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:

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:

Post-COVID briefing: what you’ve done right, and how to do even better

We couldn’t be more impressed with the way dealerships handled the COVID-19 crisis. While some forward-thinking dealers had already implemented digital retailing solutions in the months and years prior, many others didn’t hesitate to identify and utilize the obvious solution to worldwide lockdowns.

In a matter of weeks, hundreds of dealers across North America came in search of the right digital retailing platform to support them even when their showrooms went dark. They thoughtfully integrated “shop from home” messaging into their websites and advertising, and made online purchases the focal point of their sales pitches.

As quickly as these things hit us, though, they can be forgotten; with COVID-19, I can certainly understand why you’d want to forget. But aside from the obvious health perils of resuming our lives too early, there’s another very powerful reason why you should take a strategic, measured approach to reopening your showroom doors.

The Expectations were Already There

If you’ve read my column or heard me speak at past events, you’ll know that I’ve been forever telling the industry that our car buying customers want more from our websites. Surrounded by easier ways to buy, car shoppers wanted more from us.

In a world of online shopping and omni-channel purchase choices, the automotive industry has always been a bit of a dinosaur thanks to our conspicuous lack of digital options. We stuck with pen and paper when our customers wanted keyboards and touchscreens.

The pressure of the pandemic supercharged the existing digital revolution in the automotive industry; we were already starting to move rapidly towards digital retailing, but COVID-19 caused an explosion in adoption that made online shopping the new normal for dealerships.

Now, your challenge is small but simple: keep that momentum going.

Don’t Lose the Trust You Built

The world may be opening up again, but your customers don’t want to go back to the way things were. According to the Frost & Sullivan Auto Assessment Briefing, altered consumer demand and market dynamics will suppress showroom activity while creating a substantial lift in online shopping for the industry.

In fact, the Frost & Sullivan report places digital retailing as the main driver of growth for our industry as we emerge from the pandemic. Online shopping wasn’t a fad or a stop-gap measure: it was a gift in disguise.

So this is the time for your dealership to plan not only your reopening strategy, but your approach for coming back stronger than ever. You’ve just proven to your customers that you can give them what they wanted from you all along, and it’s time to double-down on that.

Commit to Digital Retailing

Marketing is a great place to start as you move forward, so make sure your digital retailing solution is front-and-centre in all your awareness efforts. No matter how your customers hear about you, it’s critical that they know they can shop your dealership online.

Next, follow through on your marketing promises by providing a great in-store experience. Digital retailing can’t take a backseat if it’s going to impress customers – or even meet their expectations. Instead, it should be central to your sales process.

This means building out a thoughtful and efficient process at your dealership to handle an omni-channel workflow of customers moving online to in-store, in-store to online, or even online straight to purchase. If you’re not familiar with the importance of a true omnichannel digital retailing platform, you can read about it in my March column for Canadian AutoWorld.

Meet Consumer Demand

With a great strategy constructed on a great digital retailing platform, the future is yours. A recent Think with Google article showed that demand for cars hasn’t been significantly depressed by the pandemic, but it has been altered in another way: people want to buy online more than ever. Your customers are still out there if you know how to reach them.

There will always be challenges ahead, but we have the strength and the know-how to face them as an industry. With the right tools and an intelligent approach, we can all emerge from this stronger than ever.

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: