A 2021 Automotive Online Marketing Briefing

By Jazel Auto Marketing

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Marketing | 14min Read

A 2021 Automotive Online Marketing Briefing

Marketing brief 2021

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With 2020 finally over, we can’t say we’ll miss it. But we learned a lot. And if anything, it taught us that there’s no way to forever “future proof.” We’re always going to have to look ahead and try and plan for what we see on the horizon. We can tell you one thing about 2021, there’s no shortage of hurdles in this race. Here’s what they’ll probably look like and how to clear them.

Major Changes and Challenges of 2021

COVID-19 Pandemic 

As of 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic persists in the US, and the economic disruption it creates will continue to play out for some time. That means dealers are going to face a lot of the same challenges they had to overcome in 2020 – but magnified. 

Dealers will be met with challenges like: 

  1. Socially distant customer shopping protocols.

Businesses across the country, and the world, have had to implement new ways of functioning, and this is something that needs to be both addressed and adapted to. Put the right protocols in place, and make sure you’re letting people know. 

  1. Advertising new protocols and processes. 

Advertising is nothing new for many dealerships, but making sure that you are putting forward the right information to help your customers feel comfortable and attended to is essential in a time of shifting expectations. Pandemic marketing can reflect that this is an ongoing pandemic. 

  1. Larger investment in online experience and convenience.

The world of business (at least, business that can be done without person-to-person contact) is shifting online. Shift with it. An investment in your online success is a direct investment in your dealership’s future. 

  1. Re-alignment of marketing and sales strategies. 

As times change, customers’ expectations and needs change. Dealerships have to change with them. 

Online Competition is Fierce 

With more businesses forced to focus on their online side, it’s harder to stand out. Some dealerships have dropped out entirely, as the demands of the increasingly online customer shopping journey push dealerships beyond their means or comfort zones. Now that online excellence is the standard, and pandemic pressure has increased the need to put more operations online, competition is tough. 

The challenges with this:

  1. Brick and mortar brilliance means less than your online impression. 

Your website is more important than your bunting. Jokes aside, your online presence is where most people will get their first business impression of you. Don’t blow that chance. 

  1. Reputation and word of mouth are shifting heavily online.

If you aren’t actively managing your online reputation, you need to be. Other than good ol’ fashioned water-cooler-chatter (which is now more likely the “Water Cooler” slack channel or zoom meeting), reviews and ratings are how people evaluate a business before shopping. Online reputation management was a good idea before 2020. Now, if you aren’t doing it, you’re actively falling behind. 

  1. Dealerships that can change quickly and adapt are the ones that will succeed. 

We’ve learned that flexibility is a virtue when it comes to business. Can your dealership adapt to people’s changing needs and wants, and attune your sales process to customers’ expectations of the shopping process? Now’s not the time for “but we’ve always done it this way”. 

Personal is Even More Important 

Pandemic isolation + advancing online expertise = a new approach to virtual experiences. What we mean is that with more businesses and processes of life shifting online during the pandemic, people increasingly desire the combination of online convenience and personal connection. 

Here’s an example:

Bigtown Mercedes just started doing free delivered test drives to address the lack of foot traffic to their dealership during the pandemic. Now, people can test drive a luxury vehicle from their doorstep. It is faster and easier than trying to get people into the dealership for test drives, and people are more likely to end up purchasing the car when it’s already in their driveway. 


Bigtown Mercedes should keep doing delivery test drives even after businesses are operating normally again. Personalization and convenience are trends that are bigger than this crisis, and were well on their way to dominating the marketing scene before its recent emergence.  Personalization is going to be the way forward in 2021. 

Strategies For Automotive Marketing in 2021

With online functionality taking center stage for almost all dealerships, being able to better build connections with customers is the real focus in/for 2021. Don’t get lost in the digital frontier/space/world – use it to create deeper and more meaningful interactions with shoppers and customers. 

Human Connection in 2021

In 2021, your store and your website are essentially one and the same. Someone should have an almost identical experience – from the general “vibe” to if they can immediately spot the product they want. 

Fast and easy are the words to live by. Browsing online shouldn’t be something they have to sit through. It should be just as exciting, and simple, as stepping onto your lot and glazing around at some cars. 

Fast and easy means the site functionality to effortlessly complete their goals. That means offering every customer paths to swiftly find the right vehicle, compare current offers, and apply online. 

It’s not all about site functionality though. Storefront or not, people want a human connection when they shop. 

 That means even though operations are shifting online, keeping the human component of your business is absolutely essential. That means treating customers as individuals, even online. What does human connection look like in automotive marketing? It’s less about missing that “pushy salesman” experience, and more about the efficiency of communication and the human context. 


It’s one thing to request the details of car leasing info from a site, and another to chat with finance staff about the best options for your personal situation. Human connection can come in the form of chat, text, curated virtual walkthroughs, in-store appointments, and finance consultation. Each of these is a moment in which the customer wants information through a human lens. 

 It’s also time to embrace personalization. 

 We don’t mean “Hi [Insert Name Here]!” Personalization is only beneficial when it is done correctly. 

Bad Personalization:

Feeding information they have provided back to them – like putting their first name in the subject line of your emails to them. 

Good Personalization:

Removing the friction from someone’s online experiences based on previous interactions with your brand.

Essentially, personalization should make things easier and more enjoyable, not just tell the customer you have their data. Conscientiously build retargeting campaigns and sophisticated website design can personalize the experience, rather than information. 

When you look to areas for increased personalization potential, investigate your nurture streams, retargeting campaigns, and smart lists for opportunities. These are often overlooked or oversimplified. It may be that simply segmenting some audiences (New vs. Used) can allow you to provide a much more nuanced shopping experience to different customers. 

The Right Channel = The Right Connection 

Your advertising efforts should be, at the very core, supportive of your marketing goals, and when you’re striving to build connection with your audience, the right channel can be a HUGE part of that. Paid search is a given. You need to be doing it to stay competitive. But, if you have the dollars, it can be a good time to explore some channels that may be new for you. With all the recent changes we’ve discussed, these “unconventional” channels have seen a major uptick in users, and likely won’t drop back down.

We all know people are on social media now more than ever, and we recently did a blog post talking about the influence of video on car buyers. But digital video isn’t just YouTube.

We’ve been talking about Connected TV for years. In a recent article featuring The Trade Desk, they estimate that connected TV households overtook cable TV households in 2020. It’s true. The Era of Cable is coming to an end as people become less enamored with expensive cable packages and realize they only need a few platforms for their favorite shows. 

Technology advancements are continual. We’ve done entire webinars on connected TV, but with people shifting to Connected TV instead of cable, CTV is a channel you probably can’t afford to ignore for much longer. 

With connected TV you have the ability to measure performance metrics like completion rate, and you can get much more efficient with targeting  ideal in-market shoppers, similarly to how you can with display. If you have more questions about CTV, or how your advertising can improve in 2021, our friends at 10TH DEGREE have you covered. Contact now for a free consultation.


These changes aren’t temporary. Remember the Pandemic mandate we’ve all been given and the lessons to take home about change:

  1. Changes made now are indicative of the way in which the market is moving overall. 

  2. The pandemic is accelerating changes to the automotive which were already in progress, and initiating early changes that we have expected to come for some time.

  3. Start to shift everything to a “from the customer’s POV’ strategy. 

Take these lessons into the new year, and beyond!