Learn to brand your dealership online for success.

The BHPH Super Forum in Austin, included its first Digital Marketing Workshop, allowing dealers to audit and design their own marketing strategy.

While the underlying marketing principles remain industry agnostic, there are some unique challenges for the independent BHPH dealership. Marketing in the buy-here- pay-here industry typically focuses solely on lead generation, which gets relegated to a third-party vendor like CarGurus or someone’s best friend’s brother, who is good with computers and gets tasked with learning digital marketing on the fly.

The sales process tends to be fast, where the buyer will seize on the best opportunity in a moment of need. That’s why the most critical task of lead handling is to get.them. in.the.door.

More data retained inside dealerships to conduct regression models or correlation studies would lead to improving the entire sales and marketing process. Selling a car is the easy part of buy-here-pay-here.

In the digital world, so much of the buying process occurs online that the buy-here-pay-here marketing tactics must evolve, especially for the one-location independent lots. Relevance and reputation drive customers to buy, especially in the automotive industry. Dealers must consider the entire marketing strategy beyond lead generation to generate more in-store traffic.

The top predictor of success in retail business has always been location, location, location! You have so many potential sites aside from your brick-and-mortar store.
Are you using all of them? Each URL on the internet is a location — each page on your website, each social media channel and each business listing. Dealers have many places to consider and opportunities to leverage. Before you call up that guy who promised to get you 1,000 backlinks to your website, keep in mind there are no shortcuts to creating an efficient  marketing machine. Relevance and reputation matter on all platforms. There is no quicker way to burn all your digital locations to the ground than to not abide by the rules. Think of it like your local ordinances, permits, etc.


The number one challenge and most often neglected by marketers, both in-house and within agencies, is that BHPH dealers sell loan opportunities and everything that a car enables a person to do. Platforms like Google and Facebook have strict policies on advertising credit opportunities, limiting audience targeting and other digital marketing tools afforded to other industries.

Rather than circumventing the rules to push the same message of low downs and no credit checks (aka burning down your digital locations), BHPH dealers need to get their messaging right. It’s not about the year, make, model or miles. It’s not even about the interest rate or price. It’s all about opportunity and how consumers negotiate their circumstances to acquire a vehicle that helps them accomplish their goals. A BHPH dealer’s marketing success hinges on the unique value proposition of a brand. To understand what value you bring to customers, you need to assess what customers seek. A warranty provides peace of mind. A 4.8-star review on Google incites trust. An award for customer service validates the business. 

What value does a family-owned business communicate to your target buyer? Honestly, not much.

To create a competitive marketing strategy, start with the consumer — the value you provide beyond  the vehicle and the financing they can  get at the lot next door.


Every business, including a BHPH dealership, should have a marketing strategy they understand, and most importantly, can measure. Start with an audit of your brand and your digital landscape. For your brand audit, build several versions of your target buyer as a human, not just a checklist of criteria that fits your underwriting models. Check if your marketing message would attract this target buyer. Your marketing objective will focus on improving any misalignment of your message and target buyer. For your digital audit, take a complete inventory of your digital landscape, looking for holes where you don’t have access to or even ownership of particular channels.

Finally, make your marketing budget to assess the efficiency of your dollars. Some key performance indicators for your overall marketing budget include cost per car sold, return on investment (dollar earned for dollar spent) and cost per lead.


Once you define your target buyer, the value  they seek, and your dealership’s unique value proposition, you should have several objectives that address your weaknesses or leverage strengths against the competition. The secret to a good marketing plan is the alignment of tactics with goals.

If you aim to generate more leads through your owned media channels (i.e. website, Whatsapp, or Facebook page), then your tactics should be lower funnel lead generation. Some possible tactics for this objective would be Google search ads, which drive traffic to a specific vehicle page on your website. Carousel catalog ads on Facebook also send traffic to the VDP landing page.

If your marketing plan aims to build your reputation, your tactics may include email or text campaigns to solicit reviews on Google. More content featuring customers and positive work culture on your social channels would validate your business in the eyes of potential customers.


The final component of a winning marketing strategy is measurement. Each tactic in your plan will have its own set of KPIs. If your marketing objective includes generating more leads from in-market buyers through your website, then KPIs would consist of the number of leads, cost per lead and lead-to-page traffic conversion rate.

Measure each KPI month-over-month and look for trends to make your spending more efficient. Use your data to ask questions and try new things.

The digital marketing world is anything but static, much like automotive. The margin of difference from your competition remains small, so look for big wins in the details. Something as small as the timely and frequent lead follow-up from a specific marketing channel could be that difference. You won’t know if you don’t measure.

Originally written for and published in the December 2022 edition of BHPH Magazine.