Since the dawn of digital, the consensus has been that the Tier 1 OEM site should drive leads for the dealer group, and the sales conversion should be the responsibility of the dealer. That line of thinking has been accepted as the standard, as the generation of a lead was the furthest down the funnel we could measure in the digital space. The actual act of purchasing a vehicle is much different than purchasing most other products, in that it is exclusively (Carvana being an exception) done in-person, rather than online. Because of this, digital performance in auto has always been determined by lead submissions.
With new technologies emerging, we are now able to measure down to the actual vehicle sale by matching online website and ad unit engagement with an actual offline vehicle purchase. This measurement capability is changing the way digital marketers in auto view performance, and reigniting the debate around the role of an auto manufacturers’ website. Companies such as Oracle, J.D. Power and Nielsen are giving auto marketers the ability to make these online-to-offline connections. However, they are leaving it up to the auto brands and their agencies to determine how to react to this new capability and the insights it provides. These data providers are just arming the auto brands and their agencies with new data points. It’s up to the marketing experts in these companies to decide how to utilize them. This has caused slow adoption of this technology in automotive. Meaning automotive marketers and data analysts continue to rely on leads as the gold standard.
It’s widely known that only 2% – 3% of automotive website visitors submit a lead, so why are OEMs comfortable measuring the performance of only 3% of their visitor base? If we drill down to only include consumers who purchased a vehicle, eliminating those visitors who weren’t in-market or have since decided not to buy, only 15% submit a lead (Wards Auto). So, 85% of car buyers who visit your site are not submitting leads. How do you measure this group of consumers? This is exactly why every OEM should be measuring actual offline sales from their website visitors, and not relying on lead volumes to gauge performance. This is even more important at the Tier 3 level, as dealer websites are supposedly closer to the sale, making the sales metric even more important. This is going to become increasingly more important at the tier 3 level as engagement with Chat functions continue to drive down the volume of leads coming in on tier 3 sites.
Additionally, many OEMs and dealerships are measuring the sales of their own brands and their own lots, and don’t even realize that the capability exists to measure the sales they are losing to other brands and other competitor dealerships. Again, Oracle Data Cloud, J.D. Power, and Nielsen Auto Cloud can provide this capability to OEMs, agencies and dealers. They can provide it at a very low cost when comparing the cost of other data sets in the auto industry. It’s shocking that this capability hasn’t already become widely used. Digital marketers in auto have become comfortable with analytics systems and models they have built over the past decade, which revolve around leads. They aren’t ready to overthrow the performance measurements they have worked hard to develop and tweak over the years, by implementing a new measure of success that closes the loop and goes beyond impressions, clicks and lead submissions. I firmly believe this form of digital performance measurement, online-to-offline sales matching, will eventually be the go-to method of gauging digital performance in automotive. It’s just going to take more time.