As New Jersey automotive dealerships reopen this week, one premier auto group is betting that people may still prefer to purchase vehicles online. New Jersey- and New York-based Benzel-Busch, a seller of Mercedes, Audi, and Smart vehicles, became the first dealer in New Jersey to pivot fully to online sales during COVID-19, with the help of Montclair, NJ-based ad agency, Looney. The luxury auto group will continue to offer online sales even as its showrooms reopen.
Within days of the lockdown orders in March, Benzel-Busch shifted to digital services, including live-stream test drives, valet service, sanitization protocols and online sales (with technology that enables customers to complete a purchase entirely on their website). The initiative, complemented by Looney’s conceptual videos, search engine marketing and social media efforts, has generated 1.7 million impressions across social media channels, while direct site traffic has improved 34% since mid-March. The campaign spurred activity in an industry that was nearly dormant throughout the stay-at-home orders.
According to Benzel-Busch’s CEO, J. Agresta, the digital-first approach has helped fundamentally change the auto industry – which has required in-person buying and service for over a century. Agresta believes its dynamic digital campaign has brought potential clients from the showroom to the web, where they may remain.
As part of this campaign, Looney created conceptual videos for Benzel-Busch’s new COVID-19 resources, including “Express Buying,” allowing customers to virtually select/customize vehicles of their choice, as well as “Complimentary Valet Service” and the industry’s first “360 Sanitize,” a deep clean that lasts up to three to six months and kills 99.9% of germs/bacteria/viruses.
“Our process is not only ‘contactless’ but also ‘seamless,’ because we have taken an omni-channel approach to the design,” said Agresta. “We do not want our clients to have a different experience online versus in-store. We are providing a luxury experience no matter which channel we are working on with the client. We definitely expect our clients and prospects to welcome our new digital processes.”
Looney Founder and Creative/Strategic Lead, Sean Looney, concurs, noting that digital efforts to boost vehicle sales will also outlive the COVID-19 crisis.
“Digital marketing has been a key driver to sales and will continue to be critical. We have driven traffic through digital and social channels at a very high rate,” said Looney. “With showrooms reopening, of course there will be consumers that will still want to come in to ‘feel’ the car, so even if consumers don’t purchase online completely, digital will continue to drive appointments.”
Looney’s pre-COVID-19 services for Benzel-Busch also prepared the auto dealer for the strained consumer market brought on by the virus.
According to Sean Looney, the agency introduced a campaign pre-pandemic that elevated Benzel-Busch’s branding efforts and leveraged core assets (stressing innovative service options, better customization and a more consumer-friendly sales approach). With this foundation, Looney was able to shift to virus-related tasks with relative ease, as the web audience had been established. The campaign included TV commercials, digital, social, radio, out-of-home (OOH) advertising, print materials, programmatic media buying and tracking, and more.
According to Looney, within the first full year of the wider Benzel-Busch campaign, new users increased by 180%, while website sessions soared by 159%. Direct site traffic also rose 51% and impressions increased from 365,000 to more than 96 million. Overall, Benzel-Busch had one of its best sales years in history in 2019.