Driving to an Augmented Reality Future

Auto dealers and Facebook have something in common: augmented reality is part of their future.

At Facebook’s annual F8 developer conference, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the world’s largest social network is making a major investment in AR. Facebook will soon roll out the Camera Effects platform, through which Facebook’s 2 billion users can use the Facebook in-app camera to create AR effects and experiences.

At F8, Zuckerberg said he envisions people using AR on their mobile phones to turn everyday objects and surfaces into opportunities to view and share immersive content, like turning a home appliance into an interactive family message board. In doing so, he challenged a common perception that AR is simply a glorified way for people to play Pokémon GO.

Whenever Facebook makes a major move, marketers – including dealers — should take notice. Facebook is more than the world’s largest social network. The company is also both a reflection and influencer of consumer behavior. Mark Zuckerberg has glanced at the future, and he sees AR in the tea leaves, as does Apple’s Tim Cook, who has repeatedly voiced his confidence in the uptake of AR. According to eMarketer, augmented reality has been exploding worldwide; Global Market Insights says that AR will be a $165 billion market by 2024.

Businesses are developing AR apps in a number of ways to improve everyday experiences ranging from exercise to driving cars. For instance, at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show automotive suppliers demonstrated AR applications intended to make driving safer. As reported in CNET, Harman, a provider of connected car technology, demonstrated how AR in a modified Chrysler Pacifica visually shows drivers whether they are going too fast, and an AR overlay on a driver’s windshield makes street signs more visible. (As CNET noted, poorly marked street signs are a common distraction and safety risk, which AR could remedy.) Meanwhile, other automotive suppliers showed how AR could make driving safer by overlaying color codes in a driver’s sightline to flag cars that are braking suddenly or pedestrians by the road.

Harmon’s system can place street signs over intersections, greatly helping drivers.
Wayne Cunningham/CNET Roadshow


As CNET reporter Wayne Cunningham wrote,

Head-up displays, which show vehicle information at the base of the windshield within the driver’s view, have gained traction in recent years, appearing on many car models. These displays typically show vehicle speed and navigation directions, so the driver doesn’t need to look away from the road. AR goes beyond head-up display technology by using GPS and sensors to pick out objects in the car’s environment, calling out those objects for the driver. AR can be very helpful in urban environments where the amount of traffic, pedestrians and signage becomes overwhelming.

According to ABI Research, more than 15 million AR heads-up displays will ship by 2025. ABI noted that that OEMS such as Ford and Hyundai are working on AR interfaces.

The uptake of AR is one example of how technology is influencing the future of the driving experience. This is an exciting and challenging time for dealers as they sense and respond to changes in automotive in order to act as informed resources for car shoppers. One way to stay on top of the future of automotive is to follow our blog. And keep watching and learning from the leaders inside and outside the automotive industry.

Change is Coming at the Dealership, Are You Ready?

Change is the name of the game in the Automotive industry as it stands today – that’s the biggest takeaway from Driving Sales President’s Club in New York City this past week.  The general theme of all sessions and subsequent conversations both with industry influencers and dealer principals was that a major shift is coming for the industry and those that will be successful will figure how to ride that change – and do it quickly.

Change will manifest in a few places but the most important will be in how effective teams are built at the dealership – both sales and service.  Dealer owners and principals need to build teams that all share a “growth mindset.”

The old business model where business and marketing decisions were made on limited and incomplete data from CRM or single sources are gone.  Holistic data based decision-making will be what leads the way in success for dealerships moving forward. Are you developing a sound measurement strategy and looking at metrics that are based on how consumers interact with you online today?  43% of shoppers don’t send a lead before they show up to a dealership; how are you measuring their interaction with you?

The change and need for more data in decision making is driven from the increased focus on the consumer experience.  There has become an increased ‘sameness’ to some of the competitive differentiators – price, payments, product, fuel economy, inventory, etc. – and the place to really compete is within the sphere of the car shopper’s sales experience.

How are you creating an environment that creates the best consumer experience?  And then are you showcasing that experience online? Finally, do you have partners who want to help you better define and improve that experience?

Clearly the word of the year is CHANGE.   As an industry we will need to redirect our focus to changing the experience we provide consumers, the information we provide those consumers and the way in which we measure the impact of marketing investments.  It will be a fun year and we’re looking forward to working with you to navigate the changes ahead.

Building a Better Display Ad: Tips for Effective Creative

A successful display campaign hinges on serving compelling creative to consumers.  In a world where there are new, flashy options for display constantly emerging, you should ask yourself, ‘what creative works best?’ The most effective display ads are relevant, attention-grabbing and straight forward.

To effectively catch the eye of a shopper, your call to action should be prominently displayed, straightforward and simple. Does the consumer need to act? If so, what is the desired action? Any copy should be minimal, but too often advertisers try to squeeze multiple lines of copy into limited real estate rendering their advertising ineffective.

Your landing page should be where the content itself lives, with the ad acting to give a quick hook and then a call-to-action (CTA) being the only copy. An internal analysis of OEM ads on Cars.com revealed that ads are most effective when a single CTA is used, placed near either the bottom or right edge of the ad.[1] That same analysis also found that white text against a black, purple, or red button background were the most effective designs for CTA buttons.

Dynamic ads are also a great way to serve applicable, real-time information to shoppers while at the same time creating a personalized experience. Dynamic creative allows you to feed in up to date inventory to their display ads based on the shopper’s search and location. This is a win-win for both the shopper and the advertiser. The shopper has a more tailored, one to one experience, while allowing the advertiser to be more efficient and targeted. It also eliminates any risk of your creative becoming outdated or irrelevant, since it automatically updates with the relevant available inventory.

Often, we are in such a rush to get something out the door that we forget how important the creative element is in our advertising’s success. Creative should be at the forefront of every advertiser’s conversation. Consumers see hundreds of ads a day, how will you stand out amongst the crowd?

[1] MOAT Analytics & Cars.com Analysis of Internal Data: Feb – Sept 2015

How View-Through Is Changing The Way We Measure Display Ads

The value of display advertising goes well beyond the click. At a time when consumers are hesitant to click on ads because of fraud, clicks are no longer the preferred unit of measure for display ads. Instead, view-through has emerged as a way to quantify display advertising.

Display advertising remains effective in automotive.  Per a recent Borrell study, display ads are the third largest source of new customers for dealers[1]. But only a small fraction of a dealer’s customers actually click on your dealership ads, preferring instead to visit your site on their own after seeing the message. View-through helps advertisers gauge the effectiveness of display ads when people don’t click on them.

View-through is an especially effective measure in an era of consumer distrust. Via pixeling, advertisers can see if a consumer saw an ad, did not click on the ad, but then landed on the page pixeled. In a recent survey by Marketing Sherpa, only 39 percent of respondents said that they trusted online banner ads, and another 39 percent said they trusted mobile ads.[2] Translation: there are a lot of people that do not trust ads and therefore will not click on them. But at the same time, the Borrell study suggests that people will look at display ads and are influenced by them, even if four out of 10 consumers say they don’t trust them. Display ads influence buying decisions, and view-through is a great way to track that influence.

So how can you properly assess performance of display ads?  Request a tracking pixel from your publisher. Tracking pixels can be created in DFP and tied to your display campaign. The tracking pixel would then need to be implemented across your site. Pixel tracking is an implementation tactic that your site administrator should be familiar with. The pixel should be placed on as many pages as possible, to maximize your conversion.

Industry standard metrics are constantly evolving. As the industry moves away from the traditional click mentality, view-through is a metric that you will want to keep your eye on.

[1] 2016 Auto Outlook: The Thinning of the Media Pack. Borrell Associates. 2016

[2] Marketing Sherpa, “Customer Satisfaction Research Study”, December 12, 2016

Mobile Apps and Mobile Websites – Is One Better than the Other?

The answer?  No, one isn’t better than the other as they are both important to the larger car shopper audience and help drive that walk-in traffic.  We’ve been discussing the role smartphones play in the car shopping process for a while now, but we haven’t specifically addressed the use of mobile apps and mobile websites. We found that 93% of consumers use mobile apps on their smartphones and of those consumers, 46% use apps that help with their car shopping journey¹ (Figure 1).

Figure 1.  Mobile Influence on Car Shopping, White Paper.  Cars.com, February 2017.

It could be personal preference to use a mobile app over a mobile website, but our research suggests that car shoppers continue to use their smartphones on the lot to further cross-shop inventory or reinforce their decisions to purchase¹.  When it comes to reporting on traffic via mobile, both mobile apps and mobile website usage allows us to track engagement with inventory on Cars.com – as long as they turn on location services in their phone settings.

Which is why it’s interesting that a majority of car shoppers only use location services if the app requests or requires its use (Figure 2). It’s a good rule of thumb that when reviewing reporting that highlights geo-locating metrics like our Lot Insights report, that these numbers likely underreport the total number of consumers who are using their smartphones in their car shopping journey while on the lot.

Figure 2.  Mobile Influence on Car Shopping, White Paper.  Cars.com, February 2017.

This is great information to better understand the role of apps in helping to drive a purchase, but what role do mobile websites play in the car shopping process? A large one. Usage of a mobile website in the car shopping process leads the way in requesting a vehicle quote, viewing vehicle options and features, and reading vehicle reviews when compared to app usage¹ (Figure 3). Usage of mobile websites could be related to familiarity in seeing a browser and typing in a URL versus not knowing if an app is available – but, again, it can come down to personal preference on how best to search, research, and compare vehicles.

Figure 3.  Mobile Influence on Car Shopping, White Paper. Cars.com, February 2017.

Those dealers that are optimized for mobile are going to win out in the car shoppers mind and win more market share from competitors.


[1] Mobile Influence on Car Shopping, White Paper.  Cars.com, February 2017. 

Clarivoy Launches Study about State of Automotive Attribution

Study results will be used to help auto dealers better understand which marketing investments actually lead to vehicle sales.

Columbus, OH (March 23, 2017) Clarivoy, the auto industry’s leading provider of Multi-Touch Attribution, today announced the launch of an industry-wide study to better understand the current state and usage of attribution in the retail automotive industry.

“While Multi-Touch Attribution has been a big ‘buzzword’ lately, we think there is still a long way for us to go in educating dealers on its importance. The results of this study will help us gauge dealers’ baseline understanding of attribution, and their use of it, so that we as an industry can better help dealers understand and appreciate the dynamic and ever-changing customer journey that is not always accurately measured. Our end goal is that the results will help more dealers gain the knowledge to answer the question they have been asking themselves forever. ‘Is my investment helping me sell more vehicles?’” said Clarivoy CEO Steve White.

Auto dealers who wish to participate in the study can visit www.clarivoy.com/survey. Participants who complete the survey can register to receive an advanced copy of the study results and the chance to win one of several $100 Amazon Gift Cards.

There are several different types of attribution, all of which have their own logic. When it comes to digital, up until now most dealers have relied on first or last-click attribution provided by Google Analytics which only measures engagements – not sales. However, as consumers are now influenced by multiple offline and online touch points, this type of attribution cannot provide the full picture of what – and how much – influence each marketing partner had in bringing a customer into the dealership and producing an actual sale.

Rather than rely on first or last-click attribution to determine what’s effective, dealers can get a better picture of how their offline and online marketing works together to bring buyers to their doorstep by using Multi-Touch-Attribution.

With Multi-Touch-Attribution it is possible to more accurately track and measure the multiple (and growing) influencing factors that contribute to an auto buyer’s journey from start to finish — even connect the dots between offline and online touch points. It enables a true picture of how marketing dollars actually influence customers.

According to Steve White, in today’s digital culture, consumers are influenced by multiple sources. “They read reviews of vehicle models and dealerships, search prices and bounce around from site to site like never before. As a result, the average number of dealerships visited before purchasing a vehicle is dwindling. It is more important than ever before that dealers know how effective their marketing dollars are at bringing those prospects from the anonymous browser into their showroom. This study will provide valuable information about the state of attribution we can share with the industry” White stated.

For more information visit: http://www.clarivoy.com, or to take the survey visit: www.clarivoy.com/survey.

Why Big Brands Are Boycotting Google’s Ad Network

An advertising boycott of Google’s YouTube is gaining traction among some of the world’s biggest brands. Volkswagen, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, PepsiCo, AT&T, Verizon, and more have suspended their advertising over concerns related to Google’s ability to prevent their ads from being run alongside offensive content.

Wal-Mart said in a statement on Friday, “The content with which we are being associated is appalling and completely against our values.”

The boycott shines a light on the fact that advertisers have little control over where their ads will be seen when they buy display through ad networks like Google’s, which includes YouTube and more than two million other third-party websites.

As reported by TechCrunch, “Google is pulling display ads from being placed alongside a wider range of content on YouTube and other sites, in the wake of a spike of criticism that its automatic, programmatic advertising seemingly cannot stop mainstream brands from appearing alongside extremist and offensive material.”

The big brand boycott comes at a time when advertisers are already grappling with concerns over fake traffic and other issues, which highlight the challenge of blind, programmatic display media buys in digital advertising.

When determining where to place their digital ad dollars, automotive advertisers — including dealers and their agencies — should consider the quality of a publisher’s content as well as the quality of the publisher’s audience to ensure the safety of their brands and to safeguard their spend and maximize impact. Those publishers that have an existing, quality audience — like Cars.com — offer advertisers massive opportunity and reach.  Google (and YouTube) can provide advertisers incredible scale and an “efficient” ad buy if all the advertiser cares about are cheap impressions and the occasional click vs. real influence on results.

It will be interesting to see how the industry responds as there’s no ‘quick fix’ to the issues related to programmatic ad buying. Those automotive advertisers that focus on quality, will ensure their advertising strategy reaches car intenders and in-market car shoppers in the right places at the right time.

Your Most Valuable Customer: The Walk-in Shopper

Walk-in shoppers are a sizable and important audience. According to recent research conducted by Cars.com, 43 percent of car shoppers don’t contact a dealership before walking onto the lot via traditional “lead” methods, meaning that about 4 out of 10 shoppers have narrowed their vehicle search without ever contacting a dealership.  And, these walk-in shoppers are valuable: two-thirds of them make a purchase within 72 hours of their on-the-lot visit, and 40 percent buy within the same day.

The prevalence of walk-in shopping is a challenge and a catalyst for dealers to adopt multi-touch attribution to maximize marketing effectiveness.

Walk-in traffic has always been a challenge to quantify. I suspect that the number of consumers who walk on to the lot to purchase vehicles will create stress an industry whose key systems to gauging sales process and marketing effectiveness (CRM, Google Analytics and dealership management systems) are already antiquated.

 Walk-in Traffic and Multi-Touch Attribution

Walk-in shoppers are influenced by a number of touch points, ranging from organic searches to reviews and third-party sites such as Cars.com. Armed with a wealth of research, they’re visiting dealers’ lots confident that they don’t need to engage with a dealer ahead of time. Consequently, dealers need to use multi-touch attribution strategies, not just last touch attribution or traditional lead metrics, to understand the value of their digital marketing.

However, dealers continue to invest in tactics that support last-click/single-source attribution and are not even necessarily driving sales. For example, in 2016, more than 50 percent of  dealerships’ digital spend went to promoting their website via paid search and display (according to eMarketer). As I wrote recently,when our dealer customers listen to inbound phone calls that originate from branded paid search terms, they realize that close to 90 percent of these “leads” are not leads at all – they are recovery searches for post-influence service. The industry needs to move away from metrics that support last click/single source to advertising that wins with consumer preference and walk in traffic

Winning with the Walk-in Consumer

The walk-in consumer is a great opportunity of sales for the dealer community. To turn walk-in consumers into customers, dealers need to understand their motivations and behaviors. Our data paints the picture of a ready-to-buy shopper  who uses their devices to determine what, where and from whom to buy. They’re using their mobile devices on-the-lot to make smarter decisions:

  • 64-percent use smart phones to compare vehicle prices.
  • 51-percent compare vehicle makes and models.
  • 41-percent read reviews.

Dealers need to train their sales teams to understand how to engage with walk-in shoppers, – and assume that all walk in traffic are consumers who have spent time online researching their future vehicle purchase.  Walk-in shoppers are engaged and ready to talk prices and details about makes and models, and a large number continue their research online while at the dealership’s lot.  Sales associates should understand what key review sites like Cars.com are saying about the vehicles, the dealership, and sales people

On-the-Lot is the New Normal

Dealers need to face a hard reality: their lead data is incomplete and CRMs and Google Analytics currently only support single source attribution. Dealerships that rely solely on last-touch attribution and “internet” lead data to make advertising decisions are missing a sizeable and growing segment of on-the-lot customers — and these are customers who are more than likely ready to make a purchase.  To this end, our industry needs to become literate in the digital experiences, expectations and needs of walk-in consumers to best work with the growing legion of walk in traffic.

How Are Car Shoppers Finding Your Dealership?

Today, all leads are Internet leads – especially on-the-lot shoppers – but I’d bet you don’t source on-the-lot shoppers as such.  Dealerships that treat all leads – traditional, digital, and on-the-lot – as Internet leads are going to be the most successful.  So, how are car shoppers learning about your dealership?

How Consumers Find Dealership Information

Half of shoppers go directly to dealerships, rather than contacting them ahead of time (Figure 1)¹. That’s a big insight! These same car shoppers are most likely using their smartphones for maps and directions, making these metrics even more valuable when evaluating digital ad spend. This also makes proper attribution of car shoppers on a dealership’s lot even more important.

Figure 1.  Mobile Influence on Car Shopping.  February 2017.


One-quarter submit contact information and another quarter call for an appointment (Figure 1). While we know that half of car shoppers do not send a traditional lead like phone or email, one-quarter still do send traditional leads making these important lead types to monitor (Figure 1).

However, our data on dealership information sources points out the need for understanding the car shopper lead path journey. While search engines are a primary search path for car shoppers from our study (Figure 2) where car shoppers were allowed to pick multiple information sources, that does not indicate where consumers started their journey. Indeed, by the time a consumer chooses to type in a make or model or a dealership name, they’ve researched enough to actively seek out that information from that specific dealer – but how did they first hear about you?  Even the dealership’s website seen in Figure 2 seems prominent, car shoppers most likely found the dealership from another third-party source before visiting. Last-click attribution is not representative of how car shoppers initially found a dealership.

Figure 2.  Mobile Influence on Car Shopping.  February 2017.


What Can You Do to Evaluate Walk-In Customers?

You need to adopt multi-touch metrics.  The car shopper journey from awareness to an on-the-lot purchase is complicated. On-the-lot shoppers are influenced by several touch points, ranging from organic searches to reviews and third-party sites such as Cars.com. Armed with a wealth of research, they’re visiting dealers’ lots confident that they don’t need to engage with a dealer ahead of time. Consequently, dealers need to use multi-touch attribution strategies, not just last touch attribution or traditional lead metrics, to understand the value of their digital marketing spend in today’s modern car buying journey.

Action Steps

  • Ensure you have an attribution process in place to know how consumers found your dealership and work with your third-party vendors to evaluate that performance.
  • Create a holistic approach to understanding how consumers are researching you and all available touchpoints with your dealership and brand.
  • Evaluate your SEO & SEM performance to ensure you’re not wasting money and are driving the right time of leads and or traffic you need.
  • Review your SEO & SEM spend and place your advertising dollars with more relevant touch points where consumers start their journey to lead them to your lot.

Once you face the reality that your existing lead data is incomplete either because lead data isn’t being sent before an on-the-lot visit, doesn’t account for multi-touch attribution, or that your sales team is inputting incomplete information into your CRM, you can properly analyze your advertising approach to drive consumers to you.  Traditional leads as the industry knows them will soon be a thing of the past.  It’s time for you to dig into your available data in more depth, work with your vendor partners, and do your homework.  After that, you can better optimize your marketing spend to be in front of consumers at all touch points.

[1] Mobile Influence on Car Shopping.  Cars.com, February 2017.

Smartphones Are Used More than Desktops and Laptops

According to our study Mobile Influence on Car Shopping, smartphones are used for nearly half (46%) of online car shopping activities¹. Desktops or laptops are a close second, being used for 41% of all online activities¹. Tablets are a distant third, being used for only 13% of online car shopping activities¹.

This shows a shift in the way consumers interact with the world today, not just in car shopping. Not long ago, desktops and laptops were the primary method of surfing the Internet and shopping online. With the advent of higher quality digital, mobile technology, consumers are allowed to shop online on their own terms.

Dealers that recognize the role mobile plays in consumers’ lives will be the most successful in moving metal. This is why it is important to think from a mobile, digital perspective when creating an advertising strategy. Optimizing vehicle inventory to be seen on smartphones— along with the necessary merchandising—is key to engaging car shoppers and influencing them to choose one vehicle or dealership over another. It should be no surprise, then, that Millennials are the primary users of smartphones in car shopping. This generation has grown up with technology and has quickly adopted a mobile mindset when it comes to interacting with the world and consuming entertainment, information, or shopping online via their smartphones.

We know the role smartphones play as the device of choice in car shopping, but what actions are car shoppers performing? Smartphones are especially the device of choice for viewing maps and directions to the dealership, deciding which dealerships to visit, and reading dealership reviews. This makes sense — using a mobile device while in transit to help navigate to their dealership of choice. This also means that car shoppers have made a choice and researched enough to be satisfied to choose a dealership’s lot to visit.

The high prevalence of use of dealership reviews on smartphones also shows that consumers may be cross-shopping competitor dealerships while on the lot. Auto shoppers want real-time information. We know from our own research that 63 percent of auto shoppers were still researching dealerships after showing up at a dealer’s lot, and more than half of those visited additional dealerships based on what they found via their mobile devices².

We can’t discuss the role mobile plays in the car shopping journey without understanding the role that desktops and laptops play as well. Desktops and laptops are especially the device of choice for viewing vehicle colors/360 vehicle views, completing credit applications for vehicle financing, and using build and price vehicle tools.

Device Usage in Specific Car Shopping Activities

Figure 1.  Car Shoppers Are Judging You, February 2017.


Essentially, desktops and laptops are used for those tasks that may seem more laborious to the consumer — providing detailed information via online forms or more video-heavy experiences — that are deemed easier to perform with larger screens and keyboards.

Desktops and laptops have their place, and when used, one could assume that consumers are highly focused and engaged when giving in-depth information in this way.

Screen size can also play a role in collecting various types of information, and it could just be a preference amongst some car shoppers to use desktops and laptops in some cases. We see here that most consumers are searching dealership inventory on their desktops and laptops. Car shoppers may be in their early stage of shopping, wanting to choose vehicles, review specs, and incentives to later compare vehicles and move to their mobile device.

In any scenario, smartphones are a key touch point for car shoppers with any dealer’s brand.  It’s these mobile touch points that influence the car shopper and drive them to action – sometimes literally driving them to the dealership’s lot.  Keep this in mind the next time you do a review of any advertising strategy or a reallocation of advertising funds.  Placing emphasis on a mobile presence can pay off significantly.


[1] Mobile Influence on Car Shopping, Cars.com White Paper. February 2017.

[2] Behavioral Analytics on Mobile, Cars.com, Q3 2016