Despite changing consumer behavior patterns, many if not most dealers continue to evaluate third parties only on “hard lead” measures and discount others forms of influenced purchase behavior. Consumers want to be in control of their experience and they are reluctant to provide their contact information because they fear the repercussions of unwanted marketing and solicitation.
These influential experiences appear anonymous to the dealer looking through the lens of a traditional hard lead, and even when a flow of hard leads is provided, many dealers struggle to ascertain their value when they can’t attribute them to immediate sales, even when the leads are proven to have made a purchase elsewhere.
As competition in the automotive space increases and sales plateau, dealers will need a continually better way to understand the complexities of consumer shopping behavior and refined data to help cut through the clutter and focus on their marketing spend,
A Strategy, Goal, and Framework
After months of research and analysis, Cars.com has launched an attribution strategy that begins to resolve the conflict between how consumers shop and how advertisers measure and differentiate valuable data. While slow to adopt, the general consensus across the industry does acknowledge that the traditional way of measuring performance does need to change.
The goal is to provide automotive advertisers – OEMs and Dealers – with a better understanding and appreciation of the next generation of value measures that better reflects the connections with Cars.com Consumers, using a framework to demonstrate value and influence called Influence Drivers. The frame will continue to evolve and grow with the consumer and consists of Digital Drivers, Physical Traffic, and Revenue Signals.
Digital Drivers refers to a strategy and use of the full spectrum of digital media opportunities that boost broad influence of a message rather than trigger a behavior. Examples of this might include OEM campaigns, reviews, editorial content, and desktop/mobile integration or even insights.
Physical Traffic refers to tracking consumer behavior in the physical world in order to make more informed marketing investments elsewhere. One might think of it like night-vision google for shopper behavior. Cars.com was first to market with such tracking with its lot insights tool.
Revenue Signals refers to patterns of results from marketing investments calculated from a wider rate of financial metrics beyond weekly unit sales. You can think of this like judging GPA rather than an SAT score. As an example, over a six-month span, Cars.com influenced an average of 274 sales per dealership, 32% of sales at a dealership, and an average of 135 first-time vehicle sales, according to the Transparency Case Study January 2015 – September 2016.
Cars.com recognizes that it cannot do this alone. This is an industry move that requires collaboration with other industry players, and because of this has launched its first ever Influencer Summit, an event that is expected to continue occurring annually and grow, also with an ongoing online community effort.
On February 9th, 2017, thirteen industry players from outside the Cars.com family descended upon the Sheraton Grand in Downtown Chicago for a one-day roundtable discussion to explore these ideas and how the industry can lock arms to bring solutions to dealers. These players included:
Cliff Banks, The Banks Report
Steve Finlay, Ward’s Auto
Ryan Gerardi, AutoConversion
Darren Haygood, Transparency
Jeff Kershner, DealerRefresh
Eric Miltsch, DealerTeamwork
Gary May, Interactive Marketing and Consulting Services
Cory Mosley, Mosley Strategy Group
Joe Oltman, Pin Business Network
Brian Pasch, PCG Digital Marketing
Matt Reid, Clarivoy
Joe Webb, DealerKnows Consulting
Steve White, Clarivoy
State of the Industry
During this roundtable discussion, Cars.com CEO Alex Vetter kicked things off with a State of the Industry address that reflected on the industry in 2016 as well as share how Cars.com is continuing to build a decision engine for consumers and a growth engine for its advertisers. During this time attendees had the opportunity to ask questions and share insights, which as you might imagine from the name listed, we did.
Industry Metrics and Influence Drivers
So much in fact that we rolled seamlessly into the second segment without the planned break. This second segment, led by EVP of Business Operations Elaine Richards explored the issues caused by the modern consumer being mobile and multi-touch whereas most dealer attribution models are not.
Product and Research Strategies
After a brief lunch , Chief Product Officer Tony Zolla gave attendees a glimpse into Cars.com’s product strategy and upcoming enhancements. He also shared new consumer insights based on Cars.com’s research.
Industry Innovation Roadmap
Finally, we spent the last part of the day with Chief Strategy Officer Greg McGivney leading a discussion on the advances in digital, giving attendees an opportunity to chime in with their own views on where the auto industry and market is headed in the immediate years to come.
Reflection and Insight – A Summary
Being part of this inaugural Summit was an honor, and I believe all attendees were more humbled by the experience than anything. Each of us in the room has put forth tremendous effort over the last 15-20 or more years, not just riding the wave of digital evolution and innovation in automotive retail, but putting our necks out to be pioneers in our own way. To be recognized for this and asked to participate in this Summit was a welcome nod, especially coming from the folks at Cars.com.
Not So Warm and Fuzzy
As stated in the opening sentences of this article, dealers have a way of viewing a third-party provider that is not always pleasant. The people at Cars.com not only recognize this but also embrace it, seek to understand it, and are attempting to change that sentiment.
As an example of this, let me assure that not all input from attendees at this roundtable was music to the ears for the team at Cars.com. There was no brown nosing going on in the room. In fact, I observed more challenging situations for the folks at Cars.com than sugar coating, and it was evident that the Cars.com team not only wanted this, they expected it from us.
Having dealt with, collaborated with, and observed other third-parties in this space, I am enthused to see such authenticity from an established company such as Cars.com who by the looks of things is about to make its last few years in the business appear like its adolescence.
Discuss in the Forum
Care to chime in about the Summit and the need for simplifying dealer attribution?