In just a week the situation facing the entire United States has seen still more dramatic and unprecedented changes.  From shelter-in-place orders to stimulus bills; from new projections on the virus to the harrowing challenges facing our healthcare workers; the world looks very different today than it did even last week. 

Here are some bullets that caught our eye and may be of interest to our car dealer friends.

From an advertising perspective, we’ve noted a number of interesting trends.  Many national and regional advertisers are in-market with positive, feel-good ads promoting our American spirit and highlighting crisis workers as heros. 

Locally, advertisers have not been dark, especially in the automotive sector which represents about 30% of all ad spending  Local car dealers in the Philadelphia region have responded with ads promoting service specials for first responders, veterans and crisis workers.  Some dealerships have doubled down on their advertising to promote their brand and to feature alliances with crucial organizations like Philabundance. 

Nobody has a crystal ball.  But one thing is sure: Things will improve.  And still another thing is likely: Things will get better quickly. 

Recognizing this and focusing on a positive future is the way we at Gillespie are proceeding.  We now have a new date on which we can focus: 30 April 2020.

Understandably, clients are cautious and have, in some cases, paused ad spending, if only to take a moment and gain perspective.  We are about two weeks into this situation and perspective is becoming clear.

But the coming two weeks will be critical for car dealerships who want to develop the game plan to attack the post-coronavirus world. Moreover, the coming two weeks will be critical for car dealerships to build the foundation for the post-coronavirus world.

What will the automotive landscape look like in four or six weeks?  It will look very different that it did just two weeks ago. There were a number of factors already in the mix, including a growing glut of off-lease vehicles, a drop in projected new car sales and pressure to provide an “omnichannel” sales experience that better integrates online shopping and purchasing with the in-dealership experience.  As we navigate through the coronavirus quarantines, dealerships with strong websites, well-tuned online sales experiences and staff ready to close a digital lead are already ready benefitting from a consuming public seeking a distraction from the intense news cycle. 

The coronavirus crisis has exacerbated these headwinds and has added other challenges including supply chain issues, cash and profitability problems, pent up demand, etc. 

In the here and now, it seems increasingly clear that individual dealerships need to consider their plan forward.  We believe the following will be critical to that successful path through the post coronavirus world.

  1. Don’t disappear.  Tier three dealerships rely on branding.  The factory provides aggressive incentives.  The consumer needs to understand why they should come to your dealership as opposed to another one with a comparable product at a comparable price.
  2. Develop or improve existing programs like concierge buying.  New and used dealerships are using this time to make a bigger and better shift into this approach
  3. Focus online.  Car shoppers post-coronavirus landscape will expect more from the online sales experience.  Dealerships can use this time to cultivate those leads, refine the process and be ready to capture sales when they jump back. 
  4. Focus on social and organic.  Paid search conversion rates have dropped.  Dealerships can shift to a social and SEO strategy to facilitate website traffic.  Social media engagement rates have exploded in the last two weeks, and so having a social presence through posts and paid ads will maintain your visibility.  This dovetails with a robust SEO strategy that is built on real-time search trend data.
  5. Focus on your community.  These unsettling times remind us that we need community institutions to serve as anchors.  Remember that you are a community institution and an important organization for your neighborhood.  Find ways to further embrace this role, not because it may mean more sales in the long run—but because it is just the right thing to do.