The Ultimate Guide to Automotive
Email Marketing

Learn what’s going on behind the scenes of one of your most valuable marketing channels and how you can take advantage of it to efficiently grow your marketing performance.

Is email marketing still worth doing for dealerships?

In a word, Yes.

Email marketing, done well, can be hugely impactful for your dealership.

Take a read through the following statistics:

  • 74% of Baby Boomers think email is the most personal channel to communicate with brands, followed by 72% of Gen X, 64% of Millennials, and 60% of Gen Z (How Millennials Actually Want Brands to Engage with Them).
  • 99% of email users check their inbox every day, with some checking 20 times a day. Of those people, 58% of consumers check their email first thing in the morning. 

    Considering those stats and the fact that email marketing is one of the most affordable forms of marketing to deploy, it is clear that email should absolutely be in the marketing mix for all dealerships.
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How can my dealership send emails to customers and prospects?

Stick with us through the first section! You'll see where we are headed in a minute.

1. Send it yourself

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. You can open the email client on your phone or computer and send or reply to an email to someone.

I bet if you scroll back through your old emails you’ll find plenty of places where email has made you or your dealership money. The trick here is that you are sending to people that know you and you are personalizing the messaging that they receive.

Obviously, this takes time and generally only allows you to communicate with people you already know: but keep this in mind: Your entire goal in email marketing is to maintain this experience for the people that are receiving emails from your store - just to find ways to do it at scale.

Keep this in mind

Your entire goal in email marketing is to maintain a personalized experience for the people that are receiving emails from your store - the challenge is to find ways to do it at scale

2. Send it from your CRM

Ok, maybe this one is obvious too. If you are reading this and your dealership is still in business, your CRM sends emails to prospects.

All CRMs offer ways for your team to communicate with leads and to track those conversations. They also give you ways to set auto responses and other triggered messages that save your team time.

Finally, most CRMs will give you a way to send out a message to all of your contacts or to contacts that meet certain criteria. Keep this last one in mind, because it can pose a major risk to your business if it is executed incorrectly.

3. Get someone else to send it

When dealerships send out large batch email to prospects, often times they do it through their advertising agency or other vendor partner. In general these partners are sending the email through a third party called an Email Service Provider (ESP). Major ESPs are Sendgrid, Mailgun, and Mailchimp.

ESP’s exist because there are significant logistical challenges to sending large quantities of emails over relatively short periods of time. A good ESP will simplify this process and ensure that high numbers of the messages find their way into inboxes. They also add value in helping to track metrics from email marketing campaigns.

Types of content that automotive dealerships might have in their emails

Email is a great place to showcase all sorts of content about your store and really you can put almost anything into an email but here are some types of content that generate the best results:


Name, address, phone number, hours, directions links, and links back to your website

Offers and promotions

Give the reader a reason to start a conversation about a purchase

Products and services

Get them back to your site with links that they may be interested in

Trust building content

Unique selling propositions, why buys, and customer reviews all reinforce the value of your brand

How does email tracking work?

Hold up!

Before you skip over this section, there is a significant change looming for email open tracking that could have a major impact on the metrics you’re used to seeing from your dealership’s email marketing campaigns.

Open Tracking

Tracking opens for emails is usually done by adding a tiny or invisible image, often called pixels, inside of the emails that get sent. This image is unique to that one email recipient so when the email service provider’s servers see this image get downloaded, they know its because someone opened that email.

Click Tracking

Most email service providers also handle click tracking for emails. To do this, they replace all the links to your site with links to their servers. They can then monitor if those links are clicked and redirect that click to your website. Usually, the redirected traffic also gets tagged so that the campaign and source are visible in your analytics tools.

Privacy Changes Incoming

Apple has announced Mail Privacy Protection will be rolled out sometime between September and November of 2021. What they are planning on doing is triggering the open pixels of all emails, regardless of whether or not they are opened.

This will cause open rates to shoot up, even though people didn’t necessarily open the emails at all. This will have broad implications, Apple’s changes will effectively turn opens and open rates into a metric that marketers and advertisers can no longer rely on.

Email marketing audiences and addresses

At a high level there are 2 types of addresses that your dealership might send to:

Contacts you already have

These are people that have done business with you in the past or have submitted their information on your website. These contacts that already live in your CRM are usually going to perform the best because they already know who you are and that makes them more open to hearing from you.

Contacts you don’t have

In automotive email marketing, these are often called conquest or third party contacts. These are email addresses, in your area, that have opted-in to receiving email communications. Often times these contacts are also sold with extra information related to their interests, ability to buy, and likelihood of being in-market. Here’s the kicker - its difficult for these contacts to ever perform as well as the contacts in your CRM because there is no way to know if they are familiar with your brand or actually interested in your products and services.

Types of automotive email strategies

We have covered how emails are sent, what content is included in them, and the contacts you can send. It’s time to wrap it all up with the tactics commonly used in email marketing.


Conquest Campaigns

Same or similar content sent to a large group of email addresses, in your market, in a single batch. Usually you execute this with a vendor partner

CRM Campaigns

Same or similar content sent to a large group of email addresses, taken from your CRM. Use caution here not to damage your sending reputation, overall list health, or your reputation with loyal customers. 

Conversion Triggered

Emails sent In response to a lead or form submission. Also called “auto responders” , usually these are sent by your CRM

Website Activity Triggered

Emails sent to visitors on your website, in response to certain behaviors on your website. For instance, they look at a specific model page on your website. Or they only visit your service page to get the latest and greatest coupons. This is one of the key strategies we offer as part of the Ignite Platform.

Benchmarks for automotive email

What are good results for automotive email marketing?

Dealers usually want a single answer to this question and unfortunately the answer is: it depends. As you’ve probably gathered by now, there are a lot of different ways to send emails, different types of content that could be in en email, and different types of contacts that might receive an email. All of these factors will change what type of performance you should expect from your emails.

Assuming that your email content is high quality and compelling and that your contact list is also high quality (the addresses themselves are valid).

As you can see conquest campaigns will have some of the lowest expected click rates. This makes sense because these are individuals that don’t necessarily know about your brand, since they have never contacted you before and that may not be in market for your products. Generally speaking here, an open rate between 3% - 6% can be expected. But these are just rules of thumbs. Best practice is to maintain benchmarks for each store and work with your respective OEM's to get some guidance on average open rates for conquest campaigns. 

Next, CRM campaigns are expected to perform better than conquest drops because these are individuals that are familiar with your brand and trust you enough to have either bought from you in the past or at least given you their contact information previously. However, you still won’t know if they are definitely in the market for your services.

Depending on the content of your conversion triggered emails, you may see some of your highest click rates here. This is a great place to showcase some trust building content as well as give readers next steps in the buying process. Dealerships that do this well will see very high click rates from this type of campaign. Unfortunately, these are also contacts that have already just converted to a lead, so success here is not going to increase your total number of opportunities with prospects.

Website Activity Triggered email can sit somewhere in the middle, depending on content and execution. We feel like it is a major opportunity for most dealerships to get better performance out of their marketing without significant budget or strategy changes.

Risks to your dealership from email marketing

This guide would not be complete without mentioning some mistakes you must absolutely avoid, with respect to email marketing

CAN-SPAM act compliance. We have a separate guide on CAN-SPAM compliance for dealerships here. Please read it and make sure your store is compliant. Penalties here can get very expensive very quickly.


Sending cammpaigns from your CRM. You need to be very careful how you do this. If you send too many campaigns from your CRM or send people messages they don’t want to receive you can hurt the email sending reputation of your CRM. This can result in many of your team’s normal day-to-day emails going to customer’s spam folders or being blocked all together. Also, customers receiving messages they don’t want might also just choose to unsubscribe from your list all together. This will prevent you from emailing them from your CRM in the future. Given the absolutely vital nature of your CRM, its sending health and ability to work for you and your team on a normal daily basis must be protected above any marketing goals.


We hope that you found the Automotive Digital Marketing Email Guide to be helpful. 

Advertising is likely one of your biggest expenses at the dealership level and you have to figure out how best to allocate your monthly spend so that you can hit your advertising cost per vehicle. There’s an infinite number of choices out there and it’s your job to best allocate that advertising spend. Here are a few tactics or techniques that you can use.

Here’s a list of digital marketing tactics (or techniques) that is by no means exhaustive. Seems like there are new tactics entering the marketplace every day. But these are the individual tactics that should support your overall marketing strategy. If the tactic is linked then it will send you to our Guide for that linked tactic. Let us know if you would like to see a Guide written for one of the tactics that isn't linked. We'd be happy to write one for you. 

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