digital marketing is about stages and funnels,” says the owner of Dealer Digital Systems, a business that works with dealerships to refine their digital media strategies. “You’re leading customers through a marketing process.”

When considering a new customer, dealers should begin by building brand awareness, Ackart says. 

“Just let them know you’re there,” he says. Then dealers can begin to increase a customer’s familiarity with their brand, eventually moving on to the point where the customer will start to consider making a purchase from that dealership. As the funnel narrows, a customer will eventually get to the point where a purchase is made.

“The digital marketing side is where you’re creating that sales funnel,” Ackart says. “You’re the top level. We build visitors to turn those into leads and then turn those into customers. 

“You’re getting to the point where the customer is actually walking in the door to make a purchase or picking up the phone to call.” 

Ackart also stresses the importance of the Rule of Seven — the idea that it takes an average of 7 interactions with a brand before a new customer makes a purchase.

“You need those 7 touchpoints before a customer is going to say, ‘OK, I’ve seen these guys more times than the others,’ which definitely raises your odds of making the sale,” Ackart explains.

According to Ackart, many of those touchpoints can be established through digital marketing — particularly through the use of Google and Facebook advertisements to drive customers to the dealership’s website.

“Google targets your audience based on search activity and website visits — it’s more research-based,” he says. “Facebook is a different ball game. It lets you hone your audience to pick them based on statistics like male or female, age, interests, income levels, employment. You’re really breaking down the customer you want to get in front of with Facebook.”

Search Ads Drive Website Traffic Quickly

Ackart knows many dealers are intimidated by Google ads or they’re concerned that they don’t actually work to increase business.

“A ton of traffic gets driven this way,” he says. “Don’t be scared of Google ads. They can work if you do it the right way.”

Although Google offers a variety of ads to businesses, Ackart wants dealers to focus on just three of them — search ads, call only ads and display ads.   

Search ads are ones that are fairly commonplace, he says — those are the ads that show up at the top of a results page after someone has typed a few words into the Google search bar.

“They’re an excellent way to start driving traffic and can drive a massive amount of traffic in a shorter amount of time,” Ackart says. 

Businesses who utilize search ads pay a set cost per click — meaning that every time someone clicks on that ad, the business is charged. According to Ackart, the cost is determined by competition — “how many people are going after that particular keyword and how much each business is willing to bid to get to the top [of the results page].”

Although there are ways to raise or lower the cost per click of a business’s ad — Ackart says things such as quality score (determined by Google’s ranking of the landing page the ad directs users to) can yield a lower cost without compromising the placement of the ad — dealers also have the option to set a strict advertising budget for their search ads.

“You pick a daily budget and a monthly budget, so you don’t get any surprises at the end of the month,” Ackart says. 

He also suggests dealers liaise with their manufacturers and find a way to apply their co-op funds to ads associated with that brand.

“Hand that manufacturer a list of ads and costs associated with your ad dollars, so they know exactly how much you spend toward their brand,” he says. “Co-op dollars are definitely something this can be used for.”

Maintain Visibility with Display Ads

Another option for Google ads are call only ads. According to Ackart, these are keyword-based ads that will only display on mobile devices. They present similarly to search ads, but instead of linking a potential customer to the dealership’s website, they connect the customer who clicks on the ad to the dealership via a phone call.

“As soon as the user clicks call, it’s going to call the dealership, or it’s going to call whatever number you’ve set up for that ad to go to,” Ackart says. “This is an excellent way to drive phone call traffic. When you want to get somebody on the phone and start going through that sales process, this is the perfect way to do it.”

“Approximately 66% of adults in rural regions in the U.S. use Facebook. These statistics mean we can guarantee [your customers] are on Facebook…”

He says the most important thing to remember with call only ads is to only run them during business hours — otherwise they can result in a potential customer trying to call a dealership when no one is there to pick up the phone.

Ackart stresses the importance of utilizing digital marketing strategies as a means to stay in front of potential customers. A great way to do this, he says, is through a third option available through Google ads — display ads.

According to Ackart, these ads are an excellent way to retarget potential customers who visited a dealer’s website but didn’t make a purchase or submit personal information through a contact form.

“99% of the time, somebody in that situation is gone and you’re not able to get them back,” he says. “Through retargeting, we can get a pixel placed on your site so that when they leave and go out to Google, your ads will be right there again in front of them.”

This particular ad strategy doesn’t only work through Google searches, Ackart says. It’s also a feature of Facebook, Instagram and thousands of other websites that host ad placement. By implementing these advertising strategies, he says dealers can ensure that their ad will be seen by potential customers as they cruise around the internet.

“When somebody goes to your website and then leaves, a cookie has been placed on their computer,” Ackart says. “It can trigger those ads as they go out to other places. It’s an incredible way to get back in front of that customer that left the website. It’s possible they won’t come back, but you’re staying in front of them creating a trail so they’re going to see you more than once after they’ve left your website.

“Here’s our chance to get them back to the website, to get them into that sales funnel and start working through that process.”

Use Facebook Ads to Target Specific Demographics

Although it can be beneficial to take advantage of retargeting through display ads on Facebook, Ackart says that’s not the only way dealers can benefit from advertising on the social media website.

“Facebook audience targeting can get you incredibly defined to pinpoint your exact customers,” he says. “Facebook knows so much about their users that they’re able to actually say, ‘OK, if this group is one of your core audiences, we can create a group that is very similar to that and advertise to them.’ 

“It’s kind of scary, but for marketing purposes, Facebook is one of the best marketing tools out there.”

Part of what makes Facebook such a great resource, Ackart says, is its reach. There are 2.8 billion active users worldwide, he says, and the average American adult spends roughly 34 minutes per day on the platform.

“We’ve heard some people say they don’t think their audience is on Facebook,” Ackart says. “Approximately 66% of adults in rural regions in the U.S. use Facebook. These statistics mean we can guarantee they are on Facebook.”

He also cites the shift in recent years of younger audiences departing Facebook for alternative social media platforms, while an older demographic has stayed active on Facebook as a way to maintain family connections. Ackart says all of that information points to the benefit of using Facebook as a way for dealerships to reach out to their intended audience.

One thing that makes advertising on Facebook so valuable, Ackart says, is its specificity.

“You can target exactly who you want to get in front of on Facebook,” he says. “This is why it’s such a valuable company. It’s one of the greatest tools you have to get in front of your core audience, and to make sure you’re going after the right eyes and ears.”

As with Google ads, Ackart says Facebook advertising is a great way to apply co-op funds. Additionally, Facebook lets dealerships target their advertising geographically — meaning that a dealer based in Louisiana won’t be wasting money on advertising to a person in California.

“You can really pinpoint who you want to get in front of,” he says.

Increase Customer Interaction with a Streamlined Landing Page

Ackart emphasizes that it isn’t enough to route potential customers to a dealership’s website through Google and Facebook advertising. He says it’s imperative that those links lead customers to a landing page related to the ads, not the homepage.

“You want to have a direct call to action on that landing page,” Ackart says. “That’s one of the biggest things we’ve seen where people miss the mark. They’re funneling all this traffic back to their website and then dropping them off where they have to search for something. 

“That can waste a lot of money and get no result from it.”

Ackart says the best landing pages are a simplified webpage containing a clear message and action for the user to take.

“It takes out the clutter that can be on websites and gets it down to one page with super relevant information,” he says. “You can get a lot of submissions through this to fill your sales funnel. We know anybody that’s filling out the form is definitely interested. They’re a perfect customer to go after and nurture to get them in the door.”

Examples of successful landing pages include a request for a quote or a contact form to fill out and send to a dealer, Ackart says, and they should always include at least two ways to get in touch with the dealership.

“Don’t give a customer an excuse that they didn’t have a way to contact your business,” Ackart says. “We see a lot of sites where you have to hunt for a contact to actually get a hold of somebody. That’s definitely one of the worst things you can do.” 

Solicit Email Addresses for Targeted Campaigns

Dealerships shouldn’t just be making their contact information available to potential customers. Ackart says they should also be collecting and compiling email addresses as a way to generate email lists.

“It can be extremely helpful in building new sales, and it creates a new audience,” he says. “If you’re always building up your email list, you’ll always have an interested audience.”

One option for collecting email addresses is through the dealer’s website, Ackart says. He suggests providing options for customers to sign up for a newsletter or to receive information about sales specials — anything that might interest customers visiting the website enough to prompt them to submit their email address.

“You aren’t necessarily getting a phone number,” Ackart says. “It’s just first name, last name, email — make it short and sweet.”

Once dealers begin to build a list of email addresses of interested customers, they can take things a step further and break that list down into groups that share similar equipment interests. According to Ackart, that makes it easier to target customers with tailored email campaigns, rather than blanketing everyone with all of the information.

“But even if you’re putting something out there that does cover all your bases, you’re at least getting information out there,” Ackart says, and information sharing is key. “It’s another avenue where you can have information at someone’s fingertips. It goes back to the Rule of Seven — it’s another touch point where you can get information in front of those customers.”

Ackart advises dealers who are new to email marketing look into MailChimp, which has a free option for up to 2,000 contacts. Those who are more comfortable with this digital marketing strategy may want to explore Constant Contact.

One last strategy that Ackart recommends dealerships explore is utilizing business reviews as a way to spotlight successful interactions and satisfied customers.

“They show your greatness,” he says. “You want to show customers your best reviews.”

Ackart suggests emailing or texting customers a link to complete an online review after a transaction is completed. He says Google reviews are the best ones for businesses to target.

“It can help you in a lot of ways if you’re building up those Google reviews,” Ackart says. “It shows you’ve got more reviews than the competition. It can also help with overall search engine optimization.”