With the summer selling season just around the corner, are you and your store ready for your close-up? To help you set the stage for more sales, Cars.com focused its May DealerADvantage Live  webinar on how to incorporate video into your online marketing. Ralph Ebersole, Cars.com’s director of automotive consulting and dealer training, was joined in the discussion by: Rob Fontano, internet sales director for John Mirazzi Nissan in Naples, Fla.; and Joe Webb, president/consultant of Chicago-based Dealer Knows.

Who’s Using Video

If you’re considering whether to add video to your internet program, you’re not alone. By the middle of this year, the Kelsey Group found, approximately three out of five dealers will incorporate video into their websites and online listings. Why? Video provides sticky content that encourages in-market shoppers to spend more time in your virtual showroom, learning about the store and your vehicles and meeting your staff.

“The more time people spend on your site,” Ebersole said, “the more traffic you get into the store.”

Who’s Watching Video

Industry studies show that car buyers increasingly search for and watch online video as part of their shopping process. Google, for example, recently reported that queries for vehicle brand names, followed by the word “video,” have increased by almost 240 percent. ** While these dealer- and manufacturer-produced videos often contain humor to get their message across, they reach serious shoppers and do more than entertain. In fact, a recent Cars.com study of walk-in shoppers *** found that:

  • 41 percent of third-party site users viewed videos before visiting a store; and
  • 63 percent of shoppers who watched videos reported that they influenced their decision to visit the store.

“When it comes to branding, video is massive,” Webb said. “It really opens the lines of communication. It takes away the customer’s fearful expectations of what they’re going to see and who they’re going to meet when they walk into a dealership.”

Getting Started

Video can be added to your website and third-party listings without hiring a production company and does not need to be expensive or time-consuming. Whether you work for a large franchise or a small independent store, today’s affordably priced digital cameras have the functionality you need to deliver near-professional results. Fontano and Webb recommended the low-cost Flip digital camcorder that connects to your computer’s USB port and contains easy-to-use editing software. Approximately the size of a deck of playing cards, the camera can be used to create video introductions, tours of your facilities and walk-around vehicle demonstrations.

“It’s very easy to do this all in-house,” Webb said, noting you shouldn’t worry about whether the image is perfectly steady. “The more personal and handheld it is, that shows that you’re willing to take that extra step for the customer.”

Fontano agreed. “People are more conditioned now to watching video that doesn’t have to be perfect.”

As you prepare to produce videos and make them available online, there are some key areas you’ll want to consider:

  • Create your process. Just as you outlined how photos are to be taken and sell copy is to be written, be sure to develop similar guidelines for video. Direct your sales staff to use video with email and ongoing follow-up. Also use video with listing sites such as Cars.com and your store’s website. Define the message you want to communicate with each type of video and identify who will produce and be featured in the videos.
  • Third-party sites. Automotive shopping sites such as Cars.com provide solutions that allow you to repackage existing inventory photos into a video that simulates motion with pan and zoom techniques. These segments engage buyers and build their confidence in the vehicle by demonstrating its condition and features. Music and narration add excitement, and video wraps can be added to brand your store, sell the value of buying from you and offer directions and contact information.
  • Your website. Your store’s site similarly equips you with a showcase for your videos – whether to provide a secondary channel for your radio and TV commercials, extend the effectiveness of your “Meet Our Staff” page with video introductions or to house customer testimonials. Franchise dealers like Fontano also take the initiative to develop competitive video reviews of models within their new-car inventory (e.g., the Nissan Altima vs. the Honda Accord) and optimize them to appear on search engine results pages.

Sell Yourself

Beyond the vehicle itself, car buyers want to know they’ll be working with a sales professional who will help them find the right car and treat them with respect. In your brief video introduction, take a few moments to greet shoppers, highlight your experience and encourage customers to contact you for additional information or to set an appointment.

“What a lot of people have struggled with over the years in the internet department is the anonymity – I sent a million emails, we talked on the phone 14 times but the shopper walks in and doesn’t ask for me,” Fontano said. “Having a video introduction has really changed that. It puts a face to it and creates sort of a relationship. I’m the person on the other end of the phone, on the other end of the keyboard. I’m going to help you with your car.”

What kind of tone should you set? Rather than take a formal approach, Fontano advised you “keep it conversational, just like you were sitting in front of the customers, doing a meet and greet. It seems to be more effective that way.”

Sell Your Listings

Video helps to make the car the star and allows you to fully merchandise it beyond what static pictures can show – whether problem areas you wouldn’t want to be a surprise to shoppers after they’ve traveled to your store or the exhaust growl of the V-8 engine. Webb encourages you to personalize these videos, whenever possible, by turning the camera to yourself and greeting the customer by name before conducting the walk-around review.

Sell Your Store

Set your dealership apart from your competitors by demonstrating to in-market shoppers what makes it special (e.g., selection, location and finance options). From detailing your sales process to giving tours of your showroom and service facility and sharing customer testimonials, video allows you to show shoppers what they can expect when they arrive at your dealership.

“There’s absolutely nothing more powerful,” Ebersole said, “than having happy consumers on camera telling their peers and your future customers why they’re happy with the buying process at your dealership.”

Extend Your Reach With Social Media

Once you begin developing videos, look for opportunities to share them with in-market car buyers. Social media sites such as YouTube and Facebook, for example, allow you to create free “channels” and “pages” on which you can present videos for your store. Maintaining a presence on these search engine-friendly sites makes it easier for car buyers to find your videos and contributes to the SEO performance of your website. At the same time, an effective social media presence  allows you to further brand your store and showcase your strengths. With more than 40 percent of car buyers now searching YouTube, ** it’s an ideal place to be.

“It has given us rankings on search engines that most people pay for,” Fontano said.

Identify Third-Party Sources

If you’re not yet sold on video or have limited resources to develop it, Ebersole suggested you look to outside sources that provide ready-made materials you can begin using today. As you follow-up with prospects via email, consider incorporating links to test-drive reviews developed by credible industry publications and blogs (e.g., AutoWeek, Cars.com’s Kicking Tires and MotorWeek) or promotional videos developed by the manufacturer. These videos typically show the vehicle being put through its paces, demonstrate its safety and performance capabilities and highlight standard and optional comfort and convenience features. These third-party materials also add credibility to your outreach, underscoring your commitment to helping the customer make an informed buying decision.

Looking ahead, the webinar panel predicted that dealers will increasingly use video – just as they now use multiple photos instead of a single picture – to set themselves apart from their competitors and drive higher-quality leads.

“How many people would rather watch a video than read?” Fontano said. “We started using it to communicate with people. People wanted to see a video testimonial as opposed to just reading one; people wanted to see a communication between the dealership and the customer that was a little more personal, and it just evolved from there.”


* The Kelsey Group, 2008
** Google, 2008
*** Value of Third-Party Sites to Dealer Walk-In Traffic, Synovate 2008