Ian Cruickshank, Speed Shift Media: Certified to Sell

Ian Cruickshank, Speed Shift Media: Certified to Sell
Ian Cruickshank, VP of Sales & Marketing, Speed Shift Media (Photo: Ian Cruickshank)

Focusing on inventory is a smart way to market CPO vehicles, regular used cars and even new ones, argues Speed Shift Media’s Ian Cruickshank.

A certified preowned (CPO) program is a great way to add value to used vehicles. With research from Cox Automotive showing a 12 percent higher recognition of such programs among those crucial millennial buyers, one could argue that it’s more important than ever to make the most of CPO. But according to Ian Cruickshank, VP of Sales & Marketing at inventory display technology company Speed Shift Media, not everyone is getting full value from certifying their vehicles.

“The marketing principles between used vehicles and CPO are fairly similar and should be more similar than they often are,” he argues. “What people are looking for from preowned vehicles are make, model, model year, body style, warranty. Yet when we promote CPO programs we usually have it upside down and start with the inspection and warranty.

“Increasing the focus on inventory is going to result in a bottom-line benefit for the dealer’s business,” continues Cruickshank, whose company has worked with Mazda, Kia and Autotrader.com on inventory marketing.

“For CPO, you’ll win more activity by communicating the value of the unit versus the value of the program, because consumers are focused on inventory. They’re visiting fewer stores and making more significant decisions before they come into the businesses. They know what they want. They need to know whether you have it, or whether you don’t. For a used car, the assumption is that you don’t. They therefore want more specifics about what you have available that they can see before coming in.”

A new approach

For dealers, this means moving away from traditional, program features-based CPO advertising. Instead, Cruickshank advocates an approach that highlights specific inventory and links directly to vehicle detail pages (VDPs), although he acknowledges that some OEMs won’t permit inventory in CPO advertising.

“You won’t get that inventory focus unless you’re using dynamic search or dynamic display to show specific vehicles,” he urges. “Be as precise as you can, right down to the VIN.”

He notes that typical search engine marketing (SEM) didn’t have dynamic marketing available until recently, but that opportunities are now there for the taking.

“You can load your inventory into the Google Merchant Center and enable the machine to decide on how to configure ads based on the available inventory,” says Cruickshank. “This gets around the problem of deciding on which keywords to include in model-based ads. Doing this dynamically can reduce the amount of work and increase the success rate: whether the user puts in ‘crew cab’ first or last, hopefully your ads will still match and show up appropriately. It’s scalable, inventory-based, and a click on the vehicle ad takes you directly to a specific VDP, but keep in mind the importance of negative keywords.

“When you’re setting up campaigns in Google or Facebook, decide where exactly to send the consumer on your site,” he adds. “You could send them to the main homepage, to the SRP, or to the URL that has the filter of a particular model—’Make=Civic’, for example. Providers can help you figure out what that is.”

Naturally there’s a time commitment involved in setting up and maintaining these types of filters, so Cruickshank suggests concentrating on models that are stocked on a regular basis. If it all seems daunting, then working with a partner may be beneficial.

Facebook, too

Dynamic marketing opportunities aren’t restricted to SEM. Facebook—still the millennials’ information source of choice—is working hard to attract dealer business by enabling more inventory marketing, according to Cruickshank.

“Facebook Canada has a few more restrictions on this than in the U.S.,” he says, “but you can still use dynamic pixels to figure out what car the user is looking at and target them with that car or similar ones in carousel ads on the site.”

Facebook dynamic ads enable dealers to upload a vehicle catalog with relevant details such as make, model and year. The Facebook pixel must be installed on the dealer website, and its software development kit (SDK) and App Events installed into the mobile app to provide inventory reports.

“With the recent removal of access to data provided by third parties, Facebook is now less capable of finding potential customers before they show interest in your website,” he observes. “Afterwards, however, you can target them very effectively.”

Dynamic displays

Cruickshank believes that a dynamic display campaign complements SEM and provides a benefit not just in direct traffic, but also in subsequent search-based traffic. He does caution, however, that this type of advertising can be expensive, and complex to manage, so dealers may need help from a partner like Strathcom Media or Naked Lime to operate it effectively (note that Speed Shift doesn’t work directly with dealerships).

“Dealers can work effectively with any partner,” adds Cruickshank. “Be collaborative, trust them with your thoughts and data and give it at least a year.”

Inventory marketing techniques can be effective for new cars, too, particularly with millennial consumers’ desire to see photographs of the actual vehicle rather than stock make and model images. But, he says, whether it’s for CPO, used or new vehicles, any new digital marketing approach should always be applied on a test-and-measure basis.

“Pay attention to regional variations in different websites—some work better in particular markets than others,” Cruickshank advises. “We even heard from some people who found that they did better in marketing preowned vehicles without dynamic search. Be smart about it and do a cost-benefit analysis.”

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