The Complete Guide to Digital Marketing for the Automotive Industry

Angie manages Cazoomi's Operations. She is an avid traveler, dog lover, and start-up entrepreneur with investments in multiple APAC startups. 18 minute read

The Complete Guide to Digital Marketing for the Automotive Industry

As a marketer in the automotive industry, you aim to reach more customers, sell more cars and parts, get ahead of the competition, and ultimately grow your business.

Does that sound about right and straightforward?

However, we are in an age where visibility is becoming a challenge. It’s no longer enough for customers to know who you are.

They also need to understand what kind of services you provide and how those services can provide value to them.

Your company values should inspire the customer while your employees should advocate for your brand to help customers find positive stories about your company online.

All the information customers stumble upon online about your company will help you create a personal relationship with them.

Digital marketing is your answer to this problem. It helps you make your presence felt online. It also allows you to fine-tune your messages so that the right audience receives them at the right time.

However, before you can begin your digital marketing activities, you have to ask yourself, What is my end goal? How do I get there? What is my priority?

A study of automotive dealerships found that increasing lead and conversion volume is their biggest priority.

automotive industry

Image Source: 9 Clouds

 The Need for Digital Marketing in the Automotive Industry

The Complete Guide to Digital Marketing for the Automotive Industry

The automotive industry is reaping big from the benefits of digital marketing. This platform continues to provide the auto industry with a wider audience.

Marketers in this highly-competitive sector are now able to reach customers regardless of their geographical location.

In an ever-changing automotive industry, lead generation is rapidly becoming a priority. Tactics for generating leads are also evolving and in order to keep up with the speed, you need to buckle up and give chase. (See what we did here?)

Consumers expectations are also changing. They now need the best delivered to them in terms of user experience. Fifty-nine percent of car buyers spend their time researching online.

Eighty-six percent of them conduct online research before visiting a dealership. During this time, they expect an easy and enjoyable buying experience. This is because they are about to sink a huge investment –  financially and emotionally, into the purchase.

But how do you reach your target market and convert them to buy? Simple — through digital marketing.

Your audience is online most of the time. It, therefore, goes without saying that a well-planned and executed digital marketing campaign can help you reach the right people at every stage in the buying process.

According to Google, there are five micro-moments during an auto purchase.

automotive industry

Image Source: Think With Google

Before visiting your dealership, a potential car buyer is already making decisions and forming opinions based on their own research – both online and offline. It’s important to be there and to provide useful information during these research moments. This will ensure you are among the dealerships they visit before they make a purchase.

The which-car-is-the-best moment is the phase before a car buyer is sure which car they want. Naturally, they will extensively consult people they trust in order to narrow down their choices. They can consult close friends, influential blogs, popular discussion forums, product review sites, etc.

The is-it-right-for-me moments are when the buyer questions whether they really need a car. They get practical and consider the car that is right for them, space, the interior, color, trunk space, number of airbags, sunroof, etc. At this stage, video usage ranks high. Top video searches include features, options, reviews, test drives, and interior and exterior walkthroughs.

automotive industry
Image Source: Think With Google

The can-I-afford-it moments are when they decide if a car is within their price range. They go online and compare prices.

The where-should-I-buy moments are when the car buyer is deciding what dealerships to visit. They will search for “car dealerships near me” and check your website to see if you have the type of car they are looking for, your opening and closing hours, and your contact information.

The am-I-getting-a-deal moment. During this stage, a shopper is trying to find out online whether they are getting a fair deal. While at the dealership, the buyer will be online, gathering information on whether they are getting a good price for the vehicle.

As the auto seller, you must meet the potential car buyers across all their shopping moments. Your brand must be online and active. You must ensure that you provide useful information that a potential car buyer is looking for.

This is where digital marketing comes in handy. It enables you to generate and deliver customized messages that can attract that potential buyer during their purchase journey.

The Importance of Market Research for Digital Marketing

The Need for Digital Marketing in the Automotive Industry

As a dealer, use micro-moments and digital marketing together to grow your business. However, before you can get into the marketing techniques and processes, first do market research. Understand the automotive industry and what it’s offering, your customers and what they are looking for, and your competitors.

The Automotive Industry

Find out if your business idea will have a ready market. Does the idea have potential? Will it be profitable at the end of the day?

Get an overview of the industry, different subsectors, typical customers, latest technology, and future trends. Hire someone to collect this information and then go through it to decide on a niche. Estimate the kind of profit you will make, understand the marketing context, and how you can effectively run your campaigns.

Your Competitors

Your digital marketing campaign will also involve showing car buyers how you are different from other car dealers. It also means coming up with a unique selling point that will help boost your marketing strategy. Find out:

  • Who are your competitors?
  • What markets are they targeting? How do they operate?
  • What kind of products and services do they offer?
  • What are they good at and what are they not?
  • What are customers and employees saying about them online?
  • How does the competitor’s prices, service options, employee choice, online presence, appearance, and culture compare to yours?
  • How do they reach their customers?
  • Why are customers loyal to them?

Information collected gives you insight into what you can improve on or do better.

Your Dealership

Gather the same information for your dealership.

Conduct a survey for past and existing customer.

  • Check out reviews online. What are people saying about you?
  • Carry out customer satisfaction index scores.
  • How are your marketing efforts doing? What is working? What is not?
  • Do you need to review your budget?
  • What campaign brought in the most ROI?
  • What are your marketing strategies for old and new customers?
  • How is your online presence? Is it making any impact?

This information will give you an insight into what your strengths and weaknesses are. You can identify threats, opportunities, and use the information gathered to drive better marketing initiatives. It will tell you where you fit in the market and where your marketing efforts need to be focused.

Your Customers

Create buyer personas that go beyond demographic information. They should define actual people and information on their:

  • Marital status
  • Education, employment
  • Interests and values
  • What matters to them
  • How they think
  • Where do they spend most of their time?
  • What kind of vehicles do they like?
automotive industry

Image Source: Influitive

With this information, you can understand what will persuade them to visit your dealership to make an inquiry and even a purchase.

A Complete Guide to Digital Marketing for the Automotive Industry

The Complete Guide to Digital Marketing for the Automotive Industry

This guide will take you through a digital marketing process that puts you ahead of the competition. It starts with changing marketing processes and techniques from traditional to digital marketing ones. These include:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Email Marketing
  • Social Media Marketing (SMM)
  •  Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
  • Pay Per Click Advertising (PPC)
  • Content Marketing
  • Affiliate Marketing 

  1.   Social Media Marketing (SMM)

The number of internet users in the world is 4.39 billion. Those using social media are 3.48 billion. Social media is, therefore, not something you can ignore. It increases your audience, provides you with analytics, provides audience data, and drives business growth.

On average, these digital consumers spend two hours, 22 minutes every day, checking out their social networks and messaging sites. Of these, the new car shoppers use social media to research.

automotive industry

Image Source: Global Web Index

Social media marketing is an effective marketing tool for most marketers. When using it, consider the numerous social media networks available. Depending on your audience research, choose the ones where your audience spends time. Consider also the posting and engagement guidelines for each platform.


There are over one billion YouTube users. Research also says it’s the world’s second largest search engine after Google. It’s, therefore, an excellent platform for engaging buyers.

You can do different types of videos on your channel to reach the different types of buyers. Educational and explainer videos are particularly very effective for a car-selling business.

Educational videos share handy tips on how to use products and get more from them. Explainer videos talk about your business, products, and the services you offer. They explain how you meet your customer needs and solve their problems, and this is exactly what consumers want to hear.

It is worth noting that revenues for marketers who use video as part of their (digital) marketing efforts grow at a rate of 49 percent. Video content influences 70 percent of car buyers that use YouTube for research. If these numbers don’t get you super excited, nothing will.

automotive industry

Image Source: Vidyard


Instagram is great for visual marketing, with over one billion users per month.  Sixty percent of Instagram users open the app to seek out and discover products.

Get a business account for your page, and you will get analytics to help you track what content does best.


Facebook is the top social media platform and the most important social media tool for marketers.

automotive industry

Image Source: Social Media Examiner

Facebook has numerous tools you can use in your digital marketing strategy. These include the Facebook business page, Messenger, your own profile, live video, and groups. 

Facebook allows you to share images, videos, GIFs and status updates. You also have access to analytics that tells you how your posts are doing. This, in turn, helps you identify what is working and what posts need a boost.

There’s a catch, though. You need to post original and useful content. You also need to constantly and consistently engage your audience (followers) by responding to their comments and messages. 

Other platforms you can use include Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and so many more depending on your audience.

automotive industry

Image Source: Social Media Examiner

Paid Advertising on Social Media Marketing

Advertising on social media platforms is also highly effective. You should, therefore, consider including social media advertising in your digital marketing strategy for maximum impact. This will help you to boost brand awareness, increase traffic to your site, and generate leads.

In turn, this will lead to increased engagement, more video views, app downloads, an increase in store visits, increased conversions, and an increase in sales.

According to Kenshoo, 56 percent of car buyers who contacted a dealer after seeing a social media advert made a purchase.

  1.   Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

The benefits of SEO are widely known. This tactic helps your website rank better on search results when people look for keywords related to your brand. It includes off-page and on-page tactics.

On-page SEO involves taking care of your page speed, page optimization, crawl errors, meta descriptions, title tags, and keyword placements. Keyword placement will involve carrying out keyword research to find out what content your audience desires.

Off-page SEO will involve activities like guest blogging, link building, and social sharing.

To rank you better, Google wants to know that your dealership is trustworthy. They will use signals like links to your site from trusted sources, external business reviews, social media sharing, etc.

Create content that taps into customer needs while targeting both short and long tail keywords. Ensure you provide rich content that is engaging, interactive, useful, and well-researched.

  1.   Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Pay Per Click Advertising (PPC)

SEM is SEO’s paid version. SEM allows you to buy space at the top of search pages. Considering that search is the number one resource car buyers use, then you must try and have your product on that first page.

Pay Per Click, on the other hand, is the payment you make for every click from an ad you create.

According to research, consumers are 22 times more likely to view your automotive category item and 28 times more likely to convert when clicking on an ad.

automotive industry

Image Source: Kenshoo

Some of the most popular PPC advertising platforms are Facebook and Google AdWords.

On Facebook, you create an ad that is the same as a status update, pick a target audience, location, age, and set a budget of how much to spend per click. The post will blend with other posts.

On Google AdWords, you bid for keywords against other advertisers to rank first.

  1.   Content Marketing

Content marketing involves consistently providing your target buyers with relevant and valuable content. Buyers want relevant information when they begin their search for an automotive. Your job is to ensure that your content is available from the moment they begin their search to the moment they make the purchase.

Ninety-five percent of vehicle buyers go digital when searching for information. Most of them start their research online and not at a dealer. Sixty percent of all searches are conducted on a mobile device.

Vehicle buyers will use other sources like word of mouth, television ads, or even visit a dealership. Buyers particularly also search for information on video-driven platforms. With video, they can experience a part of the shopping journey.

Google followed one buyer and the digital interactions that occurred during a car buying journey. Below is what they found out.

automotive industry

Image Source: Think With Google

Image Source: Think With Google

All those interactions were numerous opportunities for an auto dealer to meet her with useful and relevant information that would influence her final decision.

The information shoppers gather online is what drives them to your dealership. Reach and retain customers by providing adequate information online on platforms they most frequent.

  1.   Affiliate Marketing

In affiliate marketing, an independent party helps you sell your products and, in turn, you give them a percentage of the sale. They search for opportunities to:

  • Sell your auto parts or cars
  • Share links to your website
  • Drive traffic to your site
  • Encourage people to buy from you
  • Create apps or websites that promote your products
  • Creatively market your product.

The return on investment is great with affiliate marketing if done right.

  1.   Email Marketing

Use email marketing to communicate with your potential customers directly. It has a higher return on investment than social media. For every $1 you spend on email marketing, you get an ROI of about $32. For decades, email marketing has been among the best ways for businesses to get the word out, with easily understood success metrics and a high return on investment.

More than half the world’s population (over 4.2 billion people) were active email users globally in 2022. By the end of 2026, that figure is projected to go over 4.7 billion. 55% percent of consumers say email is their preferred digital channel for business communication.

automotive industry

Image Source: Oberlo

To get started with email marketing, choose an email marketing platform. A signup form on your website will help you collect email addresses from potential customers. Personalize communication with your subscribers and send valuable and relevant content at the right time.

Most email marketing platforms provide statistics on click-through and open-rates and other promotional tools to improve your marketing efforts and experience.

Digital Marketing Trends in The Automotive Industry

  1.   Mobile dominates search

Ensure your website is responsive even for mobile. Mobile is crucial during the auto shopper’s buying journey. In fact, 58 percent plan to use the mobile phone as the only device for vehicle research in the future.

automotive industry

Image Source: Facebook

But having a mobile-responsive website is not enough for those in the automotive industry. You must take advantage of mobile apps, video content, social media, and local search opportunities in order to seal as many deals as possible.

  1.   Local search

Local search is extremely powerful because 43 percent of queries on Google have local intent. Almost half of the search traffic on Google is local, and this can be great if your dealership dominates on local searches for automotive. Seventy-eight percent of local mobile searches lead to an offline purchase in a few hours.

It’s important to be discoverable at each stage of the buying process but especially during the final stage. This kind of search consists of information on directions, hours, address, and product availability.

automotive industry

Image Source: Search Engine Land

According to research, consumers also search for local information throughout the purchase process and that they purchase at a higher rate after a local search.

automotive industry

Image Source: Search Engine Land

automotive industry

Image Source: Search Engine Land

  1.   Video content

Video is the new content king. Humans are visual beings and find videos engaging and memorable. According to research, 68 percent of buyers prefer to learn about products from short videos.

automotive industry

Image Source: Wyzowl

Eighty-three percent of marketers say that video offers good ROI. Videos can be in the form of:

  • Interviews
  • Livestreams
  • Live streams
  • Product videos
  •  Tutorials
  • Ads
  • Webinars
  • Video blogs (Vlogs)
  • Presentations
  • Explainers
  • Customer testimonials
  • Live videos
  1.   Have a great website

Make sure that your website provides buyers with convenience.

  • Ensure the website loads fast on all devices.
  • Make sure there are financing calculators and pricing tools available.
  • The website should handle traffic from all devices. Forty-six percent of car shoppers research using multiple devices.
  • Make it a seamless experience for customers when they visit your site.

Some of the information to include:

  • Vehicle detail pages with excellent designs, vehicle highlights, featured photos, and detailed specifics. Forty-two percent of vehicle buyers find vehicle description pages most helpful.
  • Special pages that offer incentives. Help shoppers find the best deals, with clear details, rules, and expiration dates. Twenty percent of shoppers find these pages helpful.
  • Hours of business and direction. Nineteen percent of buyers are scouring for this information when they find a dealership.

It’s also important to use a good CRM to monitor your website traffic. This way, you can tell where most of your traffic is coming from, your click-through rates, your bounce rates, etc. You gain insights into what’s working or not and improve marketing campaigns.

  1.   Deliver relevant content on the right platform

Ensure your content mirrors your shopper’s goals. Regardless of the device a customer uses, they can view images, watch videos, compare vehicle specs, book a test drive, and access warranty information. A mobile-responsive site also means that customers can quickly browse and contact you with ease while on the move.

automotive industry

Image Source: Grow With Cars

Although most of the shoppers will go directly to your dealership, they are using their phones to check out directions and look up your number.

  1.   Be where your target audience is

Your digital marketing success will greatly depend on your ability to get seen. Present your dealership as the best solution at the moment the audience is doing their search. Ensure content is available when they need it and on platforms that they use to seek solutions.

Fifty-six percent of new buyers start their research at 3rd party sites before visiting the dealer website. Your content should be available beyond your own website.

Consider that search is evolving and that by 2020, 50 percent of searches will be voice-based.

  1.   Make content interactive and use personalization

Create informative and interactive content that drives engagement. Interactive content drives conversions. Consumers are engaged and can answer questions, explore scenarios, or make choices. It helps capture attention from the beginning.

Ensure buyers get personalized experiences. Offer test drives and tailored offers. Use personalization in emails too.

  1.   Enhance physical showroom experiences

Find ways to interact with your customers live and in the store. Shoppers can then check what’s in stock, scan products, and read reviews on their mobile phones. Retailers can also send push notifications when they have deals.

Make use of virtual showrooms and make the shopping experience even more enjoyable. Buyers can explore car models virtually or take them for test drives.

Make the digital experience unified and increase your sales chances.

This digital marketing guide will arm you for the market. Ensure you meet your customers at their touchpoints, use multiple platforms, and incorporate different strategies aimed at making the customer shopping experience easy.