Car Dealership Advertising Strategies that Work: Our Top Digital Lead Generation Tactics

Advertising might not be the single most important thing your dealership does, but how much do your merchandising or customer experience matter if nobody hears about them?

That might seem like a bit of a bleak outlook, considering how much time and effort go into building a truly top-notch dealership. But consumers these days aren’t visiting every dealership in the area for shoptalk and test drives; instead, customers are doing their research online before visiting the one or two dealerships that really stand out.

To increase your lead volumes and close more deals, you need a new advertising strategy that reflects the way people approach their automotive purchases. So what does that mean for your dealership? Here are our top digital lead generation tactics, and a clear roadmap for turning them into a cohesive dealership advertising strategy.

Before we dive into the specifics, here are some dealership advertising best practices to keep in mind:

  1. Go digital. Your focus should be digital – it’s where your customers are. Physical advertising can still help promote awareness, but digital is what gets leads.
  2. Keep your branding consistent. Colours, logo, voice, and even font face should all be identical across all channels, accounts, and platforms wherever possible.
  3. Simplify and align your messaging. Choose a clear CTA that can be leveraged on every channel, including your website.
  4. Centralize your strategy. Your dealership website is your strongest resource, so all advertising should lead back to it.
  5. Revamp your website. The stronger your website, the better your leads will convert. Implement a digital retailing solution to turn your website into a lead gen. machine.

Where are your customers?

As we alluded to above, your customers have gone digital. According to a recent Kijiji research report, barely half of shoppers used ANY offline resource at all in deciding where and what to buy. By stark contrast, 88% used online resources to guide their purchases.

A full 60% of buyers relied on the dealership website, making it the single most important resource in the purchase journey. Online classifieds, manufacturer ‘sites, and web searches each represented 30% to 40% of buyers, but nothing dominates the purchase decision like your own website.

This means that your most successful advertising strategy will be one that drives traffic to your dealership website. According to the same Kijiji report, 84% of consumers spend more than half their time researching online, so go where your customers are. Focus on digital.

Start by evaluating your advertising channels. Some people like to discuss the merits of display versus search advertising, but both are necessary for a successful dealership advertising strategy.

How to design social media & display ads

Facebook is your best channel for display ads. Everyone has Facebook, so a few well-tailored display ads are guaranteed to get your dealership in front of potential buyers. In our experience, the best way to get high quality leads from social media advertising is to have a simple value proposition and CTA, which links to a custom SRP on a digital retailing platform.

READ: What is Digital Retailing, and How Will it Affect Your Dealership?

Something like “Buy your next car online at DEALERSHIP! Click to build your deal,” offers clear value and expectations for your audience, and by linking into a custom SRP (2020 Corolla hatchbacks, for instance), you’re placing potential customers in the first step of their purchase.

If this SRP is part of a digital retailing platform, then the lead in question has all the tools to start understanding and navigating the purchase on their own, increasing the likelihood that they’ll carry on with the process.

How to build search advertisements

The targeting and segmentation on search ads isn’t the hard part. As long as you’re going after relevant terms that are related to the research and discovery stage of the purchase, your ads will land in front of the right people.

The tricky part is standing out. This is where a USP (unique selling proposition) shows its worth: instead of stating the availability of a relevant vehicle at your dealership, lead with what makes you special. Again, digital retailing is a valuable asset here, allowing you to create ads that promote the customers’ ability to “Shop online for your new 2020 Ford F-150!”

Other USPs could be your ability to bring the car to your customer’s house for a test drive, or your 90-day, 500-kilometre return policy. Regardless, lead with what makes you different.

What else can you do?

Search and display ads are two of the simplest ways to drive massive increases in lead generation. There’s always more you can do, though. It’s a great idea to leverage social media, even if you don’t see much lead generation potential there.

Instagram is unlikely to become a major lead source for you, but it helps humanize your dealership and your team. Take great photos of your inventory, happy customers, and cheerful team members to show potential customers how welcoming and genuine you are.

Your Facebook account is even more important. Display ads are a powerful lead source, but what you can also build a stronger brand identity just by keeping your dealership’s Facebook page active with the latest incentives, events, and pictures from your dealership. The more visible you are, the better.

To get the most out of your dealership advertising dollars, you’ll need a digital retailing platform. As we mentioned, this gives your customers the ability to do more and even begin selling the car to themselves immediately after they click on your digital ad. It takes less involvement from your team, and you get higher quality leads. Learn more about digital retailing by seeing it in action!

Andrew Tai is the CEO and co-founder of Motoinsight, but his influence extends far beyond the company. A contributing columnist to The Globe and Mail and a prolific speaker, Andrew is a recognized authority on digital retailing within the automotive industry. Connect with him today to learn how your dealership is going to change, or see the future yourself at

Interested? Get the latest insights to stay ahead of the competition:

How to find clarity in the chaos

Automotive can feel like an uncertain place to be right now. From supply shortages to awry consumer sentiments to undulating governmental restrictions, we’ve had a pretty rough go of it. And unlike previous revolutions in automotive retail, it’s hard to know exactly how to respond to new consumer expectations when they are no longer evolving in a straight line.

Up until now, we could confidently tell you that consumer buying habits were progressing steadily and uniformly towards an online purchase model. It was easy and predictable, because we’d already seen that identical transition in hundreds of other industries.

Now, though, the myriad pressures on your customers have created a chaotic disharmony of expectations and needs that can be hard to predict, and harder to answer. Some of your clients will have jumped straight to the digital end-game that presents the most remote, online-oriented purchase solution. Others will be looking for a safer way to conduct the traditional purchase, and still others want some combination of the first two options.

It’s challenging to connect with your customers when you don’t even know how they want to buy. It’s even more challenging when your customers are increasingly hidden behind the opaque veil of the internet, conducting much of their initial research and purchase process online.

It’s not all bad news and uncertainty, though. We’ve seen dealers across North America rise to this challenge by implementing infrastructure that singlehandedly addresses every disparate need of each new customer, giving shoppers exactly what they want while also granting dealers a new level of visibility into the purchase.

That’s because digital retailing has evolved, too. In its early days, digital retailing was synonymous with online shopping – and for some DR solutions, that’s still the case. But for the top digital retailing providers, the system is about so much more than simply buying online or creating digital leads.

As consumer expectations diverge into an impossible, confounding array of requests and needs, the best digital retailing providers offer systems that let each customer guide his or her own path forward. Want to start your purchase with an automated trade-in appraisal? Great! Just want to price out accessories before you come in-store for assistance? That works, too! Or maybe you’d like to complete the entire purchase online and take delivery at home? You guessed it: that’s also easy to manage.

There’s so much more besides. Digital retailing is the one solution that makes it easy for any customer to feel comfortable and confident shopping at your dealership, no matter how unique or convoluted their expectations are. And because it’s all automated, dealer employees can sit back and breathe easy while a stream of notifications keeps them apprised of the situation.

This all means that when customers arrive on your website and start buying remotely, not only do they have the freedom to buy how they want, but you have the visibility to understand exactly what’s happening on their end. Traditional online shopping was a murky process that usually resulted in a generic lead form, but digital retailing can tell you what vehicle, accessories, trade, and payment preferences they have (more, too).

I don’t need to tell you that it’s an uncertain time; everyone from your politicians to your yoghurt ads has said as much. But what I will tell you is that you’re stronger than the uncertainty, because you have the tools and the resourcefulness to turn that foggy mess into the clearest day you’ve ever had. That’s what good digital retailing can do.

Andrew Tai is the CEO and co-founder of Motoinsight, but his influence extends far beyond the company. A contributing columnist to The Globe and Mail and a prolific speaker, Andrew is a recognized authority on digital retailing within the automotive industry. Connect with him today to learn how your dealership is going to change, or see the future yourself at

Interested? Get the latest insights to stay ahead of the competition:

The industry’s long pause: your chance to recover (better)

For the past few months, we’ve heard something from dealers that we haven’t experienced before: “We want to do more with digital retailing, but we have no inventory.”

It varies by OEM and region, but our conversations with dealers increasingly sound like a chat with the miner who showed up too late to the California Gold Rush; the supply has dried up.

This is particularly frustrating in a time when, as I wrote last month, sales among certain demographics are on the rise despite downward market pressures. People are willing to buy, but there aren’t enough cars to go around. What can be done?

Well, the first thing to remember is that this is temporary. We all know that, at least on an academic level. But it sometimes doesn’t feel like the months of lockdowns, supply shortages, and other setbacks will ever be over — especially with many regions re-entering total shutdown.

Things will return to normal, though, and it’ll seem to happen overnight. Suddenly, the world will be open again and you’ll wonder if COVID was just a singularly weird dream. When that happens, those dealers who made the most of their downtime will have a clear advantage over those who sat back and waited.

If you aren’t able to sell cars right now, then you have an unusual opportunity to redirect your efforts elsewhere. This could be as simple as showroom improvements or even a deep-cleaning of the staff room. But there’s more you could be doing.

A prolonged period of light workloads is the ideal time to introduce new training to your staff on new technologies, particularly those technologies that you might have fallen behind on.

At Motoinsight, we have introduced a weekly training webinar to help our clients brush up on their digital retailing skills so that they can hit the ground sprinting when customers and inventory once again reach parity. Dealerships who don’t yet have digital retailing, though, are in a great position to make the switch.

In the past six months, hundreds of dealerships in North America have jumped headfirst into digital retailing so that they could continue selling cars even when showrooms were closed. When inventory issues are resolved, those digitally-enabled shops are going to have a leg-up on the competition right out of the gate – and they’re only going to accelerate from there. Here’s why.

Back in the spring, Frost & Sullivan released their COVID Auto Assessment Briefing, a comprehensive report outlining the impacts and remedies of the global pandemic upon the automotive industry. Even back then, they accurately predicted the supply limitations we’re now experiencing.

But even as Frost & Sullivan projected severe inventory shortages and interruptions in consumer demand, they also identified the key driver of growth that would repair the industry: digital retailing.

According to this report, digital retailing is ideally positioned to aid the recovery of the automotive industry in the months to come. But it’s important to remember that digital retailing, like any sales process, requires training and commitment.

That’s why this is the perfect time either to re-train your team on your digital retailing tools, or to implement an all-new platform in your dealership. Get set-up while things are slow, and begin training your staff on their new, improved way of selling cars. That way, you’ll be ready to win when things return to normal.

Dealerships face a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a major change without interrupting their daily operations. You can be a different dealership when things return to normal than you were when the world went on pause. What are you going to do with this opportunity?

Andrew Tai is the CEO and co-founder of Motoinsight, but his influence extends far beyond the company. A contributing columnist to The Globe and Mail and a prolific speaker, Andrew is a recognized authority on digital retailing within the automotive industry. Connect with him today to learn how your dealership is going to change, or see the future yourself at

Interested? Get the latest insights to stay ahead of the competition: