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Anyways, I was in the middle of responding to Paul Rushing's post and the screen locked up on me, so here is what I copied and pasted before I exited:

Paul,

I respect your opinion, but I also have seen so many solutions that I thought at one point in time to be of little value, only to see them at a later point in time turn out to be highly valuable, that I recoomend we give Carfolks.com a fair chance to prove their value proposition.

Yes, there are many ways a dealer can encourage their customers to generate online word of mouth positive references, but how many dealers have employees motivated enough to execute the steps required on an ongoing basis?

At least with Carfolks.com there is a solution that provides an outsourced approach to soliciting positive online reviews from sales, parts and service customers who have bought something from the dealership and have supplied their email address to the dealership along with permission to receive email messages from the store.

Just like you, I have several concerns about Carfolks.com and their business model, but why not take a perspective based on looking at the results that are received by dealers who decide to implement Carfolks.com? I personally appreciate the time, energy, money and effort it takes to bring a solution like this to the automotive digital marketing industry and would never want to discourage investments into ongoing development of new solutions designed to provide early adopter dealerships with a competitive advantage.

Healthy skepticism is exactly that... Healthy. But should'nt we encourage the entrepreneurial spirit that drives the auto industry in America? Let's give Carfolks.com a chance to show us what may be a viable solution to a problem that is just now getting on the radar of many dealers. While it may not be right for a dealership with someone as astute and capable as Paul Rushing, it may end up being a very viable solution for dealers who want to outsource this type of work.

Tags: Paul, Post?, Rushing's, What, Why most dealers won't get social networking..., happened, to

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Any effort that brings customer comments online to help a dealer is a good thing. Thanks, Paul for offering dealers your assistance in doing that. One of the challenges dealers have shared with me, is that comments posted on their own site or a site controlled by the dealership don't have the same impact or "credibility" in the mind of the customer as a comment on an impartial third party site, like CarFolks.

Classic Auto Group in the Cleveland area has a site called www.TellJimBrown.com which allows customers to enter feedback on their transactions. While this provides good feedback the comments are kept internal and not posted on the site for other consumers to read. They used to post all the comments until some negative ones came in. They didn't want to have any negative comments showing so they chose not to make any comments public. This is a good dealer group and its great to see them asking customers to share their dealership experience with the owner of the dealership.

On Carfolks we help dealers share good comments and when negative comments appear we encourage the dealers to quickly fix the issue and turn that negative into a strong positive. Consumers like to see dealers who stand behind their products and services.

There is not just one way to leverage good customer feedback, so dealers need to try many activities to help build their brand and protect their reputation.
Social networking sites are the result of a new online personality that seeks problems as well as solutions to define an auto dealership's personality to supplement product and price when deciding where to buy or service their vehicles. The self serving interests of dealer sponsored sites are already suspect - which is why social networking sites with a communal agenda are growing exponentially.

Social networking sites like ADM, AdAgencyOnline.Net and DrivingSales.Com that cater to the auto industry have the same appeal by providing problems and the surfaced solutions - except the yet to be resolved Cobalt issue of course!

Similarly, ADM, AdAgencyOnline.Net or DrivingSales.Com members representing automotive advertising vendors are exposed to "competitors" for a common audience of visiting auto dealers with the confidence that the "one stop site" will platform comparable solutions with everyone sharing in the opportunity to earn their business. CarFolks.Com provides a similar venue for car shoppers that will either find the information on their site or they will move on with a simple click to another site to get it. I for one would rather compete for their business there than have them switch channels!

Also, multi-tasking is a filter that I place on any recommended automotive advertising vendor for my auto dealer clients that CarFolks.Com passed with flying colors. Leveraged resources - like a staff that monitors my postings for me and reports them back so I can manage them promptly - coupled with the training potential of motivating my sales staff to promote themselves and my dealer clients with FREE websites for the salespeople and motivational opportunities to correct complaints or compliment positive comments that their pages develop is an added value not offered by any other consumer or dealer social networking site.

The growing pains of collecting data, like getting current dealer information, is part of any ground floor opportunity that has to rely on dated information to get the ball rolling but the open communications that CarFolks.Com has invested in the issue proves that they are already on it!

As is often said of any newly developing tecnology or application - there is no replacement for being first and I for one would rather be the first on CarFolks.Com than the last to establish and manage my online reputation in the social networking phenomenom that started with blogs and developed into - well, CarFolks.Com!@
My comment about the carfolks product did not serve any purpose other than to satisfy my ego and the original thread had turned into a circle jerk of people promoting carfolks.

I would love to interview Mr Hein or Mr Boyd and give them my reservations about the product and allow them to respond. That is how products are improved upon. Honest feedback from people who use them or in the case of the net "view" them.

After giving this product free advertising on my site and the interactions I have had with others involved in the project I feel that any review made may be overly biased at this point. That is why I choose to delete the post then the whole thread.

I have a business to build and part of that model will be product reviews and other alternatives available in the marketplace. Will those that see the reviews like them? Sometimes, but not always.

That is not being served in our niche now and there are ways to monetize that content. That is Internet Marketing 101.
Hey Paul,

Just for your peace of mind, and as a member of the "circle jerk" supporting CarFolks.Com, I guess I should reassure you and our fellow ADM members that neither Ralph, myself and I assume any of the other supporters - except of course for Mark Dubis, Mark Boyd and David Hines - work for CarFolks.Com, charged them to appear on my blog talk radio shows or to join ADM and I did not charge them to be a preferred vendor on AdAgencyOnline.Net. More specifically, I never charged them anything - they earned my support after an extensive due dilligence period where I reviewed their service in the field and after evaluating their proforma and build out plans to develop their site and improve on the expected start up "growing pains" experienced by most visionaries that are the first in anything - including social networking sites that provide added value to the auto dealers that used to be afraid of them even though they should be embracing them.

I assure you that we share your priority to select vendors to earn our fees from the people that we work for - and that do pay us - our affiliated automotive advertising agencies, our auto dealer clients and our site visitors who rely on us to review cutting edge technologies and applications - like CarFolks.Com - that promise to improve the R.O.I. that we are entrusted to protect. Just like you and most of the honored supporters of ADM, AdAgencyOnline.Net, DrivingSales.Com and even CarFolks.Com.

As far as your request to talk to honest people who have reviewed them - I thought that was what we were doing? You may even recall that I suggested that you come on air with Mark Dubis to address your concerns as well. Honestly, I reviewed them - and I think they are a long term solution with some short term investments that will pay big dividends for those auto dealers who join them in the formative stages to help develop the best practices that we will all benefit from by supporting CarFolks.Com and other start ups that deserve a chance to mature.
------they earned my support after an extensive due dilligence period where I reviewed their service in the field and after evaluating their proforma------

Philip then share with us here the process of your due diligence and what you observed.
Now that is a professional response that proves that you weren't just trying to satisfy your ego!

First, I interviewed Mark Dubis and reviewed his background in retail sales based on some shared experiences in the South Florida retail market. After checking some personal references I accepted his experience in understanding the physcology of the sale and his knowledge of the developing social networking consumer profile as referenced in some SAS dialogues we shared defining the parameters of a succesful interchange in an open consumer forum.

I then asked him to introduce me to David Hines to confirm that they had the "depth of resources" both financialy and in support staff to continue in the development of the site. When Mark Boyd agreed to take on the role of President I was assured that the people part of the formula - the most important element in any start up - met our standards based on his personal experience in succesful start ups and his network of relationships to develop a sales and support team. I will forward you his resume if you need it but I am confident that some of the ADM members will jump in and explain who Mark Boyd was - and is.

At that final stage of approval I was allowed access to their proforma as well as an in depth review of their planned monetization to carry the site after they reached break even - projected after 18 months - which my experience confirmed was a realistic expectation covered by their available resources.

Prior to reviewing CarFolks.Com I reviewed DealerRater.Com based on some of my dealer's adverse reactions to social networking sites. I challenged their concerns based on my discovery and considered opinion that they could be used to a dealer's advantage. I was researching solutions to create positive blogs and entries on several public forums and posting sites when I encountered CarFolks.Com on ADM. I liked the fact that they provided some FREE sales people sites as an added value since I felt that they would support the initial investment of my dealers by saving me the time and cost of developing individual sites for extended online marketing and multiple micro sites / landing pages until the site visitors reached critical mass - which I recognized and accepted would be at least 18 months. In addition, the value of CarFolks.Com providing regular reports of complaints to subsidize my own need to monitor the site for my clients was also a consideration as it saved me valuable people resources to manage the collected missed opportunities. It further justified the time needed to develop a following on the site to support the dealer participation fees and my support.

DealerRater's growing notice in trade papers confirmed that while their recognition on the consumer side was growing - which added confidence that CarFolks.Com had a target audience with consumers using social networking sites in the automotive vertical - I fealt that they had not incorporated the other side of the formula in considering the true value of their site to help a consumer select a dealer. They surfaced the problem - but they didn't serve up the solution which left them vulnerable to negative dealer support which meant my clients wouldn't trust them to help them protect their online reputation.

I also reviewed several articles and success stories of social networking sites in non-automotive verticals - such as TripAdvisor.Com and too many other vacation and restaurant sites to list - to support my need to search out a similar opportunity for my clients.

I then interviewed some sales people that had active sites and reviewed the posts and information that they were generating. I also interviewed two dealers that had comitted to the site and found that their first impressions confirmed my confidence in their understanding of the need to develop consumer recognition based on the added motivation to their staff to mature their own marketing efforts and the confidence that when the DMS direct link was established that the internal CSI impact would insure theor investment.

Finally, I invited all three of the Senior Managers to join me on three separate blog talk radio shows and allowed them to field questions surfaced by my auto dealer clients and affiliated automotive advertising agencies. I received a 100% vote of confidence in all online comments and subsequent follow up.

I eventually invited David Hines to join me at my exhibit at the Digital Dealer Conference in Orlando and our final conversations confirmed my confidence in moving forward.

Does that answer your question? If you need more data feel free to go to www.google.com and look up social networking. Then decide if it has a place in the automotive vertical and finally - show me one that is better than CarFolks.Com so I can add them to my list of preferred vendors. After all, what are friends for!
Phil,

Once again, you have surprised me with the depth of thought and well written description of your vetting process as applied to Carfolks.com... I have something to add, but because of the risk of contaminating a process that is occuring right now, I will only describe using fairly vague descriptions. Several months ago I was doing what i do to earn a living, delivering consulting services to a major car company... One with a purchasing and IT department that is world reknown in their reputation for thoroughness and investigation. Part of my assignment was to document several recommendations for a tier 3 (retail) strategy and then create tactical blueprint recommendations based on this car company's growing concern in regards to the increasing consumer reliance upon peer based reviews and evaluations of dealerships... And, the impact foreseen in regards to the actual brand of vehicles Americans choose to purchase. Along the way I learned quite a bit about the history of online consumer reviews of dealership sales and service experiences, as well as correlating factors such as weighting of negative dealer reviews by major search engines based on click-through rates and other popularity related indexing factors. Anyways, without posting anything here for free that my client paid for, I can attest to the fact that after a very deep initial investigation, followed by a quick "we won't touch this with a 10' pole..." type of response, this car company has since completed several meetings with Carfolks.com that I assisted in arranging and we are now working on designing a customized solution for the car company's dealer network that will be most likely provided by carfolks.com, although they really don't like the name :-) (just razzing you, Mark's D. and B.!). Having worked with many OEM's during the better part of my last 10 years in this business, I can assure you that they are VERY DIFFICULT to get interested in retail focused solutions like Carfolks.com. However, when a need is seen to continue a track record of growing market share and there is a TRUE commitment to continuous improvement, research into merits and potential applications will ensue, despite what may have been inital revulsion. And, in this case Carfolks.com has succeeded in getting past several milestones as the car company's investigation into their solution's potential use continues to increase the probability of it being adopted. If the design of the Carfolks.com reputation management approach was without any verifiable merit, they would never have made it this far in the process of elimination, and THAT has had a lot of impact on my own opinion as to whether or not this solution is worth considering and investigating further.
The eye of the consumer is everything and we build that trust by telling stories not pitching to them. Online marketing is not interruption marketing when used properly and ethically.

Polling a DMS to get customers to provide feed back to help build your story using templated emails, form mailings or any other non personal basis is an interruption to the consumer very much like an unexpected telemarketing call unless they are expecting the request, which can become part of YOUR STORY. I can see those activities actually alienating consumers more than endearing them long term unless it is built in the process at every customer interaction.

Customers opting in to a dealership based on a business relationship does not opt them into the marketing message sent out by a third party provider, no more than purchasing leads from a third party vendor allow you to place them into a rigorous follow up email series or telemarketing campaign, unless the consumer choses the dealer from a list of choices or confirms their request via a double optin clearly identifying dealer who their personal information is shared with.

Marketing in todays world is not about frequency and repetition (interruption) it is about building the relationship. While building your story should incorporate many different levels and carfolks can help build it but at the same time the way it is presented, as you describe, to the consumer may do more harm than good long term.

"New Marketing leverages scare attention and creates interactions among communities with similar interest. New Marketing treats every interaction, product, service and side affect as a form of media. Marketers do this by telling stories. creating remarkable products (experiences) and gaining permission to deliver messages directly to interested people" Seth Godin page 6 - Meatball Sundae

Are customers confirming their request to receive information from carfolks on how to rate their experience or are they being interrupted by communication they did not request? Or are the dealerships being shown how to take a proactive stance to request that the customers build their story and including carfolks in the mix?

If you want to build your relationship with your customers it starts on the ground eyeball to eyeball. Give them an experience through the process of buying that is enjoyable and fun thus developing raving fans and you wont have to encourage them to build your story they will do it voluntarily.

I don't see the product as a way to help build a reputation that separates it from any other platform on the market today. Google reviews, yahoo reviews, yelp.com, facebook, myspace et al.

Please tell me what I am missing?
Paul,

First, my apoligies for presuming to give advice to a fellow professional who has the right, and the responsibility to have and post his own opinions. As you know, we are friends on ADM supplemented by personal conversations that have supported our shared respect for eachother as individuals and in the forums that we support in addition to ADM such as DrivingSales.Com and AdAgencyOnline.Net.

That said - the example posts that Mark referenced to shed light on some of the positions that you have taken on other forums concerns me. I respect your enthusiasm in seeking the truth, however, perhaps you should be more sensitive to the fact that there are often several "truths" that need to be considered in a public forum that often only allows a brief glimpse at the facts that support them. By perpetuating back and forth confrontational positions with limited information you may be picking the wrong battles and missing out on shared opportunities. If these quick decisions only impacted you - no harm no foul; but when you accept the responsibilty to represent your client's interests then you have to keep an open mind and place a filter on your comments to be more constructive with a problem / solution agenda that benefits all - epecially your clients that need new solutions that will only come from new ideas and applications..

I never lose friends I only lose the communications that are necessary to keep them. For example, in the face of your challenges to my due dilligence in supporting CarFolks.Com I chose to respond with the confidence that your request for me to share my discovery process was an honest attempt to learn more from a trusted source. I assure you that I have no hidden agendas - then or now!

To be clear - I absolutely agree with Mark and my support for CarFolks.Com as a developing platform that derves our support. I also agree that his most recent entry was justified and deserved since sometimed the best defense is a strong offense. But the real issue is that you should not have put him in a position to defend himself. As a FRIEND you shoud be helping him - to help you help your clients.

I am simply suggesting that you consider Mark's point that negative comments and the "sizzle" that they represent are part of human nature and perhaps you should recognize that element within yourseld as evidenced by the flavor of some of your comments?

Again, as your friend - try to keep an open mind and see what would happen if you listened and learned a little more before you begin to teach. After all, what are friends for!

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