2017 OPE Dealer Digital Marketing Benchmark Survey results

By Colleen Malloy

As a provider of websites and digital marketing services for OPE dealers, the team at ARI Network Services is interested in learning more about the successes, failures and continuing challenges that you face as you work to stay competitive in today’s increasingly retail world.

That’s why we recently teamed up with Outdoor Power Equipment magazine to survey dealers like you to gather some benchmarking data on the digital marketing maturity of the industry.

If you just said to yourself, “I don’t sell online, so digital marketing doesn’t apply to me,” keep reading! You, like many of your OPE peers, are missing many opportunities to capture in-store shoppers who start their buying journey online.

A total of 217 people took our survey, and that sample size has given us a good indication of the state of digital marketing among OPE dealers and has allowed us to extrapolate some conclusions about the greater universe of OPE providers.

Our biggest takeaway? OPE dealers are lagging behind many other brick-and-mortar retail sectors in their marketing maturity. The most profitable retailers show the greatest levels of digital marketing maturity, and there is great opportunity for savvy OPE retailers to capitalize on the digital marketing immaturity of their competitors to capture leads and sales both online and in-store.

Let’s start our look at the survey results by offering a snapshot of the responses we received:

  • The majority of respondents have between $0 and $1 million in annual revenue (55 percent)
  • The majority of respondents spend less than $500 a month on all marketing (51 percent)
  • The majority of respondents spend less than $500 a month on digital marketing (69 percent)
  • The majority of respondents believe less than 25 percent of their revenue is attributable to digital marketing activities (65 percent)
  • The majority of respondents do not have dedicated marketing staff (74 percent)

Take a moment and think about how your business aligns with these responses from average brick-and-mortar OPE retailers we surveyed. Would you say that this paints an accurate picture of your business?

As we dig into the results a little deeper, we’ll offer some advice as to how you can better leverage digital marketing to capitalize on the relative lack of digital sophistication of most OPE dealers.

Marketing budgets

Most businesses with annual revenue of less than $1 million are spending less than $500 a month on marketing: 78 percent of these dealers are spending $500 or less; 11 percent are spending between $500 and $999 a month; and just 11 percent are spending more than $1,000 a month on marketing. For dealers with revenue between $1 million and $3 million, we begin to see a shift in spending with just 19 percent spending less than $500; 32 percent spending between $500 and $999, and 49 percent spending more than $1,000 a month. Finally, in the highest revenue group (more than $3 million a year), we see only 15 percent of businesses spending less than $1,000 a month, and of the remaining 85 percent spending more than $1,000, 34 percent are spending up to $2,499 a month and 51 percent are spending more than $2,500 a month on marketing.

Is that $1,000-or-more spending range a magic monthly marketing budget? Of course, not. Depending on the relative size of your business and your business goals, your budgetary needs for marketing could vary widely.

However, with more than 87 percent of shoppers starting their research online, it is critical for OPE dealers to invest in connecting with those shoppers.

If you haven’t invested in digital marketing, it’s time to get started. Here’s a list of the basic digital marketing musts:

  • A comprehensive mobile-friendly website
  • A local search strategy — This is the new face of Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
  • A reputation management strategy
  • An email marketing strategy — This is tied to your dealer management system; if you don’t have one, invest here first!
  • A paid search strategy

The good news? With a budget of $1,000 a month, you absolutely can at least get started with all of these digital marketing musts!

Does digital drive results?

The short answer we heard was a resounding “no.” Sixty-five percent of respondents believe that less than 25 percent of revenue is attributable to digital marketing activities. Another 17 percent said that they don’t know.

Anecdotally, dealers aren’t connecting the dots between their digital presence and door swings at their brick-and-mortar locations. I’ll remind you of the stat I quoted earlier: 87 percent of shoppers start their research online before they ever visit a store. So, whether shoppers are typing “lawnmower service” into Google, exploring the dealer locator on a manufacturer’s site, or reading online reviews, the content that exists about your store online is influencing their shopping decisions.

Anything you do to impact your presence across those online destinations is a form of digital marketing. If you still believe digital doesn’t deliver, I encourage you to dig deeper into your own data!

For most marketers like me, one of the allures of digital marketing is the ability to clearly track the results of your efforts, allowing you to invest in initiatives that drive results and move away from those that don’t deliver.

On the whole, OPE dealers likely aren’t taking advantage of these critical performance analytics to inform their business decisions. As you’re likely working within an already-tight marketing budget, it is absolutely critical to measure your performance to drive digital marketing return on investment (ROI).

While tools like Google Analytics can offer a dizzying array of data points that can get confusing fast, and I can, and have, dedicated full articles to the metrics that matter, the single-most important metric that you need to examine across your marketing efforts is conversions.

Whether you’re measuring a conversion as a completed lead from the landing page for your email campaign, an inbound call from a paid search ad, or an eCommerce sale from your website, you need to know if your investments are actually getting shoppers to take the next step in their buying journey.

We know that conversions, specifically leads, are important to you! We asked survey participants to force rank the following digital marketing initiatives, and, on average, lead generation made it into the top three priorities for our survey participants.

  1. Beautifully designed website
  2. Mobile-friendly responsive website
  3. Generating online leads
  4. Email marketing
  5. Digital advertising
  6. Search engine optimization (SEO)
  7. Social media
  8. eCommerce capabilities

In addition to prioritizing an attractive, mobile-friendly site, dealers intuitively understand that conversions are the lifeblood of your business, but most dealers we surveyed still aren’t connecting the dots to measure the performance of their lead generation efforts.

A clear driver for this disconnect is the lack of dedicated marketing staff. A whopping 74 percent of our survey respondents do not have dedicated marketing staff. Marketing — specifically digital marketing — continues to evolve at breakneck speed. You absolutely need someone on your team who can keep up with the trends and ensure your business can be found everywhere today’s digital shoppers are looking!

This doesn’t have to mean a full-time hire. Digital marketing services providers can be a cost-effective extension of your store’s team. Just be sure that when you’re vetting service providers that you work with someone who understands your industry — marketing for the pizza joint across town is much different than marketing for a successful OPE retailer!

Final findings

Based on this survey, we see a lot of room for digital marketing growth for OPE dealers who can start to leverage best practices like some of those I’ve mentioned in this article. But watch out! While the industry on the whole is still in its digital infancy, we did see enough respondents on the growth curve who do “get it” that the dinosaurs among you need to watch out for the raptors!

Colleen Malloy is the director of marketing at ARI Network Services. Prior to joining ARI in November 2013, Malloy served as the editor of Motorcycle and Powersports News. She is dedicated to the mission of helping dealers improve their operations through the implementation of ever-evolving best practices paired with ARI’s suite of award-winning data-driven software tools and marketing services that help dealers “Sell More Stuff!” — online and in-store. ARI removes the complexity of selling and servicing new and used inventory, parts, garments and accessories for customers in the outdoor power equipment, powersports, marine, RV, automotive tire and wheel, and white goods industries. More than 22,000 equipment dealers, 195 distributors and 140 manufacturers worldwide leverage ARI’s website (www.arinet.com) and eCatalog platforms to “Sell More Stuff!”