Not surprisingly, the internet is a hugely popular destination for auto research, putting information about every possible make and model at consumers' fingertips. In fact, a January 2007 eMarketer study found that 32 percent of consumers cited the internet as the best source for retrieving auto-related information. And with consumers spending more and more time in general on the web vs. other media, online marketing is exploding as a way to reach consumers at every stage of the purchase funnel, from building mindshare and influencing preferences before the actual car shopping starts to helping seal the deal among an in-market, auto-buying audience.
Most marketers look first to reach "bottom-of-the-funnel" shoppers -- those consumers closest to making a purchase -- through auto research and informational sites. As a result, advertising inventory on these sites is at a premium. Additionally, advertising on larger, more well-known lifestyle sites is popular, and marketers will vie for inventory there as well. The cost for these "top-of-the-funnel" placements is also high, and inventory sells out fairly quickly.
With limits on available inventory, reaching as many potential buyers as possible -- wherever they are in the purchase process -- must be the ultimate goal for the online auto advertiser. One of the best ways to reach that goal is by leveraging an ad network:
Targeted marketing with scale
The most obvious advantage of ad networks is their massive reach. Networks aggregate inventory across the internet from both big brand-name and smaller niche sites: anywhere your next buyer may be.
Combine that coverage with ad targeting and you can zero in on a highly specific audience without sacrificing scale. Target by geography, demography, SIC code, lifestyle, content… you name it. The sheer size of the network universe ensures you can carve out a large yet specific audience.
Once you've established your target audience, you can take targeting to the next level: finding consumers whose online activities have demonstrated that they are currently in-market for an automobile. According to comScore Media Metrix, over 22,000,000 consumers searched the internet for a new, used or leased vehicle within the last six months. Behavioral targeting lets you identify and reach out to them, improving the chances of an eventual sale.
Behavioral retargeting works by anonymously observing consumer behavior on your own website. After the consumer leaves your site, targeted messages can be delivered to them based on their behaviors (e.g., car models they searched, or the city in which searches were conducted for) in order to capitalize on local or regional dealer promotions.
Get the message right
Unlike TV buys, online advertising offers the ability to get detailed performance data on metrics such as clicks, car configurations, requests for brochures or searches to find local dealers. Networks let you monitor and perfect a marketing message based on these actual results, whether its across a broad and diverse audience or a specific target segment. Not only will your reports allow you to know precisely where, when and with what audience a campaign is performing best, but most networks have the ability to optimize in real time to maximize positive response.
Know your network
"Where will my ad appear?" At least some level of nondisclosure is actually the standard policy for most reputable networks, so don't take it as a bad sign if your rep tells you he or she can't provide a definitive site list. Complete site transparency does not necessarily equate to quality. The fact is, the most trusted networks don't disclose their entire site list because they don't want to sabotage their premium sites' direct sales efforts. For networks that provide 100 percent site transparency, take a close look at the sites listed; you may not like what you see.
Even without full disclosure, you can get a good sense of site quality simply by asking a few important questions. See what your network can offer in terms of selective disclosure, or the level of control you are afforded with respect to blocking sites or site categories from your media plan. Also, check out your network's policies on the types of sites it accepts; those standards will tell you a lot about overall network quality. Or ask your network representative how many people it reaches across the top-ranked online properties. The answers you get to questions like these will help validate whether your network is working with the very best websites.
It's all about results
The online arena is exceptionally well suited to automotive marketing. The audience is there, and they're hungry for information. And with an ad network, the large reach, targeting capabilities and reporting tools you need are there too, providing innovative ways to generate measurable results.
But remember, a network is not just about its websites or technologies. It's also about its relationships with clients, which can make or break your success.
For a network to get the job done for you, they must understand your long-term goals and specific metrics of success. You need a representative that is accountable for getting you results, no matter how your company or brand defines those results. Your network partner must understand the demands made on you by your quality assurance, legal and creative teams, as well as your internal and external clients. The ability for your sales representative and media partner to exhibit flexibility, honesty and a thorough understanding of your business (and do it all with a "we'll make it happen for you" attitude) is a must. Your partners should want a long-term relationship. If they aren't doing what it takes to build one, you should put that plan in reverse.