Mastering the Migration from Traditional to Digital Marketing

Auto dealers leverage dynamic digital media to maximize online presence and profits

Posted by Brian Cox on December 13, 2011

Gone are the days when the big three of traditional media marketing—newspaper, radio, and television—had exclusive dibs on every last penny of a dealership’s marketing budget.  True, those old-school mediums still hold a place in a dealership’s overall marketing spend.  But, make no mistake—they’re fast being reduced to a lesser role as the majority of marketing dollars are being earmarked for digital and social media initiatives at dealerships of all sizes across the country.

The seismic shift from traditional marketing to digital marketing is being driven by progressive, forward-thinking dealerships, who are tipping the scales in favor of stores that take calculated and strategic steps to capitalize on digital marketing’s vast reach, immediacy, and cost-effective benefits.

“Digital marketing is eclipsing traditional media,” said John Roth, internet director at Roseville Toyota-Scion in Sacramento, CA—northern California’s largest Toyota-certified pre-owned store.  “It completed the waxing stage—and traditional media is waning.”  Roth notes that over the last five years, the dealership has shifted from a mix of 20 percent electronic and 80 percent traditional media marketing to approximately 60 percent digital marketing and about 40 percent traditional.  “Up to 70 percent of our dealership’s sales can be attributed to web-based media, digital and social media, Facebook, and Twitter.  Five to 10 years ago, it was the other way around—30 percent from digital and 70 percent from newspaper, radio, and TV advertising,” said Roth.

Why make the shift from traditional media to a digital media marketing focus?  “It’s the same reason why we did away with the horse and buggy and got into transportation in automobiles,” said Roth.  “The writing is on the wall.  It’s the 21st century, and this is the way we’re doing business.”

 Whatever the size, inventory, or location of your dealership—whether it’s a family-run Mom-and-Pop operation or a sprawling franchise mega store—incorporating digital and social media ventures into your overall marketing mix is flat-out crucial to a dealership’s ability to compete and survive in today’s environment.

Digital marketing boasts a host of attributes.  It’s affordable.  It’s immediate.  And it’s more targeted, more trackable, and can deliver more substantial value to your dealership by facilitating true interactive engagement and building long-term relationships with your customers.  Online marketing offers countless, ongoing opportunities for personalized, one-to-one communication and genuine give-and-take interaction with your customers—while at the same time spreading the word, far and wide, about your dealership through strategic content syndication in the digital realm.

“We started the transition from traditional to digital marketing in 2009—because that’s the future,” said Mark Cowart, general manager of Car City West in Des Moines, IA, a dealership with a five-star rating on Google Places.  “There’s no benefit to newspaper anymore.  I’m not doing any print.  I’m getting rid of radio.  We’ll have 10 percent TV ads and 90 percent digital marketing.  We drive 70 percent of my customers through digital,” he said.  “The number of people who shop online before they buy a car has grown considerably—and soon roughly 90 to 95 percent of people who own a computer will be shopping the Internet before they walk into a store to buy a car,” he added.  When it comes to adopting digital marketing, Cowart said, “I have no fear factor to it.  I want to be the creator, the innovator—I don’t want to be the follower.  If you’re not in the digital marketing and social media game, you’re hurting your profits.”

Your customers and potential customers are in the digital space daily—and that’s where your dealership has to be.

Behold.  The next frontier is here.  And it is digital.

Brian Cox is president and CEO at Dealer Impact Systems and can be reached at or at (877) 334-9638.