The Nuts and Bolts of Content Strategy for Car Dealerships
We’ve been asking what are some digital marketing strategies that will give local dealerships an advantage. Now it’s time to talk about how to create a content strategy.
Here we’ll define branded content and content strategy, talk about why branded content makes sense for car dealerships, distinguish between evergreen and seasonal content, offer advice on choosing topics, touch on content distribution, and discuss ways to improve your content as you go.
What is branded content? What is content strategy?
As it happens, we have a great article here that defines branded content. Let’s just cite it verbatim:
Branded content is, well, content. It’s not like traditional advertising that pushes a strong promotional message and clear call to action. Content doesn’t “sell” – its job is to entertain, inform and inspire consumers. How does it achieve that?
Branded content takes a number of different formats (think all the stuff you just have to click on when scrolling online):
Automotive branded content does something most advertising can’t – truly connect with consumers who aren’t yet ready to buy. Because content provides what they really want: the opportunity to be moved, motivated, made to laugh and more. And while that’s happening, dealership awareness and loyalty grow, which means sales further down the road.
If that’s branded content, then what’s your digital content strategy? According to Wikipedia, “Content strategy refers to the planning, development, and management of content—written or in other media.”
The average car buyer is doing a lot of online research these days. According to a Google study, may have around 900 digital interactions, where she does everything from taking a 360-degree video tour to asking a search engines questions like “what car is best if you have a Tibetan Mastiff?”
When you create content, you’re setting your dealership up to appear more consistently in customer research. Automotive content marketing also sets up your dealership as a car buyer’s resource. A strong content marketing strategy is the key.
Evergreen versus seasonal.
They say there are two types of content: evergreen and seasonal. These names can be deceptive so let’s define them.
Evergreen content is content that has been designed to attract audience interest over a longer period of time.
Seasonal content is content that has been designed to attract audience interest over a shorter period of time.
Let’s say you’re a dealership in the Northeast and you posted on article on how to slow down vehicle corrosion caused by road salt. This is evergreen content because it deals with a problem – vehicle rust caused by chemicals used to treat roads in winter – that will concern car owners for the foreseeable future. This piece of content should be about as relevant in 2019 as it would have been in 1999 or will be in 2039; unless a change comes along that eliminates the problem of rusting cars, icy roads, or both by then.
Seasonal content, on the other hand, is more temporary in nature. An article titled “Car Trends to Look Forward to in 2020” is seasonal content because, in theory at least, it will have lost most of its punch by December 31.
Unlike trees, which are either evergreen or not, most content will fall on a spectrum. On the evergreen side you’ll have content that deals with unchanging or slowly changing topics – corrosion caused by salty roads and air, key differences between leasing and buying, how to choose a set of tires, and so on. The extreme seasonal side might include content with a clear expiration date, like the annual car trends example given above. At the center of the spectrum you might find content that becomes more or less relevant depending on time of year, like an article titled “Red-Hot Summer Car Buying Tips.”
Neither side of the spectrum is inherently superior, so let’s talk about two scenarios where one or the other is a smart move.
If you’re creating content with the purpose of drawing people to your dealer site, then evergreen could make more sense. This is because the content doesn’t require frequent refreshing and will remain relevant year after year. Evergreen usually holds its SEO value longer; which is good because business content can rarely count on a “loyal readership” in the way a popular website or blog might. On the other hand, dealerships may find that they face stiff competition for evergreen topics.
If you want to capitalize on specific opportunities, like a hometown World Series win or getting your market excited about this year’s makes and models, then seasonal is an excellent fit. It may not give you several years’ worth of SEO returns, but being newsworthy for a short period of time is a smart way to capitalize on hot trends and expand your local reach.
Both seasonal and evergreen can work on a range of digital platforms, including your website, your social media accounts, and a USA TODAY NETWORK news site. If you use a lot of seasonal content you may want to periodically refresh/purge these pieces once they hit their expiration data, as a dealership blog whose most recent post was titled “Car Safety Trends for 2014” might be interpreted as a sign of general neglect.
Choosing specific topics.
There are several ways to go about topic selection for content marketing. Maybe you serve a niche market like Jeep or Tesla buyers and have a keen sense as to what your customers will find interesting. In this case, you might be able to come up with a few hot topics on your own. On the other hand, you might have a brand dealership in a sprawling metropolitan area that attracts a wide cross-section of buyers. In this case you’ll find it easier to delve into market analysis, keyword research, consumer demographic data, and other tools to find your way.
Out of these two, using data is typically the sounder way to go. Local markets, the people who make them up, and the fundamental needs of car buyers change over time, and it’s not always easy to keep your finger on the pulse, especially once you’ve knocked out the more obvious topics.
The way you use data, however, will have a lot to do with your overall content strategy. Here you have to step back and ask what you’re trying to accomplish.
Are you trying to tap into specific submarket, like millennial car buyers?
Are you trying to highlight a specific opportunity, like a special offer?
Are you trying to get more traffic to your website?
Are you trying to build up a local reputation as a helpful, trustworthy dealership?
Are you trying to beat other local dealerships in a head-to-head competition?
A lot of these goals interlock, but answering this question can tell you how to use what the data tells you.
Sometimes the answer is right in front of your nose. Let’s say you’re a dealership who wants to attract more visitors to your website. The data suggests that consumers in your local market are concerned with the connection between car ownership and winter – cold-weather maintenance, safety on snowy roads, corrosion caused by road salt, etc. That data insight alone just gave you several pieces of content to write.
You might be thinking, “Yeah, people in cold places care about that stuff. Who needs data to tell you that?” However, two equally cold markets may have very different levels of interest in reading up on cars and wintertime, or there may be a market where the winters aren’t all that bad that is utterly obsessed with the topic. Data is the best way to know for sure.
Sometimes a specific data insight can lead you to a broader content strategy. Let’s say you want to create content targeting millennial car buyers, and a data insight from your research says millennials pay more attention to online dealership reviews than other consumer demographics.
You might not want to write content that zeroes in on “reviews” exactly. But you might ask yourself why customer reviews are important to these buyers. After some reading and reflection you might decide that reviews are important because younger buyers 1) are accustomed to seeing and using third-party reviews in general, 2) tend as a demographic group to lack disposable income and have more cause to be careful on major purchases, and 3) may not have all that much experience navigating the car buying process. In other words, these consumers are focused on customer reviews because they want to know that Dealership X is approachable, convenient, and won’t rip them off.
In light of this, you could present a piece of content that positions your dealership as approachable, convenient, and scrupulously honest. Maybe you give some tips on buying your first car. Maybe you talk about how you’ve moved a lot of your paperwork online to create a smoother customer experience. You could build a solid content strategy around this one observation.
There are some useful free and partially-free consumer data resources out there, like Claritas, ESRI’s tapestry segmentation tool, and Census.gov. A data-driven marketing partner like LOCALiQ AUTOMOTIVE can be a big help as well.
Data insights can help you know what content topics to pick, what keywords to use, even how long the piece itself should be.
Coming up with the right distribution strategy.
Having the right distribution strategy is just as important as having the right content. A good distribution strategy has three basic goals:
To make sure that the content connects with the most profitable audience.
To make sure that the content appears in a trusted source.
To make sure that the content is properly featured/promoted.
If you would, please indulge us as we speak to LOCALiQ AUTOMOTIVE’s strengths in these areas:
LOCALiQ AUTOMOTIVE is part of the USA TODAY NETWORK and has a coast-to-coast presence. Our list of brands includes major-market news sites like AzCentral.com (which covers the Phoenix metro area), local news sites like The Ithaca Journal and The Springfield News-Leader, specialty publications like Golfweek, and a leading national news site, USA TODAY. In addition, the USA TODAY NETWORK partners with a large number of affiliate sites. Factor in LOCALiQ AUTOMOTIVE’s ability to target specific consumer segments, and you’ll see that the USA TODAY NETWORK has a reach that is both broad and market specific.
Furthermore, the USA TODAY NETWORK is a trusted source. While news websites are a recent innovation, consumers have been exposed to USA TODAY and local news brands like The El Paso Times for decades now. The company uses professional content creators to give the material a look and feel that consumers trust.
Lastly, branded content placed through LOCALiQ AUTOMOTIVE will be promoted. We’ll run ads on our social media sites as well as promote your content on our local news sites’ home and section fronts. After that, your content will reside permanently on our trusted news site which, depending on the content type, is a nice evergreen touch.
Whether you work with us to share your content or look elsewhere, remember that distribution is essential.
Improving your digital content strategy as you go along.
One of the exciting things about web content is seeing how the public responds to it. Sometimes you put out a piece that you think should be a hit, but it never gets traction. On other occasions, you put out a piece that seems good but not necessarily special, and people just eat it up. Call it luck, call it Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand; whatever it is, it’s something that not even the best content marketing strategy can fully master.
The good news with most website content is you can go back and change it. Maybe a different headline or format will give the topic extra sizzle. Maybe sharing your content at a different time of day will help it catch on with your target audience. Maybe you overlooked SEO and changing up your keyword strategy will give it extra momentum. Web tracking and analytics tools should be able to tell you what’s working and what isn’t. Remember that for evergreen content – it’s a good idea to take a look and freshen it up every now and then.
On a similar note, you can use web tracking and analytics to identify what types of content works for you in your market. Let’s say that you’ve put out a reasonable amount of content, and the data tells you that evergreen content targeted toward young car buyers has been your sweet spot. You might decide to stick with a winning formula and keep producing content that hits this market, or change course and try to target additional audience segments with evergreen content that perhaps has a different focus.
What’s your strategy?
Hopefully we’ve given you a lot to chew on here. Just remember, you don’t have to do it alone. LOCALiQ AUTOMOTIVE knows how to build a strong content strategy for car dealers and is here to help.
Contact us to request a free Dealer Scorecard analysis for your dealership or Auto Group.