Search is the word
Search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO)-no matter what technique is being used, search is red hot. While online, interactive vendors went crazy telling dealers why SEO and SEM were going to change their dealership sales and marketing this past year, dealers struggled to keep up with the terminology and figure out just what the acronyms meant. Yet, the dealers who did catch on and incorporated SEO into their marketing strategy are finding it to be a fairly successful way to draw ups into the dealership.
In 2007, look for dealers to become even more involved with SEO and begin to expand into SEM as well. Up until this point, internet sales managers hired interactive vendors to help them optimize their sites, without getting too deep into the pay-per-click waters. But from where I'm sitting, I see dealerships bringing in specialized search agencies, like DealerOn, BZ Results and Jumpstart Automotive Media, to help fine tune ad words and use blogs to increase their page rankings.
Email communications come of age
Email communications burst onto the scene in a big way over the last few years, and 2007 is ripe to become the year email comes of age in the auto industry. While some dealerships are still using promotions and dealership news as their primary focus for online content, many will be looking to lifestyle content to make their e-newsletters more interesting to readers in 2007.
To take the burden of content development off the dealership, services like IMakeNews are popping up. These editorial services let dealers pick from a variety of pre-written articles -- everything from planning a trip to wine country to getting ready for the holidays -- and then add their own customized, dealership news in between the lifestyle items. The result? A targeted marketing piece that's also worth reading.
Online response technology extends outreach
In addition to content, general managers are getting into the two-way communication game. Using tools from companies like CIMA Systems and 5square, dealers are able to not only send out communications like service reminders to customers, but then also allow the customer to respond back online or over the phone to book their next appointment. This two-way communication will become an important aspect of any successful email campaign in 07.
Blogging ripens on the autos vine
While autos manufacturers entered the blogging game in 2006, with blogs like GM's Fastlane, this communication tool is still a relatively foreign concept across the rest of the market. The question on everyone's mind these days is, just what kind of returns are blogs bringing in? Many blogs just getting off of the ground still act as a "billboard" for the dealership, promoting specials and events instead of musings and notes from the top brass. While it may take this year to smooth out some of the wrinkles from early adapters, I think we'll see a move toward using blogs to increase SEM rankings, using their unlimited content potential.
Smart marketers will also learn not to focus too much on the use of blogs as a customer feedback mechanism. It's really too early in the evolution of this media form to expect blogs to become the "end all, be all" for customer comments and suggestions for dealerships. Stores that use the number of feedback comments on their blog as a yardstick of success for this type of media will be disappointed. Look for bloggers to gain their footing this year, but I really don't think they'll hit their stride until 2008.
Behavioral targeting takes better aim
This is an evolving technique in the automotive industry, and one that website analysts and agencies like to throw around, to little effect. At this point, behavioral targeting is but a blip on the radar in the industry. But smart marketers will begin laying the foundation now for a strong voice in the behavioral marketing fray. While 2007 may not be the year that BT comes into its own for automotive, I think it will be the year that interest in this strategy will rise enough to earn it a spot on many marketers' media plans.
To wrap it all up, the things that worked well and became hot in 2006 will remain smokin' in '07, and will add even more bells and whistles. Search engine marketing and email communications will mature, while blogs will slowly evolve and behavioral marketing will bubble just beneath the surface. Regardless of the trends that explode in 2007 in the automotive industry, one thing is for certain - we're all in for one wild ride. Have a great new year!
Laurie Halter is the owner of Charisma! Communications. .