Automotive Digital Marketing

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We need to be on Facebook. We need to be on twitter. We need to list our inventory on Autotrader and Cars. We need to buy leads. We need to expand PPC. We need an SEO strategist. We need a reputation management system. Chat, pricing software, photo studio, video production.... All good stuff for sure, the list of “We needs” is endless. There are multiple vendors for dozens of great products in our industry.  When your owner or GM returned from the last 20 group with one or two “We need s” did you fall in line and just start writing checks or did you go to work and look for a good fit? The owner/GM may have a lot on her/his plate and often does not have or take the time to fully understand a process or a products potential impact on your store. Just because one of his/her peers or a vendor’s anecdotal exhibit demonstrated success does not mean it is right for your store, OR, at this point in time. Consider that cause and effect will be different from one store to another if for no other reason than timing.  The owner/GM tends to hear all of the positives and unfortunately figuring out or anticipating the negatives is left to others(you). Keep in mind that most hawkers insist that the best time to implement or use their products or services is NOW. No different than us attempting to sell a car: “there is no better time to buy this new car than now” (and if there IS a better time, I’m NOT gonna tell ya).

Now can’t be the best time for everything. I'll say it again, now can't be the best time for everything. Imagine taking all the ingredients to a great recipe and just tossing it into a bowl, mixing and popping it in the oven without consideration to preparation, timing or temperature.....You have a good shot at making something really bad.

Begin with your ultimate vision of the end in mind. Develop a short, mid and long term strategy. Understand the elements needed to create the end you see and prioritize. Prioritize the needs, and wants in an order that makes sense to YOUR store.


If you cannot write a recipe, a path to help your store rise to the top then maybe the best money you can spend right now is to partner with someone who can.

The next time your owner/GM steps off the plane with the latest and greatest plan or product (shinny thing), pull out your recipe for the end and show him or her when and where it might be a fit.

Providing a clear vision with the resources available (money/budget) is your job.

My opinion and a buck will get you a coffee most places.

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Thomas, I am surprised when I see people jump into things they haven't taken the time to figure out in at least a basic way.  I tend to try things, when possible, in my personal life until I get a handle on what it's all about about.  Only then do I transfer that to my company. 


A few years ago, I had a personal MySpace page and didn't know what to do with it.  Then I started hearing about Facebook and Twitter.  Still didn't know.  But one day my boss mentioned them casually as something he heard about from a manufacturer's meeting.  So I decided to start my own pages on both sites. 


Couldn't get into Twitter at first, seemed totally useless.  But I immediately connected with people on Facebook.  After several months, I felt I had a pretty good understanding and created our company page.  I also dived into Twitter and started a blog as well as I decided that these three things could work together.  Then I started putting up walk-arounds on YouTube.


Later when vendors started calling me and wanting e to hire them as "experts", I could tell immediately that 90% had no idea what social media meant.  The time might be "NOW" to start researching something, but it's not always the right time to buy into a vendor.


I experimented with chat on our site in 2003 but it must have been premature.  We ended up dumpin it.  Two years ago, I decided it was time once again to give it a try.  But I guess my boss had decided it didn't work before so it wouldn't work now.  I am only now putting chat in place after continuing to push for it.  In 2003, NOW was too soon.  What do ya think?  By the way, thanks for the coffee!

What do I think? I think if I was a GM I would be very comfortable with you writing the recipe/vision for the internet marketing. You demonstrate my point as an example of someone who accepts his responsibility to see the end and work towards getting there as opposed to reacting to pressures and writing checks. I take from your comments the following: "I tend to try things....". "I get a handle on.....", "So I decided to start....", "But I immediately connected with people....", "I felt I had a pretty good understanding and created...", "I decided that these three things could work together...", "Then I started putting....", "I could tell immediately...", "I experimented with..." and you go on to demonstrate that you are proactive in the development of your online presence and not simply accepting trends on face value because they were put in front of you. Tom, you well understand what it takes and you know what your job is. I always enjoy and learn from your comments where ever I find them.
Wow, thanks for the compliment Thomas.  We share a lot of the same venues here on ADM.  I always enjoy reading your opinions.  This is great place to share and learn.

Great stuff Thomas! As digital expands and grows as a medium, the responsibilities of the BDC/Internet Director are multiplying exponentially. Pretty soon (if not now) it will take more than 1 person overseeing all of those elements for a dealership to maximize their presence and opportunities across the digital spectrum.


Tom G, experimentation and growth over time are the only way to organically grow a department. I commend you on taking things one step at a time to build a presence that makes sense: it connects, and engages, which can lead to more sales and a better reputation at your dealership.

Thanks Adam for the kind comment....with respect, I disagree and suggest that Tom is not taking things one step at a time but rather filling his plate with many elements, doing good research, testing and combining and incorporating when time and resources allow. I agree with you that one person can be overwhelmed and if he does not have outside help he/she needs some damn good support staff going forward. This forum was like having a few extra people on the payroll for me when I was building. Great forum, great people....I love the passion in our industry!

Thomas, you are correct that one person can be overwhelmed.  I eventually found a company that could assist me with our social media, and I demanded that it be a cooperative effort.  We have made a synergistic effort that I think is successful.  But when I chose that company, it was after rejecting many based on what I knew was the correct way to go.

  I understand that is arguable, but I think I will be proven right.  The interesting thing is that it is the consumer who will decide that... not my peers.

"Great forum, great people....I love the passion in our industry!"  There is no place I would rather be on my day off!  This is my recreation.

Another great post!  As the person that gets to hear the great ideas from the big boss (owner) I can tell you that it is sometimes hard to prioritize properly because many times these ideas are presented as not only "must haves" but "must have, right now!"  This puts pressure on you to find quick solutions and it could lead to solutions that are not optimal. 

I encourage everyone to start every "must have" mission by doing some research and presenting back in writing an actionable plan that will tell your boss that you realize how important these "must haves" are, but you are going about achieving them in a carefully planned way.  Don't be afraid to tell the boss that you want to do more research before firming up a time-line or choosing a vendor or even taking it on in-house.  Look for articles and case studies from the web that are the same or similar to what you are trying to achieve and then present a realistic time-line, risks, costs, goals etc....


In the short-term you may have to sacrifice instant gratification for long-term job stability and successful goal completion.

Thomas,  As always, a great read and very insightful!


My feeling is that you’ve identified a symptom of a much larger problem.  Owners absolutely head off to conferences, 20 groups and conventions and then return to their stores having signed up for the “Next Big Thing”, often with little regard for how the new shiny object fits into the Internet Marketing Strategy.


I also agree that there needs to be a strategy and that every time something is added to that strategy the “How”,  “Why” and “When” questions need to be asked. The question of how the new addition affects the existing strategy and the individual items that make up this strategy, has to be asked and answered before anything new is added.


I would, however, suggest that there shouldn’t be a separate “Internet Marketing Strategy” today. And that if there was one, its development shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of an Internet Marketing Director. This brings me to the larger problem; Silos.


Silos occur when each department has their own goals and those goals are pursued with little regard for other departments or even the organization as a whole. There can be little doubt that silos exist at many dealerships. Variable Operations often works at cross-purposes to Fixed Ops, our Sales Process is often out-of-sync with our Marketing Process. In this light, I’d submit to you that an Internet Marketing Strategy shouldn’t be developed in a vacuum.


How do you avoid or eliminate silos?

  1. Create a unified management team
  2. Foster communication and trust — both laterally and vertically
  3. Establish and communicate a common vision and purpose
  4. Engage, engage, engage

In the case of a car dealership, I believe the answer is to have an Overall Strategy – one that encompasses the entire operation. This strategy will most certainly have an internet marketing component, but that component has cohesiveness with the whole and doesn’t exist as a separate strategy. That doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be an Internet Marketing Director – there still needs to be an expert on the team. But we all need to keep in mind that car sales is a team sport. All the parts need to work together to form a well-engineered machine. I don’t think a separate strategy is the path to that end.


Now back to Thomas’ point. My answer would be to develop the strategy as a team. Another part of the answer would be for owners to attend one or more of the many upcoming conferences WITH their Internet Marketing Directors (conference season is almost upon us!).  Yet another part of the answer is for owners to bring their Internet Marketing Directors with them to NADA. Everything is interrelated today and the best decisions are never made in a vacuum.


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