Auto dealers driving digital signage to the bank

Auto dealerships, like any other kind of store, face increasing pressure to maximize profits in a still-slow economy — and to make every dollar they spend on marketing deliver the highest possible ROI.

So, many of them are turning to digital signage, both inside and outside of the dealership.

The first step is getting them in the door

LED signs have become the new advertising method of choice for many dealerships, according to LED electronic message center manufacturer Watchfire Signs. LED digital signage offers a flexible, dynamic advertising platform for dealerships to communicate with potential customers already at their doorstep, the Danville, Ill.-based Watchfire said. And LED signs are a new advertising method LED sign at auto dealershipthat provides significantly greater flexibility and effectiveness at a considerably lower cost, the company said.

And the company has no shortage of examples. For instance, Bob Ruth Ford in Dillsburg, Pa., has installed an LED sign to great effect, the company said. "Our Watchfire LED sign allows us to showcase our daily, weekly and monthly specials, highlight our community activity and has increased our floor traffic," Charlie Lyter, the dealership's Internet manager, said in a release from Watchfire.

Dealerships like Bob Ruth Ford also are finding that, unlike traditional advertising campaigns that can take weeks, if not months to produce and schedule, an exterior LED sign can create messages within a matter of minutes and display numerous messages throughout the day. Bill Cole Automall in Bluefield, W.Va., uses its Watchfire LED sign "like a TV commercial," according to Director of Marketing Mark Warner.

The dealership's graphics department produces high-resolution video and animation for the sign in-house. "We keep it updated so our customers feel like they are always seeing something new — they never see the same thing twice," Warner said.

The flexibility of LED sign advertising offers a significant advantage to dealerships as traditional forms of advertising, like TV commercials, are being seen by fewer and fewer people with the growing popularity of DVRs and services like Netflix. Radio and newspaper ads have suffered a similar fate with the popularity of subscription radio services and the decline of newspaper circulations, Watchfire said. Some dealerships, such as Mike Pruitt Honda in Akron, Ohio, have said they are able to reduce their advertising budget for other mediums since installing an exterior LED sign.

The ability to reduce their advertising budget is a significant advantage for a dealership because advertising is typically their third largest expense, trailing only payroll and rent, according to an N.A.D.A study. On average, a dealership spends more than $600 on advertising for each new car on their lot. With new car sales down from 2000-2007 levels, it has been more critical than ever for dealerships to explore new advertising options, Watchfire said.

One of the many benefits of LED signs is their significantly lower cost per thousand impressions, or CPM. This measurement of an ad's cost-effectiveness, calculated by dividing the cost of the advertisement by the number of people who will see it, is key to understanding an advertisement's potential return on investment.

"Auto dealers are savvy marketers," Watchfire Vice President of On-Premise Sales Dave Warns said. "They have done the research and can see that LED sign advertising gives them a way to communicate to a larger audience at a significantly lower cost than other traditional advertising mediums."

The highly visible location of most dealerships along busy streets or highways means higher traffic volume and more ad impressions, Warns said. "The average CPMs for newspaper, radio and TV advertisements are $3.47, $13.29 and $22.61, respectively. When amortized over five years, the CPM for a new LED sign can be as little as $0.74, which allows dealerships to spend less to reach more potential customers, and not just any customers, but ones already at [or near] their location."

And inside the dealership is no different.

A U.K. dealership has deployed the Tensator Virtual Assistant Ultra to help drive BMW i3 sales. The rear-projection tech Virtual Assistant creates the near-illusion of a real-life member of the sales team who talks customers through the benefits of the new i3, including its emission-free electric motor, high-voltage lithium ion battery and the fact that it qualifies for a full 100-percent discount in the London Congestion Zone.

The Virtual Assistant deployed at BMW specialist Sytner has been dubbed "Lisa," and she helps greet customers at the dealership. The solution projects an interactive image of a spokesperson onto a cutout screen in the shape of the person, with a touchpad for customers to "ask" it questions. "Lisa is already making a big impact," Sytner Sales Manager Sam Street said in an announcement from Tensator. "The Tensator Virtual Assistant offers a friendly and futuristic approach when problem solving in the customer journey."

The iconic Indian Motorcycle brand also has launched digital signage across its dealership network in the U.S. Indian Motorcycle is expanding its dealer networks across major motorcycle markets nationwide, according to an announcement last year from digital signage provider Wireless Ronin Technologies.

Wireless Ronin worked with Indian Motorcycle to create an in-store customer experience designed to match the ease, functionality and interactivity of Indian Motorcycle's existing online assets. The dealership solution includes a 46-inch display as part of a central "Media Hearth," along with a mobile tablet that sits tableside near the Media Hearth, allowing customers to select content from the tablet to play on the 46-inch screen. When not being controlled by the tablet, the Media Hearth screen plays a standard video loop along with social media and weather content zones. A bike-side tablet is also being deployed, providing interactive, bike-specific information to the customer.

The Indian deal represents Wireless Ronin's first entry into the power sports industry; it builds upon a 20-year track record with the automotive industry, the company said, including ongoing deployments at hundreds of Chrysler, Fiat, Ford and Nissan dealerships across the U.S. and Canada.

"Since our dynamic digital marketing solutions are designed to provide a significant near-term return Indian Motorcycle displayon investment, they will play a key role in Indian Motorcycle's overall marketing strategy as they expand their dealership networks across the United States and internationally," WRT President and CEO Scott Koller said in the announcement. "Like with our proven solutions for the auto industry, this digital solution for Indian Motorcycle will enhance the sales process in a highly effective way. The interactive system will track usage and content selections, creating an amazingly deep level of business intelligence. It will help them identify and respond to consumer interests and trends, which, at the end, falls to the bottom line."

Indian Motorcycle Marketing Director Rod Krois said that WRT's "responsiveness coupled with the ability to deliver quality, reliable digital solutions, are allowing us to enhance our customer experience while ensuring consistent messaging and content across our dealership network."

And Ciright Systems Inc., a cloud computing company that offers infrastructure as a service, software as a service, platform as a service and mobile app development, recently announced that its proprietary and patented technologies — a digital display solution and a custom designed mobile application — are powering the GoMoto/Quality Plus Ford dealers partnership. GoMoto, a local automotive startup, and Quality Plus Ford dealers partnered to enhance the car-buying experience for visitors to the King of Prussia Mall with a deployment that started late last year.

Ciright's gesture-based, interactive digital display solution, dubbed the Dragon, is the kiosk that customers will use to experience Ford vehicles. Customers can interact with Ciright's digital display solution to research and learn about Ford vehicles in a pressure-free, unassisted environment. Once customers have gone through the digital signage kiosk experience, they will be prompted to download the Ford Drive mobile app, which was designed and developed by Ciright. The Ford Drive app allows customers to choose vehicle type, compare pricing and pick a color, as well as schedule a test drive at the dealer of their choice — all without ever interacting with a salesperson.

GoMoto and local Quality Plus Ford dealers will operate Ciright's digital display solution, which also will enable Ford customers to research and customize the vehicle of their choice, schedule a test drive, and unlock the vehicle at the time of test drive directly from their smart phone. All of which allows the dealerships to cultivate a mobile relationship with the customer and offer an evolved car-buying experience.

And in a big country, big dealerships need big digital signage. AKD Luxury Cars Mall has deployed 700 digital signage screens to its new car dealership in Shenzhen, China, the country's largest vehicle showroom, according to an announcement from Los Gatos, Calif.-based media player provider BrightSign. The showroom is using 350 BrightSign players to drive content to its 700 screens.

The 120,000-square-meter AKD Luxury Cars Mall features 3,000 luxury vehicles and is a magnet for car enthusiasts amongst China's fast growing affluent professional community, BrightSign said. It specializes in high-end used cars, including Bentleys and Lamborghinis, as well as luxury brands such as Mercedes Benz, BMW, Porsche, Lexus, Land Rover and Audi, the company said.

"Our clients are highly fashion conscious, and AKD caters for them by providing a first-class car-buying environment that compares favourably with an exclusive shopping mall," William Ng of AKD Luxury Cars Mall said in the announcement. "For our new premises, we specified 700 display screens delivering synchronized video across each of five floors. As one of the world's best known independent dealers in high-end used cars, we welcome visits and inspections from the vehicle manufacturers including BMW, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen and Toyota. They expect to see their vehicles presented in an environment that does full justice to their high-quality engineering."

The story is the same across the continents, as dealerships look to stay ahead of the technology curve with whatever medium works to increase footfall and increase sales.

"Marketers across the board are looking for new and captivating ways to engage with their target audience from the very beginning," Ajay Joshi, head of media and technology at Tensator said in its "Lisa" announcement. "Consumers are almost becoming desensitized to more traditional forms of advertising as the rise in smartphones and tablets means that we're more used to getting product information in different ways."

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