Mobile Ads and Phone Calls — The Auto Industry’s Holy Grail

Mobile Ads and Phone Calls — The Auto Industry's Holy GrailThere aren’t many items we spend more time with today than our mobile phones and our cars.  We no longer just make phone calls and text from behind the wheel — which, ahem, we need to do less of — but we’re also glued to our phone screens whenever we want to buy or service a car. Whether it’s looking for a new or used SUV, or trying to find a reputable repair shop to fix that fender bender, we turn to mobile phones for information.

In fact, 44% of consumers age 18 to 35 — generationally known as Millenials — are likely to use their mobile devices to price shop while visiting a dealership, according to recent statistics from eBay Motors. Data from Google’s Keyword Tool shows that more than 30% of auto-related queries are occurring from mobile devices.

There’s no doubt: Our use of mobile devices is gradually melting away old shopping practices for auto consumers. With this in mind, the Marchex Institute set out to understand how consumers interact with mobile advertisements when it comes to purchasing and servicing a car.

We used Marchex technology to analyze more than 65,000 phone calls placed to local businesses, such as auto dealers, repair shops and national call centers.  These calls occurred from consumers engaging with mobile ads in a variety of ways — mobile directories, mobile applications, mobile display, mobile voice search and traditional mobile search.

We also analyzed consumer behavior leading up to the call to understand what consumers are looking for. Our technology scans for keywords, providing insights that can help auto companies improve their mobile advertising.

Our study seeks to answer some of the auto industry’s most pressing questions about consumers: Who is calling? When they are calling? What they are talking about?

Our analysis found that:

  1. Consumers are placing millions of calls to auto dealers and service shops through mobile advertisements. Those calling auto dealers about new cars are highly motivated, asking about inventory and booking appointments for test drives.
  2. When the phone is picked up, 79% of conversations were purchase-oriented. Consumers use mobile phones to select repair shops, ask detailed questions and book appointments.
  3. Consumers who engage with mobile advertisements are younger than the general population, but not always concentrated in urban areas. Men call more often than women.
  4. Mobile advertising on the local level provides incremental leads.
  5. National control and management of local dealer or service businesses could address many of the challenges seen in today’s market.


In the United States, 17,815 auto dealers sold 14.5 million new cars in 2012 — nearly all of them in person from a dealer.  There are more than 160,000 auto repair shops (Auto Repair Business 2012and NAICS statistics) servicing more than 7 million automobiles (based on average output of general repair shops in The Pulse).

And although consumers drop in, they typically place a phone call to these businesses to make an appointment. On smartphones, numerous studies have shown that a phone call is most popular response to a mobile search.

All signs point to mobile and calls as the Holy Grail of the auto industry, but many local businesses are still not equipped to handle this. Wordstream estimates that just 5% of small businesses have a mobile-optimized Web site.

Also, queries on Google and Bing show that local dealers and shops also fail to take advantage of mobile advertising.


Small businesses don’t always answer the phone, and the auto industry is no exception.  We’ve studied this before and released data last October showing that 20% of calls go unanswered.  In this study,  we once again found that more than 20% of calls go unanswered by the dealer or go to voicemail.  Customers leave voicemails infrequently, so local businesses should assume that for each voicemail a prospect leaves, there are at least four others that opted not to.

However, when the phone is picked up, there is an opportunity in nearly every conversation to add to the bottom line.  We found that 79% of conversations were purchase-oriented, many landing in confirmed on-the-phone appointments or indicating a strong possibility that an in-store visit or follow-up phone call would occur.

Inquiries tended to center around discussions of setting an appointment, asking about price and inquiring about service.


So who is calling dealers and repair shops from mobile advertisements?  Men are.

And the aggregate modeled profile of mobile callers to dealers or repair shops tend to be younger than and less likely to have children.  Those calling from smartphones also tend to have more income.


Have mobile consumers made up their mind on which business to call prior to a search?  Our data suggests otherwise, showing that three out of five product or service discussions at dealers and repair shops are new business opportunities.

In addition, our data shows that individual dealers and repair shops are receiving material “category search” query volume on traditional search and local directories.  We’ve seen individual dealers or repair shops in cities like Norwalk, CT receive tens of thousands of impressions on “non-brand” search terms across multiple mobile advertising channels.

We expect mobile consumers to increase this behavior of “shopping around” through category search on mobile.  BIA/Kelsey forecasts category call volume (calls initiated from category searches) to increase substantially in the next few years.  Although not specific to autos, this forecast confirms what we are seeing on the front lines, that more “select and purchase” behavior is happening through smartphones.


As consumers increasingly use their smartphones to find and call auto dealers and service shops, as more searches become local, and as individual dealers and repair shops struggle to adapt to a “mobile-optimized” world, there is huge opportunity for national brands to sponsor and manage so-called “national-local” advertising programs.

A coordinated program can:

  • Address consumer demand to search on their smartphones to see the best options around them.
  • Provide a mobile-optimized website and trackable phone number to best capture and measure consumer response.
  • Help repair shops and dealers deal with missed leads through unanswered phone calls.
  • Ensure brand consistency as consumers begin their category and brand searches with a more locally-focused search.

John Busby
VP, Marchex Institute

John Busby leads the Marchex Institute, a research and analytics team that publishes findings on mobile advertising and the growing digital call advertising industry. The Marchex Institute also provides custom research and consulting services for customers on their mobile and call-ready advertising campaigns. Previously, Mr. Busby served as Vice President, Product Engineering at Marchex. You can find him on Google+ and Twitter.

Posted in Data, Marchex Institute, Performance Advertising, Uncategorized
One comment on “Mobile Ads and Phone Calls — The Auto Industry’s Holy Grail
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