SPONSORED: Do you have an attribution problem?

Time 5:18 pm, July 24, 2017

Lisa Iannucci is the director of international dealer marketing at CarGurus, the UK’s fastest-growing car shopping website. Here, she explains how dealers can drive increased ROI from their digital marketing programmes.

IS YOUR marketing spend helping you sell cars? You might think so – but can you prove it? How are you measuring effectiveness across channels? Which digital touchpoints have the most influence on your customer’s decision to come to your store and buy from you? It’s not so simple these days.

The purchase journey of today’s digital shopper is more complex than ever, with shoppers using multiple online platforms and devices to find their next car. In fact, a recent Google/Luth Research study found that across three months of a consumer’s purchase journey, looking for their next car involved more than 900 digital interactions, 71 per cent of which were on a mobile device. Additionally, research from CarGurus shows that more than 80 per cent of shoppers use at least three different sites, and a quarter visit more than seven.

No doubt you are already investing in digital: search ads, banner ads, third-party classified sites, email and social media. The problem isn’t that there’s a lack of opportunities or places to spend your money. Rather, it’s the opposite. With such a plethora of digital channels available, it’s hard to know where you should be investing your marketing budgets for maximum ROI.

For dealerships to accurately measure marketing ROI, they need to understand the multiple influences on a shopper before he or she comes on to the forecourt to buy a car. That’s where multi-touch attribution comes in.

Multi-touch attribution: Attribution modelling aims to solve this problem of ‘where to spend’ by helping you understand which channels influence each of your sales. Most dealerships are already trying to attribute sales to different marketing channels. For example, when a classified ads site sends you a lead and that shopper ends up converting, you tend to attribute the sale to that particular site.

But this doesn’t tell the whole story, especially in a multi-channel, multi-device world, as it doesn’t tell you which touchpoint really mattered most to your customer. And if you’re unable to answer that question, you’re probably not attributing your sales effectively enough.

First-touch attribution was perhaps a marketer’s earliest method of digital measurement. It looks at the channel that brought a customer in the door initially and allocates all credit to it.

However, you also want to know what influenced the shopper to make that final decision to buy from you – and a simple click on an ad or an email doesn’t quite capture this information accurately enough.

Last-touch attribution is another model that people have historically used to measure digital effectiveness. The opposite to first-touch attribution, the last-click model leaves out everything preceding the sale and can show you if it was an online chat, phone call or e-lead that got a shopper to visit you and leave with a vehicle.

The downside, however, is we now know that for the typical shopper there are hours of online research before they decide to submit a query to a dealership. What’s going on during all that research? Why did the shopper pick you over other dealers in their area? These important questions aren’t fully addressed by last-touch attribution. In fact, the method itself has been very much in the news as of late, with Google announcing its plans to kill off last-click in its own products to provide a fairer picture of attribution to its advertisers.

Neither first- nor last-click attribution models capture the all-important midsection of the shopper journey.

The solution isn’t complex. All that’s required is to look at attribution with a more holistic lens, and that’s through multi-touch attribution – considering all steps in the car buyer’s path to purchase and allocating appropriate value to touchpoints that precede the point of conversion.

Technology and tracking have evolved to where you can quite easily get a clear picture of what your shoppers are doing and when, allowing you to refine and optimise your marketing approach and seek the most value from your spend.

Key metrics to measure: Engagement and lead generation
Engagement and lead generation are probably the two most critical metrics – and one drives the other. It helps to think of engagement in terms of visibility. The more visible you are, the greater your chances of making genuine connections with shoppers. The challenge is doing this in the most cost-effective way.

Visibility may come by way of online ads, your own website, third-party classified ad sites, email newsletters, social media – or, more likely, a combination of these.

It helps to narrow your focus to a handful of marketing channels, and the ones you test should be the places where you are confident shoppers are going to find out about you.

What if you learn that the channels you’ve been investing in aren’t actually that successful at driving engagement for your business? It can be intimidating to make changes in the way you split your marketing investment. But if you are serious about maximising ROI, you have to be willing to get your hands dirty with data.

Attributing via engagement shows you which channels are actually influencing the success of your business – and multi-touch attribution is about learning what influences shoppers’ engagement along their path to purchase.

Looking at shopper engagement on your own website is a good place to start: consider on-site engagement metrics such as duration on site, dwell time, bounce rates and page views to capture how people navigate your site. Are some pages more popular than others? This information can offer you extremely powerful insights about your customer: what they do and when, and what interests them most when they visit certain channels throughout their journey.

Third-party classified sites such as CarGurus are also a great source of engagement data. In fact, at CarGurus, it’s important to us that we offer our dealers built-in tools that give them insight into their listings’ visibility on our site as well as other advanced analytics that show how consumers are interacting with their inventory.

With lead generation metrics, results are even easier to quantify. What you’re looking for in lead-gen are signs of purchase intent – that is, the kind of actions that low-funnel shoppers take when they are close to making a purchase. Third-party sources can be useful for this data, too.

For example, what you learn from third-party site analytics can tell you a lot about what shoppers are doing close to the point of sale. That’s because classified sites are a popular source of information that cater to low-funnel behaviours – dealership information, operating hours, directions, phone numbers, and so on.

So you should ask your lead providers how many map clicks, directions clicks and the like are occurring on your listings. These are the kinds of signals that demonstrate strong shopper interest in what you offer.

As shoppers move down the funnel, think about the behaviours that typically indicate purchase intent. When a shopper’s behaviour shows they’re seeking more information about a dealer – where they are or what their URL is, for example – this indicates that they are interested in taking the next step and making an inquiry.

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The marketing science
Marketing today is as much a science as it is an art. The data you glean from your digital programmes can help you optimise your media planning to drive a stronger ROI. At CarGurus, we are big believers in data-driven marketing, and even in our own marketing investments we measure every interaction we have with our users both on and off our site. Our vision is always to optimise spend while attracting a growing volume of engaged shoppers. In today’s digital landscape, there’s no shortage of data; the key is to look at the most useful metrics and learn to attribute with accuracy so that you can invest efficiently to drive the business.


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Car Dealer has been covering the motor trade since 2008 as both a print and digital publication. In 2020 the title went fully digital and now provides daily motoring updates on this website for the car industry. A digital magazine is published once a month.

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