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Alex Snyder at DealerRefresh wrote an article titled "Automotive Manufacturer Policies on Dealer Websites are too limiting and slow" about OEM policies and programs that impact dealership web sites. I wrote what turned out to be such a lengthy commentary and response, I wanted to share it with the ADM Community:

Alex,

You have written a well thought out e**** on a subject that is the source of much activity, anxiety and many millions of dollars being spent by both car companies and dealers. Each OEM has taken an approach with variances and features different from the other OEM's. In my opinion none of them have a perfect solution that addresses the issues you raise. However, if you take a look at, for example, what Ford Motor Company has done, which is quite a hybrid approach, you will see that there are no hard and fast dictates or negative repercussions for those dealers that decide to excel beyond what is being done for them by Ford's programs. The DealerConnection web site program is primarily an internally managed and maintained dealer website program which is automatically included with the entire Ford eTools suite at a very minimal cost for an entire package... Yet, each dealer is allowed to create their own web sites above and beyond what the DC sites provide. Lead Management tools can be the Ford supplied SalesPoint, the ancestor of which was one of the first lead management tools, CarPoint from Microsoft, but is now supplied by Reynolds and Reynolds... However, dealers are free to choose from multiple compliant supplier based tools using the Alternative Lead Management program which routes leads in the appropriate format to that supplier's CRM or lead management tool at the dealer's discretion...

Even the 14 month old Dealer Advertising Co-Op program allows the dealer to get OEM funded advertising expense reimbursement for both Search Advertising and Display Advertising, regardless of whether the ads point to the Ford supplied DealerConnection website, or the dealer's own independantly purchased website. The Co-Op guidelines discourage predatory practices such as bidding on other dealer's names and distressed merchandising that hurts the Ford or Lincoln mercury brands, such as "Getting Ready to Go Bankrupt" sales camapaigns.

Could the 12 year old Ford Digital marketing programs be improved? Of course they can... But, I am intimately familiar with over a dozen of the leading OEM programs and Ford's programs have many features that are more progressive and dealer friendly than other OEM's.

You make a strong point about the OEM's need to communicate directly with practitioners at the dealer level. Ford does this through a combination of ongoing forums, groups, blogs, and communities for ISM's, weekly eNewsletters from both IMN and Outsell that provide several channels for all Ford and Lincoln Mercury ISM's to interact and communicate directly with the Ford Digital marketing team in Dearborn... And, to support and compliment all the technology tools, channels and communication mediums there are 18 regionally based 100% Ford paid Digital Marketing Consultants that visit 18 different Ford dealerships in person every work day of the year (minus a couple weeks vacation and conferences that Ford send them to). My team at ADP Digital Marketing supplies the consultants for the Ford DMC program, but they are 100% dedicated to Ford and the dealers and ISM's in each of their assigned Ford Regions.

You will not see too much written or publicly announced by Ford about these Digital Initiatives because Ford considers them to be a competitive advantage, therefore they shun the limelight in regards to their leadership in these areas. But, given the clear and focused subject you brought up, I felt compelled to share just a few of many program information points that every Ford dealer has access to. Within the FMCDealer.com Ford dealer information and communications channel, there are complete details and tools available to every Ford and Lincoln Mercury dealer that are unmatched by the rest of the OEM's doing business in the USA. For example, Ford tracks every lead and reports the disposition of those leads to every Ford and Lincoln Mercury dealer... When ABC Ford receives a lead from Jjohn Doe, and John Doe subsequently buys a new Ford from XYZ Ford 15 miles away, the original lead receiving dealer, ABC Ford can see exactly where, when and what the customer purchased. As a Ford dealer or ISM you can use the Dealer Lead Reports to see if the leads you are receiving are bing sold by any particular competing dealer in lesser or greater numbers than other dealers, and if the customers are being switched into different models than what the original lead inquiry referenced. Again, I am not suggestion perfection, but the people who work for Ford's Digital Marketing team in Dearborn have been improving and refining their programs and dealer support for over ten years and continue to do so on a daily basis.

When Ford saw that many dealers were buying outside supplier web sites to get additional features, Ford Digital marketing worked together with FordDirect and selected ClickMotive to supply a comprehensive customization package, including powerful video marketing capabilities which at $395 to each dealer represents an outstanding value.

I would love to talk about the Ford and Lincoln Mercury Digital Advertising program for dealers (FLMDA) which is administrated by ADP Digital Marketing, but that would come off as too self-serving and the genuine purpose of my response is to simply say that although many OEM's have great programs in place, there is one OEM that truly exceeds all the others in breadth, scope and flexibility of their dealer website and digital marketing programs for dealers, and that OEM is the Ford Motor Company. Other OEM's have a long way to go in catching up to Ford in this area, and although the specific names will be kept confidential... Many OEM executives have confided in me that they would like to do "this or that" digital initiative, saying "like the way Ford has it set up..." truly a compliment to the digital marketing professionals in Dearborn, but one in which I wish more Ford and Lincoln Mercury dealers would appreciate.

Lastly, I enjoy working with all the OEM's and there is not enough space to talk about Honda's dealer web site certification program, which is excellent in several respects. Or, how about Mazda's newly created program to supply various OEM powered widgets and applications on a plug and play basis so that dealers can incorporate them into any, or multiple web sites... The Mazda program is sheer genius and other OEM's could learn a lot from their unique and first ever approach to supplying web based ASSETS instead and mandating a particular web site supplier. Personally, I think the new Mazda programs are the best solution yet to an OEM providing dealers with dealership website tools, without force feeding a particular supplier, while ensuring a positive consumer experience with accurate OEM brand and model information.

Feel free to check out Alex's originating article at the following URL:
http://www.dealerrefresh.com/oem-policies-dealer-websites/

From the Ford DealerConnection Public Website:

What is my DealerConnection website?
DealerConnection is the name given to Ford Motor Co. Dealer websites all Dealers are required to have. Consumers will find your DealerConnection website when searching for a Dealer on Ford-brand websites (like fordvehicles.com) or when searching online at sites such as Google and Yahoo. On average each month, 1.5 million customers conduct 4 million new vehicle searches and 3 million used vehicle searches on DealerConnection websites. With an average closing rate at 18 percent, your DealerConnection website is the best and highest source for closing referrals.
Will I have to pay for referrals generated by my DealerConnection site?
Nothing has changed. You will continue to be billed a monthly subscription fee for DealerConnection, as part of the e-Tools suite of products on your Parts and Accessories statement. There is no per-lead fee.

Where can I call with my questions?
Please note that there is a new DealerConnection Assistance Center with a new phone number. Please call Technical Support at 1-866-762-FORD if you need additional assistance or have more questions. The DealerConnection Assistance Center is staffed Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. eastern standard time.

Where can I get trained on how to update my site and use the Dealer Maintenance Tool?
To activate the key options and set your basic preferences, see the step-by-step Quick Start Guide. For in-depth training on additional features and functionality, please reference the user guide or the links under Training University.

What happens to the settings and personalized information on my old site when the new one launches?
FordDirect will try to carry over as much of your settings and personalized information from the old site to the new one. We encourage you to log-in to the test site before the new site goes live and confirm your settings are correct.

How do I access and log in to the Dealer Maintenance Tool?
Log in to dealermaint.dealerconnection.com. Your user name and password are the same as what you use to access fmcdealer.com.

Will dealers have the ability to customize the new DealerConnection platform?
At launch the DealerConnection platform will offer dealers the ability to select from multiple pre-configured templates that provide for a seamless consumer brand experience. The sites will also allow dealers to position their local brand by adding dealership photos, staff pictures and customized welcome text. In the first half of 2007, the DealerConnection sites will add the ability to further customize the home page, add dealer specific coupons and integrate more multi-media components. Dealers will not need to contract with any 3rd party vendor to access and update their DealerConnection website. FordDirect will communicate to all dealers as we continue to enhance the features on the DealerConnection platform.

Can Dealers replace their DealerConnection websites with a 3rd party solution?
The DealerConnection platform is the only Dealer Website solution supported by Ford Motor Company and FordDirect. Dealers may not replace their DealerConnection sites with a 3rd party solution. Today the DealerConnection sites receive millions of visitors each month via the brand sites and from search engines. The DealerConnection sites are an important part of the Ford Motor Company integrated marketing plan and will continue to increase in prominence as a valuable sales channel for all dealers. Leads generated from the DealerConnection platform deliver the highest close rate of any leads in the industry.

Is ChannelNet and its eRA product (eRetail Advantage) affiliated with DealerConnection in 2007?
ChannelNet is an independent provider of technology services that supported the DealerConnection platform in 2006. In 2007 FordDirect and ChannelNet will cease to have a commercial relationship to deliver any portion of the DealerConnection platform. The eRA product (eRetail Advantage) is a 3rd party website product offering from ChannelNet, much like Cobalt or DealerSkins. Ford Motor Company and FordDirect do not endorse any component of the eRA product. Dealers should carefully consider their options before enrolling in any dealer website program.

Do Dealers need to sign any additional documents to participate in the DealerConnection platform?
Dealers do not need to sign any paperwork to launch their new DealerConnection websites. We advise all dealers to carefully review any contracts they may be presented with regarding any 3rd party website provider.

Tags: DealerRefresh Article, OEM Dealer Website, OEM Programs Policies, Ralph Paglia Response, car company website policies, car dealer web sites

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