Auto dealers: follow these 8 golden rules for digital marketing

Al Khouri knows how quickly a talented car dealer can go extinct.

He watched the internet turn a whole generation of them into dinosaurs.

“What worked for them for years,” he said. “No longer worked for them.”

Khouri, the general manager of DCH Millburn Audi in Maplewood, New Jersey, knows that dealers used to wing it. Maybe they’d run some radio or TV, or announce a sale in the newspaper. It was always enough.

Until it wasn’t.

Overnight, the internet created a more educated customer who craved transparency.

They had access to information (heaps of it) and prices (all of them). You could no longer wing it. You could no longer rely on charm and guile. You could no longer run a newspaper ad and be good.

You had to adapt.

It’s safe to say Khouri has adapted. He presides over the second-largest Audi dealership in New Jersey. A few years ago, that same dealership was the seventh-largest. It has grown, steadily and consistently.

A big reason for that growth is Khouri’s marketing acumen, especially when it comes to digital. Here, he provides his hard and fast rules for successful campaigns.

1. Know what you have in stock.

Running a successful marketing campaign and getting people in the door is great, but it means nothing if you don’t have enough product to move.

It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many dealers run campaigns on cars they don’t have enough of. It leads to frustrated customers who won’t show up the next time.

“You already wasted a half-day or full day of their time,” Khouri says.

Make sure you’re well stocked before you start a campaign.

2. Define your ideal outcome.

You need to know what you want out of your campaign. Is it to get new people in the door? To sell accessories?

Or is it to sell cars, full stop? If so, you need to define how many cars you need to sell for the campaign to be a success.

Without defining your ideal outcome and knowing exactly what you want out of a campaign, Khouri says, you’re lost. To avoid this, set a clear guidepost. It will inform all the decisions you make throughout the campaign.

3. Pick the right platform (or the right mix of platforms).

The Audi A8 is a luxury vehicle. At Khouri’s dealership, it’s typically purchased by males in their late 40s or 50s who have a household income over $250,000.

“I’m not going to be spending my money marketing that A8 on Instagram,” says Khouri, referencing the social media platform favored by a younger audience. “I need to market that A8 with targeted email campaigns, like the ones we do with Bridge.”

When not marketing a specific vehicle to a specific demographic, multiple platforms are necessary.

Khouri uses the example of used cars, which can be sold at all sorts of price points. For a blanket campaign (like when you’re selling a bunch of different cars at different price points) you need to use a mix of tactics.

“I can use more than one venue,” he says. “Be it radio, direct email marketing, or Facebook marketing.”

4. Find a marketing partner that gets you fresh leads, and doesn’t use the same list of people over and over.

Sometimes, digital marketing can provide diminishing returns.

“If you keep using the same venue over and over, you might start with a 10% response rate,” Khouri says. “It goes down to 5%. 3%. 2%. Then to less than 1%. And you’re still spending the same money, if not more, but the quality and amount of leads keeps going down.”

Here’s why that happens: most companies have a certain list that they get their leads from. They overuse this list by passing it from one dealer to the next, and when it’s time to market to fresh customers, there’s a mad scramble.

It’s vital that you choose a marketing partner that can keep getting you fresh leads on a variety of platforms.

“This is something that Bridge is a master at,” says Khouri.

5. Know which KPI matters most (and which ones don’t matter at all).

“Different companies would come in and say, ‘oh, you’ve appeared in 2,000 searches,” says Khouri of his past marketing partners. “To me, that means nothing.”

Unless those searches are leading to site traffic (and then conversions), they’re pretty much worthless.

“At the end of the day, I pay for results,” says Khouri. “If you tell me I appear in 500,000 searches, yet I only had 50 click-throughs to my website, those search appearances mean nothing.”

Khouri’s KPIs are simple and straightforward. His most important one isn’t a surprise: number of cars sold per month.

Because it’s important to compare apples to apples, Khouri looks at where he ranks among his immediate competition. In this case, that means looking at other Audi dealerships in New Jersey.

“Did they sell more than they did last year?” he says. “Did I? Was their growth percentage 5% and mine was 1%?”

If the water is rising, Khouri says, it’s only a victory if you’ve risen as much (or more) than your immediate competition. To see where the water level is, he looks at other Audi dealers in his geographical vicinity.

6. Selling cars is your most important KPI. But these three metrics are also important.

Foot traffic matters.

Khouri looks at when his campaign started, and measures up to seven days after that. Did more people come into the dealership?

Website traffic matters. Did the campaign drive more users to his landing pages? What did people do after they visited those landing pages?

Facebook traffic matters, too. Some people will see an email, then choose to visit his dealership’s Facebook page later. If he sees an increase up to seven days after his campaign started, he knows things are trending in the right direction.

7. Be fair to your marketing partners.

Be honest with yourself, and don’t blame your marketing partners for things that aren’t their fault.

Look at traffic to the door. Maybe your partners got people to visit your dealership, but you couldn’t capitalize.

“It could be that we didn’t do our job at the dealership level,” he says. “And we didn’t know what to do with those customers.”

This rarely, if ever, happens at Khouri’s dealership. But it’s vital to remember: when things don’t work out, you need to be able to look in the mirror.

8. The most important piece of advice for car dealers is this.

I ask Khouri if he has any closing tips for car dealers, particularly young ones. He answers immediately.

“Learn to adapt.”

Remember: you don’t want to become a dinosaur. The customer is always right, he says, because the customer pays your bills. So make sure you adapt to their needs. If you don’t, you might get left in the dust.

“This is no longer Grandpa’s car sales business,” Khouri says.

The landscape is now customer-oriented. Dealers need to be focused on transparency. If you’re not radically honest with your customers, you’ll lose them.

For the new generation of dealers, the mantra is simple.

“Be transparent,” Khouri says. “Think on your feet, do the best you can, and have fun.”

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