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Clicks for Cars: How AI and Machine Learning are Revolutionizing Automotive Marketing

This post was originally published in Digital Dealer magazine volume 24, number 8.

A recent article in Digital Dealer asked the important question, ‘is your dealership taking advantage of AI?’ The rapid evolution of artificial intelligence has everyone talking, but what does that really mean, and how does it apply to automotive marketers?

Artificial Intelligence vs Machine Learning

The truth is, we are still years away from truly autonomous AI that can think and learn on its own. What we do have in place today are intelligent algorithms otherwise known as machine learning. Machine learning is different from traditional algorithms because they make decisions that go beyond their explicit programming. They actually learn to perform the specific task at hand in the most efficient way possible based on big data analysis. Machine learning powers many hidden aspects of everyday life, including; curating your favorite playlists, stock price projections, clustering news articles, and several aspects of automotive advertising.

Many automotive manufacturers, agencies, and dealers are using machine learning technologies that process big data in near real time to make smarter marketing and advertising decisions automatically. It just makes sense to embrace the power of machine learning to stay relevant and competitive in today’s fast changing market. With machine learning your advertising bids can be updated throughout the day and budgets automatically paced through the day and month for example.

When it comes to data crunching and decision making based on complex data, machines always come out on top. By understanding what machine learning is doing for online automotive marketing, you move your organization to the leading edge of technological advancement. Imagine where you could take your business if you took all the human effort spent on these ‘soul draining’ tasks and focused them on strategy instead of tactics.

Dynamic Search, Display, and Retargeting Powered by Machine Learning

Only a few years ago, automotive digital marketing measured success based on how many people saw your ads. A lot has changed. Fast forward to the present day and marketers now have the ability to automate dynamic campaigns based on vehicle inventory:

  • Dynamic Search Campaigns cater to the exact search intent of the user. These campaigns are segmented to target specific vehicles and ensure that budget is only spent on vehicles that are in stock.
  • Dynamic Display Campaigns can be setup to target sites where the specific vehicle is mentioned.
  • Dynamic Retargeting Campaigns are designed to show ads to people who have viewed a vehicle on your site but did not schedule a test drive or call the dealer. These display ads will show up as they navigate through the web in the days following the visit to the dealer site.

These strategies help to streamline operational processes and focus advertising efforts on people that are actively searching for vehicles. However, the real gain comes when this automation is coupled with machine learning to reduce the cost per click while increasing the number of conversions. Essentially, you acquire more new customers with the same budget, putting you miles ahead of the competition.

Bottom line:

  1. The fluidity of dynamic campaigns ensures dealers will always be showing potential customers ads with the most up-to-date information about vehicles on the lot – a much more intriguing sight than a generic ad.
  2. Machine learning has proven it is better equipped to adjust bids because it can see patterns and crunch numbers faster than humanly possible.
  3. By letting machine learning technology manage the complexity of budgets, cost per click constraints, and cost per conversion, account managers are suddenly able to manage more accounts allowing you to operate your business with less manpower.

As Chris Hanson, the CEO of 3GEngagement and Dave Meindl, the Product & Systems Designer at Mudd Advertising recently explained in a webinar entitled ‘Dynamic Inventory Strategies for Automotive Webinar’, when machine learning is applied to dynamic inventory campaigns, amazing things happen. These industry leading automotive agencies both use a machine-learning-powered bid and budget management system that makes frequent intra-day adjustments to deliver the best results possible. This allows them to focus on the aspects of campaign management that help sell more vehicles: adjusting keywords (both positive and negative), split testing ad copy, creating landing pages, adding ad extensions and more. This system increased Chris’ clients’ mobile click-to-calls by over 50%, and has driven more sales from his search campaigns by focusing on the top performing, most relevant keywords.

Dave worked with us at Acquisio to automate the buildout of dynamic display and remarketing campaigns on Google Display Network (GDN). This is a game changer and allows him to reach customers on Google properties that have not been available on the Real Time Bidding (RTB) ad exchange since 2015 when Google restricted access to Google AdWords. This GDN integration is novel since the other Display Platforms are all focused on the RTB ad exchange and do not have the infrastructure to support this type of programmatic solution.

The State of Car Buying Today

Implementing machine learning optimization technologies into your automotive marketing strategies is quickly becoming crucial to success. The very way people are looking for their next car has completely changed over the last few years. 80% of people say that their mind is made up before they go to a dealership, meaning they have spent significant time researching online beforehand. Reaching these potential customers every step of the way is essential.

As much of the searching is done on mobile on-the-go, having a presence during these influential micro-moments can make all the difference by the time the user is ready to buy. Google recently identified five of these important micro-moments in the automotive buying journey:

  1. The Which-Car-Is-Best Moment
  2. The Is-It-Right-For-Me Moment
  3. The Can-I-Afford-It Moment
  4. The Where-Should-I-Buy-It Moment
  5. The Am-I-Getting-A-Deal Moment

Leveraging a machine learning system that understands that mobile and desktop search intent is different and adjusts the bids accordingly throughout the day can make all the difference in capturing audience attention. This may sound like a daunting task, but with machine learning based optimization you can identify, target, and influence potential buyers throughout this journey.

Leverage Automotive Marketing Dollars with Automation and Machine Learning

Automotive marketing solutions continue to shift toward programmatic automation and machine learning. This is necessitated by the shift in the way people are researching and buying cars on their mobile devices. The future is now.

If you focus your strategy around targeting in-market car shoppers by implementing dynamic solutions, you will:

  1. Get more of them to the dealership
  2. Move more cars off the lot
  3. Maximize revenue from your OEM Co-op funds and advertising dollars

This presents automotive marketers with a gold mine of exciting opportunity to get ahead of the competition with automation and machine learning.


Image Credits

Feature Image: UnsplashSamuele Errico Piccarini

Keith Meagher

Keith Meagher

Keith lives at the intersection of Product, Marketing and Business Development. He loves digging into complex business problems with an eye to develop opportunities for revenue growth. He is comfortable talking strategy with C-level executives in the morning and putting a plan into action in the afternoon. Keith’s 'can do' attitude has distinguished him at Acquisio since 2011 in Sales Engineering, Product Management, and most recently in Product Marketing.

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