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Smart and Smarter: Five Qualities of Marketing Genius

By Jason Bennick

Albert Einstein once aptly stated that, ‘the difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits’. When it comes to automotive marketing, dealerships sometimes tend to get a bad rap due to some forthright and sometimes questionable marketing practices. While some consumers see a dealership lot peppered with colorful tents and balloons and drop by for a test drive, others might put their foot on the gas for fear of experiencing a less-than savory Sales encounter.

Throw enough mud on the wall. Spray and pray. Swing hard enough. It’s all hit and miss. We’ve heard and lived these clichés and, unfortunately, some endure these stigmas simply because that’s all they’ve ever practiced. Most of us know that there’s a better, more efficient practice -- but it’s hard to change!

With over 18,000 active new car dealerships sprawled across the country and over two-hundred million licensed drivers traversing our roads and freeways, the opportunity for dealer sales is undaunted. We offer a never-ending litany of products, discounts, incentives and Service opportunities all competing for the consumer’s attention. And with Herculean levels of messaging being dished up daily to consumers, how is it that some dealerships consistently drive numbers to record highs, while others struggle and fight desperately just to turn a respectable profit?

The answer?  Smart marketing. That’s correct -- just simply being smart about how to market. In fact, not only being smart, or even smarter, but being the smartest in their business.

While dealership technology, resources and size may render an advantage, the deciding factor between good and great is most frequently how smart you are with the resources available to your dealership.

Having now been in this business long enough to learn what works and what doesn’t, I thought I’d share some simple secrets of how numerous dealerships have become some of the smartest I’ve witnessed when it comes to driving results.

Five Smartest Marketing Habits

1. Stay Focused

In our world, ‘focused messaging’ means selectively delivering the right offer to the right customer at the right time -- plain and simple.

It’s a balance. Some dealerships narrow their targets too much and miss out. Others reach out with broad offers to everyone and miss the opportunity for relevance while wasting valuable resources. You don’t have to sacrifice broad market communications; you simply have to adapt messaging whether by make, model, age or driving situation and reach the right person. When it’s done right, I consistently see wide eyes staring in disbelief at the ROI numbers achieved.

For example, pulling multiple lists by model year based on mileage from the DMS with specific target trade-up messaging relevant to each sub-segment could mean sending out a dozen different messages, while still driving a broad market campaign. Waste is eliminated and the dealership benefits from a coordinated campaign with each customer seeing personalized benefit.

Another example is evident when we look at dealers who consciously target repair services to sustain engagement. Regular customers who demonstrate loyalty through ongoing minor service are often more engaged when offered an aggressive Service discount ‘performed by a factory certified technician using OEM parts in a clean shop with a warm, friendly and comfortable waiting room’.

Again, remaining focused is key, but the effort can set up an even stronger relationship and will almost certainly result in longer-term loyalty, ultimately leading to new vehicle replacement sales.

In short, calculated communications of how your dealership cares for customer well-being can be a powerful tool if focused as make-, model- and owner specific.

2. Market in Multiples

Federal agencies have been cracking down recently on violations of consumer protection laws regarding prohibited advertising methods. Thus, smart marketing also means taking advantage of current regulations and approaching the consumer from multiple channels in an effort to actually make contact through any of them at the same time.

Rather than delivering a single offer to a target vehicle owner using a single medium, a simple yet smart solution to achieve better results is to apply this same creative content across multiple channels concurrently. For example, send the customer a direct mail piece with a matching e-mail so if the e-mail went to their junk folder, at least they can receive the mail piece, and vice versa. Sounds too obvious, but the simple fact that multiple channel delivery increases response by a significant factor should not be overlooked, especially when over 75% of direct mail is dropped in absence of a corresponding e-mail message.

Multi-channel communication is not strictly limited to mail, as it could also apply to corresponding banner ads in a customer portal, targeted advertising to defined customer groups or even a ‘mail chase’ pre-recorded message phone call to customers who have given proper consent for phone messaging.

Orchestrating a uniform campaign with all possible communication channels running at the same time for a single message will outsmart the potential loss of contact by way of wrong addresses, incorrect emails or missing phone numbers.

Bottom line, the smartest dealership marketing techniques include utilizing multiple channels and not putting  all your eggs in one basket, as you never really know how many will arrive at the other end.

3. Get Personal

Personalized marketing has not only become the trend, it’s the most effective methodology in use today for obtaining consumer response.

The real question facing dealerships is how to effectively personalize communications while remaining accurate and legitimate in messaging. This is largely solved with good DMS housekeeping and personalizing only what is appropriate.

For example, using a dynamic and automated software application operating through rich, real-time DMS integration will serve up timely and appropriately personalized Service reminders that can trigger engagement. E-mail, calls and direct mail pieces, each displaying the vehicle owner’s name, vehicle model, VIN, current mileage, last service and recommended next service – all based on service plans and current DMS information – can provide the customer a unique message experience that is richly personalized and all performed automatically.

These types of automated services mine the DMS throughout the day for new deal and repair information changes, helping to make every communication relevant. Whether targeting outstanding repairs which may have been declined, or advising of timely Service needed, personalized communication that is relevant can increase results by a factor of 2 or 3X.

Keeping an up-to-date and cleansed DMS, while harnessing the power of technology to generate appropriately personalized vehicle communications, will give the dealer an edge and the customer confidence that their dealership is ‘on the ball’ and will yield more consistent results.

4. Be Timely

Timing is everything. Just as your engine will run rough when the timing is off, the same goes for how effective marketing performs when poorly timed. The difference, however, is more critical. Untimely communications cannot only lose customers, but wind up never contacting hundreds, if not thousands, of customers, compounding waste and demonstrating an apparent lack of diligence.

Effective communications on scheduled maintenance, annual state inspections, customer birthdays, vehicle anniversaries, model trade cycles, lease expiration, extended warranty opportunities, new vehicle accessories, tires and many more greatly depend upon the timing of their arrival with a vehicle owner. Dealers who simply broadcast generalized offerings or untimely targeting end up wasting thousands of dollars and dramatically reducing their effective ROI. Smart dealers are experts at taking advantage of timely seasonal or uniquely localized events. For example, after Hurricane Sandy several dealerships in the northeast and New York area reached out to thousands of their customers with campaigns, letting them know they had moved cars out of their showroom floors and were serving up hot soup, warm food and giving out blankets to those in need. While truly a humanitarian gesture, the goodwill and timely messaging earned the confidence of thousands of locals while generating positive headline news. Once life returned to normal and the damage cleared, those dealerships witnessed hundreds of new (and lost!) vehicle owners coming in for Service and replacement sales, all as a result of the trust earned on the basis of timely proactive marketing.

Importantly, had the dealerships timed their campaign too late or at an inappropriate point, customers could have viewed the same messaging as offensive, rejected the dealership efforts as profiting on disaster and business could have been negatively impacted.

Based on years of tracking communications results, clearly targeted timing is just as vital to effective marketing as the discount, offer or incentive being sent to the customer.

5. Go Mobile.

I saved the best for last, as this tip truly warrants being kept foremost in mind in a changing communications environment. Let’s begin with several current facts to put this one in a better perspective:

• 43% of mobile device users check email on their device at least 4 times daily

• 55% of mobile device users check for communication before using the bathroom

• 56% of consumers said an e-mail they viewed influenced what they purchased

• 82% of smartphone users check and send e-mail with their mobile device

• 90% of smartphone owners access the same e-mail account on mobile as desktop

• 91% of Americans now have a mobile device and 67% are checking their phones for messages, alerts or calls, even when they don’t notice it ringing or vibrating.

Only 6 years ago, less than 1 million Americans had mobile phones. Today, that number is over 250 million. This blistering growth dictates an undisputable trend in today’s marketing: go mobile.

Dealerships face marketing challenges in reaching both new and existing customers, yet all customers share the commonality of being on mobile devices. Dealerships who want to effectively make this transition can do so by first driving routine marketing efforts into emails and also ensuring those communications are ‘mobile friendly’. This means sending e-mails which can ‘adapt’ electronically into an easy-to-read vertical format when opened and viewed on most common mobile devices.

Mobile offers both intrusive communications and practical customer-friendly support. It should become a staple in web applications for appointments, Service and Sales but must be uniquely designed to for the format, easy to open and simple to use.

Dealerships are also learning that text messaging can be more effectively used instead of live calls for minor and fast customer touch, such as Service alerts and notifications. This is facilitated by a concerted effort to capture the customer’s most current mobile number at Service or Sales, and informing the customer they will be sent text messages when Service is complete as well as other simple reminders. While text messaging to solicit customers now requires express written consent, no such consent is typically required for strictly informational or notification messages, such as appointment reminders or even special order parts arrival. Vehicle owners are living on their mobile devices to communicate and expect this same medium to be used when being serviced by dealerships. Harnessing this trend makes it not only convenient for your customers, but empowers dealers to become far more effective in reaching vehicle owners, staying real and ensuring all those focused, personal and timely messages will be seen.

These essential five qualities of ‘smartest marketing’ are but highlights of the opportunities dealers become engaged in to better utilize their vast data to enhance results. With hundreds of thousands of communications observed in our work, I’m always impressed by the dealerships that demonstrate ‘genius’ using common tools in innovative ways to generate the strongest results.

16f 2140Jason Bennick is the Chief Operating Officer of AutoLoop, a Customer Engagement Management marketing solution servicing OEM partners, dealerships and national dealer groups. The AutoLoop Suite is an in-depth, cross-media platform designed to monitor DMS activity in real-time through Service, Parts and Sales to directly manage vehicle owner activity and retain dealership customers. Jason is a seasoned executive with over 20 years of C-level experience, driving AutoLoop  organizational development since 2008 to its current success, landing #71 the Inc 500 list in 2011 with a growing customer base of over 2,000 dealerships utilizing AutoLoop products and services.