Mis-Behavioral Targeting?

“Technology doesn’t sell cars, people sell cars”

How many times have you heard a vendor from a lead-generating company tell you that as a means to let you know that their technology will help your dealership sell more cars, not put you in the unemployment line? As a dealer, GM or other manager you already know it’s not about technology, it is about selling – and selling is about quality opportunities (“Ups”).

Lead-generating companies are supposed to deliver quality “Ups” to your dealership and then let you do your job of selling. Right? At what point though are companies going too far in using technology in a way that might be costing you opportunities to make a sale?

Recently I read some articles regarding “behavioral targeting” on automobile dealership websites and how companies, in the case of the articles I read they were related to a live chat vendor and their use of technology in serving up special promotions/incentives to website visitors, are using “behavioral targeting” to send the right message at the right time to the right person. In short, these articles trumpeted how the company targets website visitors and only sends certain offers to customers based on the page they are viewing/have viewed on a website and also based on the geographical location of the customer.

The theory behind this sounds reasonable. Why show 100% of your website visitors an incentive offer to visit your dealership for a test drive, for example, when many of them would likely not be interested in the offer (based on the page of the website they are viewing/have viewed) or because they are predisposed to come to your business already (based on their proximity to your business, which is really an entirely different discussion/argument as well).

First, to show you the issues around geographically-targeting website visitors, here is an experiment I did using my cellphone and office PC to view our company website. Mind you, I never moved from my desk while doing this experiment.

From my office PC, which is over 20 miles from my home which would be a more likely area where I would prefer to buy a car, my IP address shows as:

From my office PC, connected via our VPN (which is how many employees connect to the Internet), my IP address shows as:

From my phone, my IP address shows as:

Now that you can see some of the issues around geographically-targeting offers to website visitors, here are a couple of thoughts on practice of not serving up incentives to website visitors who are (supposedly) in close physical proximity to your dealership in particular:

  • If a potential buyer is predisposed to visit the closest dealership that has a matching vehicle and therefore would not need to be swayed by an incentive to visit that dealership, then do incentives work at all? Certainly they work. We know that from many studies. So are dealerships just hoping that the local potential buyer does not go to a farther-away dealership’s website? Because – and the companies offering these incentive options for their customers would certainly agree – seeing that competitor’s incentive would likely entice that potential buyer to at least visit that farther-away dealership. So is the risk of not offering the incentive to a buyer based on geography really worth it?
  • Even if you can pinpoint a location many potential buyers visit websites while at work so their IP address would be connected to their work location, which may be many miles from their home and where they might ultimately consider buying a vehicle. Serving a website visitor an incentive in this case, even though they are nearby, may entice them to visit your dealership during their lunch break to take a test drive. After all, isn’t that the point of the incentive offer? Not serving an incentive because the buyer is deemed to be “too close” may end up costing your dealership an opportunity. Taking it a step further, if you are in a major metropolitan area with a cluster of close-by competitors and your offers are geographically-behavior-based, you could be suppressing offers to potential buyers who are “showrooming” your competitors from their own dealership. Do you really want to miss out on that opportunity?

All in all, even if you could pinpoint that a customer was right next door to your dealership, with competitors trying to entice customers to visit their location and also knowing that buyers are willing to travel even hundreds of miles for a great value, why would you risk losing a potential buyer?

Go take a look at the parking lot of the office building closest to your dealership or in the driveways of nearby houses. Did all of those owners – or even just the ones driving your brand – buy from you? Of course not.

While “behavioral targeting” certainly has many viable applications and works on many levels, using it as a means to suppress offers/incentives to website visitors based on their perceived geographical location might cost your business more money than it saves you.