In the last few years, car dealers and marketers are betting that technology, and a healthy dose of enhanced personal interaction, can vastly boost the car buying experience. A group of car dealerships in Columbus, Ohio believed in the same.
This car dealership in Ohio is over 100 years old and is spread over an 18-acre campus. The campus envelopes five different dealerships – Audi, Volkswagen, Subaru, Porsche and Jaguar.
We interviewed Andrew Marks, the marketing brain behind the success of the Ohio car dealership beacon campaign to understand how they used beacon technology to boost sales, enhance the experience and bring back customers; minor details about deployment, results and more. Here’s a write-up based on the interview.
LEGACY MARKETING CHANNELS IN CAR DEALERSHIPS AND ASSOCIATED CHALLENGES
What marketing channels was the Ohio car dealership using prior to beacon implementation?
Before ramping up to beacon technology, like most other dealerships, the Ohio car dealership also banked on physical ways of communication to attract and bring back customers. We used street-facing window stickers to display offers, car prices, inside car-view, mileage comparison, and gift cards for service discounts.
What were the challenges with the on-going marketing channel and why were you looking for an alternative?
The challenge with this physical style of marketing was the lack of engagement and personalization when someone walked into the dealership. Not everyone who walks in wants to be attended by a salesperson.
Not just that, we were also missing out on customers who never walked into the dealership or visited us in non-operational hours – when the doors were locked and the employees had left.
This is why we started looking for a solution that could transform the dealership into a smart interactive campus. We needed an infrastructure that ensures that even in absence of a salesperson, the cars could communicate with the visitors.
TEARDOWN OF THE BEACON CAMPAIGN AT OHIO CAR DEALERSHIP
What goals did you want to achieve with beacons?
Before jumping to a solution, it was important for us to understand what we are working towards. With beacon technology, we wanted to
- Increase footfalls to the dealership
- Enhance the dealership engagement
- Push the dealership app on the visitor’s smartphone, for future communication
How did you go about achieving each of your goals with Beacons?
We have used different beacons for different use-cases. This was made based on the transmission range and weather resistance parameters.
Increasing footfalls to the dealership
We used your long-range outdoor beacons to broadcast specials about the car. We are leveraging outdoor beacons to attract visitors who never enter the dealership.
Enhancing the dealership engagement
With your indoor beacons we were looking to do a couple of things to enhance engagement – Firstly, welcome visitors to the new car showroom. Secondly, create a self-guided experience for visitors who were evaluating the car options in the “new car showroom” section. These could be visitors who don’t want to be disturbed by a salesperson or intentionally visit dealerships in non-operational hours. Just as they enter the dealership, we offer them an engagement option – the visitors could either opt for assistance from a salesman or could explore around without having anyone to disturb them. If the visitor opts for assistance, then we simply notify a salesperson.
The indoor beacon setup creates an interactive buying experience where visitors get information about the new cars, the used cars and the dealership without having to engage with a salesperson.
Pushing the service app on visitor’s smartphone
Nudging visitors to download a service app from the app store involves multiple friction points. We wanted to build a solution that pushes the dealership app on the visitor’s smartphone without having to download it or go to the app store.
We have created a pocket marketing group what we call pocket apps. These pocket apps are full grown mobile apps but they don’t go into an app store. We put them on the smartphones using the beacons. So when a visitor walks into the service area or lounge area for any one of these dealerships, she immediately has our app on her smartphone. These apps remain on the smartphone even after she walks out of the dealership. In this way, even when she is not in our broadcast region, we can still push notifications and still have digital interaction with her. We call this process – auto app delivery.
We have built service apps for individual dealerships – Volkswagen Audi Subaru Porsche and Jaguar.
What does the beacon distribution in the dealership look like?
As I mentioned, the campus has five buildings – Audi, Volkswagen, Subaru, Porsche and Jaguar. Each of these buildings has three major sections – the service department, the new car showroom and lounge area. We have indoor beacons spread out in the service department, in the new car showroom and in the lounge area of each building. In addition to that, we also have long-range outdoor beacons on the periphery of the campus, spread approximately every 20 to 30 meters with messaging specifically designed for vehicles driving around.
Which beacon hardware did you use for achieving your goals?
We have used a combination of indoor beacons and long-range outdoor beacons to achieve our goals. The weatherproof long-range beacons, deployed on the periphery of the campus, transmitted car specials to 300 meters and the indoor beacons deployed in the service area, lounge area and new car showroom was fine-tuned to 20-30m depending on the use-case.
After implementing an incredibly powerful campaign at Ohio car dealership, do you any advice on best practices for beacon deployment?
Some fundamental ways to enhance the visitor experience are –
- Use a series of markdown cards, which means layer the information rather than overwhelming visitors with a lot of information at once.
- Fine tune the messaging to suit the car brand. This is because, with every different car, you are talking to different demographics. For eg, someone who is buying a twenty-five thousand dollar Volkswagon is very different from someone who is buying a hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars Porsche or a Ferrari.
- As the extension of the previous guideline, it’s highly recommended to calibrate beacon range accurately. In most other industries, marketers are concerned about how far the beacons will transmit? In car dealerships, it’s the opposite! Here it’s not how far you transmit, but how precisely you can control the broadcast range. Create geofences to notify visitors when they are in the range of a specific car model or area. This could be as targeted as 8 to 10 meters.
- After several attempts at calibrating beacons precisely, what we’ve done really is transform a car dealership into a museum. When you walk into a museum you receive communication about the exhibit you are looking at, when you move to a different exhibit get different information. That’s what one needs to achieve at car dealerships too.
Where do you mount the indoor beacons?
We usually mount these beacons on a pillar or signboard near the car.
WHAT DO THE RESULTS LOOK LIKE?
After 7 months of deploying beacons, what are the improvements in the car dealership performance?
Your company has helped us accomplish a lot of things. Here are some of the most tremendous advantages of deploying beacons in our car dealership –
- The service app adoption rate is close to 75%, given that users do not have to visit the app store to download an app.
- Saves a lot of time and effort for service advisors because visitors usually schedule car services from the app. Without the service app, service advisors were constantly picking up the phone and answering service requests.
- Monitor the dealership traffic even in non-operational hours
- Get insights on what visitors are most interested in – which car, which service and more
- With long-range beacons broadcasting car specials all day long, the foot traffic to the dealership has increased by 20%.
- Get more return business – this includes trading in old cars for new ones and driving in for various services. The revenue from return business increased by 25%.
WITH BEACONS, CAR DEALERSHIPS ARE NOW MOVING BEYOND DOUGHNUTS 😉
Are there any Beacon features that give you an edge in the market?
“Schedule feature” on your dashboard has been incredibly helpful for us! We schedule multiple messages on beacons every day. We have messages for the morning, messages for the evening, messages for weekdays, and different messages for weekends. We have messages for when the dealership is open and when it’s closed.
So scheduling is tremendously important because when somebody visits a car dealership, they could potentially be there for three or four hours. They spend time, looking at the car, test driving the car, and eventually buying the car. If people are looking for a service, they are waiting on their vehicle, then they will be sitting there for two or three hours. So it’s critically important that the messages are scheduled ahead of time and are changing accordingly. We have a dedicated set of messages for people who come in in the morning to drop off the car at 7 o’clock. The beacon could notify them about getting a cup of coffee and doughnuts. The message obviously can’t be the same all day long – doughnuts are over by 10:00 am! So the message has to change. So by scheduling or by queuing up the broadcast messages, the beacons adjust its broadcast message based on day of week and time of day – that’s enormously important.