shopping

Are You Throwing Customers Away Due to Lack of Communication Channels?

I was recently in need of a moving company. There was one in my community that had done such a great job of branding and building consumer awareness that I decided to give them first shot at my business. I WANTED to do business with them because of their brilliant marketing.

When I was ready to pull the trigger, I Googled their business name and went to their website searching for an email address so I could interact with them and get information via email.  However, when I landed on their website, the only contact option offered was to call them.

Well, I had seen their number all over the place already, on signs throughout the neighborhood, on the side of their vans, through paid search ads, organic search ads and their organic search listing. But that’s not how I wanted to communicate with them! I wanted to email them, as that is what I prefer, but they didn’t provide that option. So, guess what? I bounced from their website and searched for other companies that would allow me to communicate with them the way I felt comfortable communicating.

This is an interesting analogy as the same problem is so prevalent in our industry — Do you know how many times potential car buyers have moved onto your competition as you do not allow them to interact with you by their preferred method of communication?

If you aren’t offering every form of communication possible, or fail to clearly post all methods of contact throughout your website, you are probably losing potential vehicle sales and service opportunities more often than you think. Consumer preferences for how they wish to contact and interact with a dealership can vary greatly. Some want to call and talk to a live person. Some want to text. Some want to email. And now, with today’s technology, the younger crowd wants to communicate via live video stream – something most dealerships aren’t prepared for.

Regardless of how the customer wants to interact, my guess is that you want to sell them a car. If they are of the same mindset that I was, you could easily lose that opportunity by failing to provide the form of communication the customer wants to use. And therein lies the problem.

There are many generations in the market today buying vehicles – and each one (not just generations but people) prefer different forms of communication.  They may even prefer a different sort of communication at different times, or with different businesses. Imagine if I wanted to communicate with that moving company at 1:00am. I couldn’t even send them an email because all they had was a phone number!

Our goal shouldn’t be just to move shoppers through our sales funnel, it should be to make it easy for shoppers to move through our sales funnel.  To accomplish this, you must ensure that all your bases are covered when it comes to providing your customers – or potential customers – their preferred means of communicating with you.

If you are like most dealers, I am sure you try, unsuccessfully, to communicate with customers that submit lead forms all day long. Why make it difficult for them to engage with you when, in fact, they may really want to?

How to Shoot Professional Quality Videos with a Smartphone

When dealerships first start their video marketing programs, one of the most common questions I am asked is, “Will I have to buy an expensive camera?” The answer is no. Just about everyone these days has a smartphone that can shoot HD video. When used properly, the quality of video produced can be exceptional. All it takes is practice.

Most dealers start with inventory walkaround videos and these are probably the trickiest videos to shoot, so that’s what we’ll focus on here.

First, to ensure a good high-resolution (and non-pixelated) video, adjust your camera setting to record video at 1920 x 1080 and 30 frames per second (fps), unless you plan to extract your still images for the inventory from the video.  In that case you may want to utilize 60 frames per second (fps).

Next, invest in a stabilizer. Most smartphones have a pretty good stabilizer built into them today, but they will only make a good video better. This is the merchandising layer for your inventory that most shoppers are going to view, so invest in the tools that you need to provide the best experience for your shoppers that you can. Don’t fool yourself into believing you can walk around the vehicle while holding the smartphone steady in your hand. The result will be a bouncy video that will make your viewers seasick and result in low video completion rates.

A hand-held stabilizer or tripod is better than nothing, but if you want to produce the best quality video invest in a 3-axis gimbal for a couple hundred bucks. It is worth every penny! For top of the line stabilization a 4-axis gimbal is even better, but may run you a couple thousand.

Currently we recommend using a set-up that includes your smartphone, and the DJI OSMO camera/gimbal combo. This is a really cool camera that takes amazing quality video and connects wirelessly with your smartphone, so you can use your smartphone to view what the camera is recording.

You can find a DJI OSMO starter kit for around $500 and depending on how you want to accessorize it, you may spend $700 to $800. This is a small investment that will make your inventory shine!  GoPro also offers some great camera/stabilizer combinations that cost less and produce very good quality videos as well.

Once you have a stabilizer, the next thing you’ll want to address is lighting. Smartphones have small lenses so adequate lighting is critical. This shouldn’t be a problem if you’re shooting outdoors, but always position the vehicle so you will not be pointing the camera into direct light, such as the sun.

When you first begin shooting walkarounds, you may want to allow extra time to shoot the entire video two or three times. With each ‘take,’ experiment with different ISO settings, which measure your camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. On a sunny day your ISO settings will be lower and on cloudy days your ISO settings will be higher. If you do shoot on a sunny day, avoid shooting midday because that’s when the sun casts the harshest shadows. Instead, schedule shoots for early morning or late afternoon.

For vehicle walkarounds, you want to feature shots panning the side of the vehicle, as well as the front and back so the viewer has a good sense of what the vehicle looks like from all angles. Open the doors and shoot the interior, both front and back.

Then focus on shooting the features that you will use to sell the car, such as the Infotainment system, new tires, safety features, etc. The total length of your walkaround videos can range from one to four minutes. Don’t believe experts who tell you that all videos have to be one minute or less. Though this is probably true for a bad or dull video, if the presentation is informative and entertaining, two, three or even four minutes is okay. There are plenty of dealerships that get 80 to 90 percent completion rates with videos that long, and plenty of dealerships that only get a 50 to 60 percent completion rate with their bouncy and dull one- minute videos.

If you are worried about the audio track for your videos, you can have your photographer shoot your videos and have a data driven audio track added to the video automatically.  If you are adding your own audio while shooting the videos, or if you decide to shoot your walkaround videos featuring a salesperson or spokesperson giving a live presentation, invest in a good noise-cancelling microphone.

Either way you can always go back and replace the audio layer of the video if you want or need to without having to re-shoot the video.  You can even personalize the audio layer of the videos for specific leads (personalized walkarounds) without having to shoot another video, saving you a LOT of time while producing an identical personalized walkaround video to one that was shot from scratch.

Finally, expect that the first few videos you create will probably suck. Don’t be discouraged! Practice makes perfect. Keep doing it and eventually things will click. Pretty soon you will find your own unique style and every walkaround video will become a mini-masterpiece.

What tips do you have for shooting professional quality video with your smartphone?

Live Video Walkarounds: Are they Worth the Effort?

by Tim James

While most forms of digital marketing offer some value to dealers, the one constant has – and always will be – the better your inventory merchandising, the higher your sales.

In the digital world, your merchandising takes place on your VDP Pages, making your VDP Pages one of (if not “the”) most valuable pieces of digital real estate that you have today. The goal of the merchandising on your VDP Pages is to get a consumer emotionally attached to the vehicle, to take “mental ownership.” Or, at a minimum, to generate enough interest that the shopper will come to your store and take a test drive. If you can’t obtain one of these goals, then you hope that your presentation of the vehicle at least had a large enough impact on the shopper that they will remember one of your vehicles as they continue their shopping and bounce from site to site.

This is why you invest the time and/or money into your current digital marketing strategy: You have a website that gets good traffic and that has good flow to the Vehicle Details Pages (VDPs); pay 3rd parties for VDPs on their sites; have high quality photos for each vehicle on its VDP; use a good quality vehicle description for each vehicle; and even have all kinds of “conversion widgets” and such on your VDP Pages. You know how important your VDP Pages are. And you currently invest a lot of time and money into your efforts to have the “best” presentation of your vehicles as possible on those VDPs.

Now, up to this point, I haven’t told you anything that you don’t already know. But let’s consider this:

• People retain 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, and an amazing 70% of what they see & hear combined. This means that a shopper is at least 40% more likely to form an emotional attachment and remember “your” inventory if they are able to watch videos of the vehicles on your VDPs.

• More than 85% of today’s consumer’s say that they prefer product video over photos and a text based product description. Shoppers are significantly more likely to spend a greater amount of time on your VDPs — and more likely to return to YOUR website at a future time — if they know that they can receive their content the in the form in which they desire to receive it…video.

• Live Inventory Videos average 600% more engagement than stitched photo videos. This means that having a stitched photo video is better than not having a video at all; however, you will receive a significant boost in engagement if you are utilizing live inventory videos. This IS the best presentation of your vehicles (merchandising) possible for your VDPs.

The actual process of shooting a live inventory video only takes around 2 to 5 minutes per vehicle. Yes, it may take you a little longer in the beginning, when you first start shooting the videos, and before you are comfortable with the process. But, after you’ve shot a few, you should easily be able to get your process down to the 2 to 5 minute range. The actual process of shooting a live video is hardly an overwhelming investment of time, especially when considering the engagement and conversion benefits.

What DOES take time is everything else. You have to manually upload the video to a “host” (or multiple hosts), rename every file as you upload it, and then manually process the video URL to each location that you would like for the video to play. I’m sure there are plenty of you reading this who remember the days that this same “time consuming” process was at one time true for your photos. Shooting the photos was the easy part, but to get your photos to all of the various digital touch-points, you had to manually rename them and upload them touch-point by touch-point. Instead, many dealerships would either choose to not keep their photos current on the various digital touch-points, to outsource the photo process to a 3rd party, or would hire an in-house staff to do nothing but shoot and upload photos all day. As time progressed, and as dealerships started to realize how important the photos were to the merchandising process, more and more started investing in technology that made the upload and distribution process fast and easy. They still had to have someone shoot their photos, but that’s all they had to do and technology took care of the rest.

The great news is that this same technology now exists for your videos. All someone has to do is shoot the video (2 to 5 minutes) and technology will automatically name, upload, and distribute the videos for you (and often in real-time). In fact, you can even have your photographer shoot the video for you at the same time they are shooting their photos. And if you aren’t comfortable with your photographer talking about the vehicles while shooting the videos, then technology can even automatically add the audio layer to the video as it is being automatically uploaded. And you could even have one of your Sales or BDC Team members (from the comfort of their own office) re-record the audio layer of the video and instantly replace the automated audio layer on all of the digital touch-points (in real-time), if so desired. No more wind or highway noises, no airplanes flying overhead, and no worrying about the weather.

Even greater news is that these same videos can then also be utilized by your sales team and/or BDC team for personalized walkaround videos for lead responses. Instead of the time consuming, over and over process of shooting one video that would be seen by one person, of checking out the keys, finding the vehicle on the lot (in the heat, cold, rain, snow), pulling the vehicle out of the line, shooting the video, parking the vehicle, walking back inside, checking in the keys, uploading the video to a “host”, grabbing the URL and sending the video URL out in an email…the sales or BDC team member can now simply pull up the existing video (being used on the VDPs), re-record a personalized message as the audio, add background music (if desired), click save, and email out…all in less time than it takes to check out the keys and find the vehicle on the lot.

We used to find all kinds of excuses for why we didn’t keep our VDPs (across all of the digital touch-points) updated each day with 25, 35, 55+ photos. Excuses ranged from “it’s too much work” to “it costs too much money (if outsourced).” And I’m sure you can find plenty of new excuses as to why you aren’t shooting live videos for your VDPs and using walkaround videos for your lead responses…but the fact is that “it’s too much work,” is no longer a valid excuse, especially when you consider the impact that it will have on your sales.

As Hispanics buy more cars, stores add videos in Spanish

Eighteen months ago, Coast Nissan in San Luis Obispo, Calif., introduced Spanish-language videos with each car posted online.

General Manager Eric Ideman said it was a response to two trends:

•  His customer base along the central coast is heavily Hispanic, with many speaking only Spanish or preferring to communicate in the language.

•  Data showed increasing numbers of online vehicle-shoppers watching car videos.

“We have lot of people searching [for cars] in Spanish,” Ideman said. “We wanted to make sure they could get their videos in Spanish, too.”

Hispanics account for an increasing percentage of car purchases nationally, causing dealerships across the country to reassess how they market to the demographic, according to Eley Duke III, vice president of Duke Automotive (Chevrolet-Buick-GMC-Cadillac) in Suffolk, Va.

The videos at Coast Nissan and sister store Coast BMW appear as links on the Web pages of specific vehicles. They are for new and used vehicles. And they are either vehicle walk-around videos or a series of still photos spliced together with voice-over.

Duke said the area has a small Hispanic population nearby. But, he said, he added Spanish-language videos in December to the inventory he shows on the dealership website and social media feeds because he doesn’t want to lose a single sale to a language barrier.

Duke, like Coast Nissan, added the videos at the recommendation of one of its digital ad agencies, ZMOT Auto. The agency recently announced a deal with inventory video maker Flick Fusion to provide Spanish-language voice-overs to Flick Fusion’s videos.

In 2014, Hispanics accounted for 12 percent of retail vehicle registrations minus fleet and commercial vehicles, according to IHS Automotive. The number was 9.3 percent in 2010, according to Marc Bland, IHS Automotive vice president of diversity and inclusion. “If an automotive brand is looking for growth, there’s no better place to look than the ethnic consumer — with Hispanics leading the way,” Bland said.

The U.S. Census Bureau projects that Hispanics, who numbered 52 million in the country in July 2011, or 17 percent of the population, will account for 30 percent of the population by 2050.

Duke said video-watching also is on the rise among car shoppers. “Videos are such a big part of a visual society,” he said.

According to Google’s “Digital Drives Auto Shopping” study published in November 2013, more than half of auto shoppers watch 30 minutes or more of video during their shopping journeys. Moreover, one in four watched an hour or more, the study found.

In recognition of those trends, Coast Nissan is offering all of its online inventory with videos in English and Spanish, Ideman said.

The store is not as close to heavy Hispanic foot traffic as some competitors, he said. So Coast Nissan also is ensuring that its paid search ads, blogs, chat and website content are in Spanish, too, so those customers can find and interact easily in either English or Spanish, he said.

It isn’t good enough, Ideman said, to get an online lead or phone call from Spanish-speaking customers and make them wait for a response until the store can get a bilingual salesperson to contact them.

“People want an immediate response, or they go away,” he said.

Coast Nissan sells about 80 vehicles per month split evenly between new and used.

Of the store’s six salespeople, four are bilingual. And so is Coast Nissan’s finance director, who is responsible for closing deals in finance and insurance.

Ideman said, “We want to hold them all the way through the transaction.”

Written by David Barkholz [Originally published 2/16 on Automotive News]

Why “Just Do It” Is A Waste Of Time

by Tim James

In this high tech age, there are numerous tasks that an Internet or eCommerce Director has to tackle in order to correctly market their dealership and its inventory. In the past, you were doing a great job if you were writing custom detailed vehicle descriptions and taking multiple photos of your pre-owned vehicles. You were a superstar if you were also doing these things for your new vehicles. Then video entered the picture. Some dealers embraced video and used data feeds to syndicate video, vehicle descriptions and photos to their website and other third-party sites. Forward thinkers also uploaded the videos with proper tags and descriptions to YouTube.

However, with the fast pace of advancing technology, the number of consumer touch-points keeps growing and it has become an almost overwhelming task to keep up and still try to sell cars.

But one thing hasn’t changed, the key to a successful marketing strategy is getting the right content, in front of the right shopper, on the right touch-point, and at the right time of the buying cycle. The more exposure you get for your content, the more impact that content is going to have on your sales. Content that’s not seen is worthless.

I remember a story from not too long ago about one of the largest volume dealers in the world. This dealer was manually uploading their inventory to their website and every third party website for over 10 stores – one by one – daily. They chose to pay someone $100+ per DAY, rather than use automation and data distribution technology to accomplish the same task at a cost of just $150 per MONTH.

I’m starting to see a lot of this same mentality today with video. Many dealerships have gone out and purchased some great video production tools, and are doing a great job producing some very good video content. They are then manually uploading their content to YouTube and manually embedding links on as many touch-points as they have the time and ability to do so (not all touch-points allow a manual upload). They would rather invest hours of their time to manually place their content on fewer touch-points, than use automation and data distribution technology to accomplish the same task (with more touch-points) for just a couple hundred dollars a month.

I believe that many dealers, managers and Internet directors understand the importance of having their dealership and inventory positioned properly and in as many places online as possible. The problem I see is two-fold: They either don’t understand that technology exists that could transform their Internet marketing and sales without putting an undue burden on their staff. Or they don’t believe that the investment in this technology will produce results.

I can guarantee you this. If you’re simply doing it for the sake of doing it, you’re wasting your time. If nobody sees the content you create, it might as well not exist. The fact is video is “content,” just like any of the other “content” that you utilize to market your dealership and inventory. You don’t spend your day manually cutting and pasting your other content on multiple touch-points all day long — manually uploading photos, and manually writing vehicle descriptions over and over. Why on earth would you try to manually manage your video syndication when producing the content can be time consuming enough.

If you focus your efforts on ensuring that you have great video content, and then utilize technology to get that content on as many of the sites consumers view in the car buying process as possible, then you will be significantly more likely to have the right content, on the right touch-point, in front of the right consumer, at the right time of the buying cycle. This is the only thing that’s going to engage more shoppers and increase sales.

Nike’s old slogan of “Just Do It” needs to be revised when applied to successful marketing strategies today to “Just Do It Right.”

Can Anybody Find Me Somebody To Love?

By Tim James

That classic line from the song “Somebody to Love” by legendary band, Queen epitomizes the destination for consumers and the goal of all salespeople. There’s not a doubt in my mind that you’ve heard the phrase “People buy from people they like.” In the past, a consumer had to come into a dealership to start the car shopping process. This is where the important skill of “building rapport” came into play for salespeople. Great salespeople learned quickly how to find common interests and develop relationships with their clients, while assisting them to find the right vehicle.

Fast forward to today. Consumers now have the option of car shopping anonymously. Dealership Internet and BDC departments are inundated with leads arriving from countless sources. Consumers chose to share some or all of their information after narrowing down their online research. They’ve engaged with you to some degree and have given you the opportunity to earn their business. You must remember, however, that to the consumer, you are only a car dealership. Chances are also good that you are not the only car dealership who they (or a third party) has given this opportunity to. All dealerships have auto-responders and the standard “Why Buy From Us” email templates are sent to leads pretty quickly. Because the consumer is inundated with these templates, they are meaningless.

The fact is that people buy from people they like. So, how do you make that emotional connection with a lead? It’s certainly not through e-mail templates.

Consumers like to be treated as if they are special. They can smell an e-mail template before it even hits their in-box. While it’s fine to tell your dealership’s story, don’t forget the importance of building rapport — it will go a long way towards winning the sale.

Highly successful dealers have started sending out individualized “Why Buy From Me” type videos in their e-mails. These videos are personalized to each and every customer. These are not just a homogenized blanket “one size fits all” type of message. The reason this works is because of a very simple concept known to salespeople. By saying someone’s name, you recognize them as a person… and individual. No longer is your video message “My name is Tim. And I would like to earn your business… Mr. Blank.”

Instead the message is directed to the individual as … “My name is Tim and I want to earn YOUR business, Mr. Smith.” — That’s a very different message.

What do you do if you see someone you know walking nearby, but out of reach? You yell out their name! Why? Because it gets their attention! And that’s exactly what personalized video responses accomplish.

The bottom line is that the possible touch points on the consumer’s online car shopping path are increasing at an incredibly rapid pace, almost daily. It is becoming more and more difficult to stand out and claim a customer’s attention. This very simple technique can make your interactions more personal and help to gain the customer’s attention. I am sure you will find that more people appreciate, respond and give you the opportunity to earn their business.

After all, we all simply want to find somebody to love. Make sure that somebody is you.

Why Video Is Important For Your Marketing Strategy

by Brian Cox

When businesses ponder how to increase their presence on search engines, they typically turn to SEO strategies. Content marketing has always been a large part of any SEO strategy. It’s a given that the more fresh, relevant and unique content you produce, the better chance your online properties will have of showing in search engine results. According to an article by Search Engine Land, in the past, when considering an SEO plan, the primary type of content marketers thought of was text. As consumer behavior changes, however, visual content is becoming increasingly important.

According to the article, a Google study that tracked consumers’ points of influence on their path to purchase, found that 64 percent of consumers were influenced by video they saw on YouTube – 2/3 of which were “how-to” and “product visualization” type video. These videos match the content type that auto dealers use. In fact, according to the study, 60 percent of consumers reported that online digital marketing factored into their path to purchase. And a recent article in the Wall Street Journal reported that experts are now advising marketers to move 10% to 25% of TV ad dollars to online video.

Today’s vehicle shoppers have many decisions to make along the path to purchase. A consumer who visits an online shopping portal will typically be presented with a list of vehicles that meet their criteria in order of price, lowest to highest. They will then start filtering out vehicles from those results based on such things as mileage, condition, vehicle descriptions and pictures and video provided by the dealer. Vehicles with no (or poor) descriptions or ones that lack photos and video have a greater likelihood of being passed over. Vehicle description pages that contain rich details including images and video stand a far greater chance at seeing customer engagement. It’s hard to believe that anyone would disagree with this very basic assessment.

The same idea translates to search engine optimization. The goal, obviously, in any search engine optimization strategy is to be found whenever a consumer makes a relevant search. According to Search Engine Land, however, that’s not what the real goal is (or should be). Simply showing up does nothing except satisfy a marketer or SEO practitioner’s ego. The true goal is click-through-rate. The more opportunities you can provide a customer who is searching for a vehicle to find your dealership and/or vehicle (i.e. the more times you appear within a given search), the greater the likelihood will be that they will click on a link to your content versus your competition. To accomplish this, you must have a presence on all the consumer touchpoints in every medium possible – video, images and text – thereby offering more content for a search engine to crawl and deliver within the results.

The bottom line is that consumers are using more resources than ever before when shopping for a vehicle. Ensuring that the type of content a consumer wants to see is present on every touchpoint is essential to increase web traffic and consumer engagement. Don’t get me wrong, simply throwing money into video marketing is not what I advise. You would be wise to invest in a comprehensive video strategy that maximizes the exposure, quality and effectiveness of your video content. It will make the difference and allow you to dominate all of your online marketing channels.