Automotive Digital Marketing

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Recently, I read a post on DealerRefresh entitled: "Dealership Employees Blogging in the Land of Unicorns and Rainbows." An odd title that touches on a very important reality -- or at least a perception that has become accepted as reality: Car dealers are lazy.

After 20 years in automotive retail I have jumped ship. I am now in the full time vendor world as the founder of Wikimotive and I've come to realize that we've got it all wrong. Maybe... just maybe we, the vendors, are the lazy ones.

Car dealers have operated for over a hundred years with really very little change. My father started in this business before there was micro film to look up parts. And while computers have made the job easier, we still need people to look up the part and order the right one. People still buy cars from people they like.

TV, radio, newspaper, direct mail, e-mail, the internet, blogging, SEO, social media, ORM, ZMOT, CRM, DMS systems have all helped to make some things easier, but the car business hasn't changed. NOT ONE BIT! Many have predicted these massive fundamental shifts, but really nothing has shifted. Nothing has changed -- not for the car dealer. 

The only thing that has really changed is us -- Vendors; we who serve the car dealers. We have new jobs, new suits, new offices, new products, new predictions, new ideas, new hugely important understandings of the way of the world and if the dealers don't listen to us RIGHT NOW they might not be around in 5 years....


That is a load of crap. A lame attempt to elevate our own importance in the dealer's eyes. Let me tell you, I see dealer's with some of the worst reputations and dealer reviews still sell the most cars and have the highest fixed-ops absorption in their market. I see sales managers who need help to reboot their computers sell hundreds and thousands of cars every month without the help of AutoTrader and SEO and blogging. I've watched some of the most anti-social sales people lead the board and some of the finest dealer's I've ever known lose their franchises.

I know... I paint a pretty dismal picture of reality for vendors so why did I get in the vendor space? Because when we get it right; when we truly offer value and return on investment, there is no better place to be then the guy who serves the dealer. OK and you can really make a lot of money as a vendor... SEE FULL DISCLOSURE!

Dealership personnel don't need to learn automotive SEO. They don't need to learn how to blog and they certainly don't need to understand the social media flow chart. Decision makers need to understand the value of those components, just like they needed to understand the value of being in the newspaper or on TV or Radio or whatever. 

Dealers need to know how to understand and recognize success when we deliver it and recognize snake oil when we don't.

For too long the vendor space has provided tools that the dealership has to pick up and use to make work. I say we're the lazy ones! Why build a blog for a dealership if they're the ones who have to fill it with content? Why build a website for a dealership and not do the research and homework to find out who the staff are?

Have we become too comfortable playing armchair quarterback? Do we just love telling dealers they suck?

Why do we only half ass everything we offer? Or maybe thats the wrong question... Why not? Why NOT send a rep to the dealership to meet all of the personnel and take their picture and talk to them and find out what they do and who they are? Why not build a blog and offer a service to provide content writing to the dealer if having it done correctly is as important as we say? Why not provide engaging content to dealer's social media channels if we're going to say that they are vital to the growth and future marketing of the company? Why not do it all? We love to identify that dealers do it wrong. So that must mean we know how to do it right...right!?

The newspapers didn't ask all the dealers who advertise to each come up with an article for the newspaper did they? TV stations don't want them to submit a great idea about a new sitcom, right? The print houses don't ask the sales people to pitch in and stuff mailers in mailboxes! So why do we ask our clients to do these ridiculous things!?

Simple - WE'RE THE LAZY ONES! Or maybe, we're scared. We're scared that the costs would be too high and we'd have to ask them for more money... Is that it? I couldn't figure out the reason why not. So, that is the model I decided to build my new company on. No more short cuts. No more half way. No more pat's on the behind and an, "ok dealer, now get in there and make my product look great!"

Maybe it's time we took a look in the mirror and reevaluated... Who's lazy?

Views: 2025

Tags: and, automotive, dealership, products, seo, services


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Comment by Mark Crosby on June 13, 2012 at 10:49am

This is a great article and all dealers AND vendors should read it and think about their own work habits and really think about the information presented here. I have been in the automotive advertising business for over 30 years in the NY metro area. Most of that time has been spent in an ad agency environment, but I have also been a consultant on Internet Marketing solutions. Unlike Tim & Nancy I went from the "agency/consultant side" into the retail auto business for the past 3 years running Internet Sales Departments in a couple different dealerships.


For someone from an ad agency environment it was an eye opening experience. We all tend to think we "know" our clients businesses because we are in dealerships all the time BUT you don't really know until you live the life day to day! Does the average marketing guy really know how much fun it is setting up and transferring info from one DMS & CRM system to new ones? How about training the BDC reps on the new system while still using the old one and not having an interruprion in lead traffic and appointments into the dealership? yeah, I didn't think so!


Now I am back in the ad agency/consultant role and believe me, I bring what I learned from being on the inside into everything I do for my clients. As a suggestion to most of the vendors out there, (I know this from talking with lots of dealers and their thoughts on vendors)...Please try hard not to come into the dealership without an appointment and try to sell something on the last days of the month. This is when many dealers make or brake their month so all of us vendors dropping in makes their month end even more challenging. Also if you're not working your product, what makes you think the dealer will?

Comment by Steve Davern on June 13, 2012 at 10:36am

Great points John. If you consider the fact that one manager is doing the job that three managers used to tackle, it makes their jobs that much harder. I've seen UCM's and NCM's merged into GSM's at almost every store in my territory. Another consideration would be turnover. The constant management changes at car dealerships make it very difficult to follow through on any programs implemented. New sales people, GM's, porters, etc make dealer management a moving and elusive proposition. I'm not sure I could do it.

Comment by Keith Shetterly on June 13, 2012 at 10:36am

I don't care who's lazy, in that I've seen both.  However, the point I'm taking away is that you're building awareness that The Great And Powerful Internet has changed the dealers marketing tools, for example, but what vendors needed to do was keep the connection dealers need to those tools the same.  It was simple doing an ad, so even if the Internet ADDED five things to do, shouldn't they all be that simple?  

I ran a digital audit for a dealer (contact me for details, if you want one) that saved him $20k+.  He wasn't, and isn't lazy--he had just never had someone simplify the five things he was doing (THOUGHT his vendors were doing) so he could oversee it and make good choices.

That's just one example of why I'm on Tim's page here.

Comment by Timothy Martell on June 13, 2012 at 10:06am

Thats the point John, how can vendors expect dealers to do more? You hit it on the head! It is the vendor's job to make things easier, not create more busy work -- even if it is important work, maybe we should be doing the work instead of putting another thing on the dealer's shoulders.

Comment by John L Mecham on June 13, 2012 at 10:01am

As a former car dealer, who purchased from vendors, I have a couple of comments.  I do not think the dealers are lazy, rather overwhelmed with "programs".  Each month the factory comes out with their own special program that must be passed on and taught to the staff.  The new product certification programs must be passed and trained.  The new ad campaign must be communicated and trained.  The sales meeting topics must be fresh and trained,  The inventory must be ordered and up to date.  The used cars have got to be continuously monitored.  The sales log followed up, the leads followed up and the guy in the yellow shirt in the back lot has got to be greeted in 30 seconds.  The customer lounge cleaned and coffee and cookies freshened.  The visit from the factory sales, service and parts rep needs to happen.  The frustrated "heaters" addressed, then add all the same stuff from the fixed operations and the bank flooring checks...  Dealers are not lazy by any means, but they are continuously looking for the next new thing that will help them take some of the load off.  Bottom line, do you have a product or service that will help the dealer sleep better at night or is yours just another variation of another old purchased forgotten program, whose cd's clog up the training room next to once purchased VHS series on how to answer objections?   

Comment by Timothy Martell on June 13, 2012 at 9:57am

Thanks Craig. I think we need to be reminded to think out of the box. Then, even once we think we've got the right paradigm, we need to always go back and question and reevaluate. 

I find that questions don't really ever get us in trouble. What gets us in trouble is what we know for sure that just ain't so...

Comment by Craig Lockerd on June 13, 2012 at 9:52am

Great piece,got me thinking about our business....thanks Tim

Comment by Timothy Martell on June 13, 2012 at 9:41am

Thanks for the feedback David. Expectations are surely an important part of the equation.

Comment by Timothy Martell on June 13, 2012 at 9:37am

Thanks Diane! 

Andrew, you've got it!

Michael, no question everyone has to do their job. I'm just not so sure we've got job descriptions properly assigned yet!

Nancy, CRM is a great example of what I am trying to say. We talk about % of utilization. But have vendors really considered the business model of car dealers?

Car dealers have huge risk for very little reward in terms of profitability. Remember 3% of gross sales is considered success in automotive retail. Can dealers really afford to change their business model for us and take on more staff for BDC's? 

Maybe we should provide the appointment setters. Maybe we should provide the utilization. Then management can still manage -- the sales floor! Not this whole new division of staff bleeding profitability. Will there be cost involved? Sure! But it would still be less than the employee, FICA, FUDA, SUDA, benefits, etc to the dealer. 

Maybe we're asking them to do too much! Maybe we've been thinking inside the box for too long.

Comment by David T. Gould on June 13, 2012 at 9:36am

I will go out on the limb here joining Nancy with the missing training aspect as well as (get ready for this...) a lack of understanding by both vendors and particularly dealers of what digital offerings are and what they can do. This is not to say vendors don't understand their product set within the dealer environment, but as Nancy pointed out, the over all message gets lost in translation between; uneducated vendors / vendor repsthe over promising of what dealers should and can expect, uneducated dealers, rapidly changing external factors (Google ect...) and the myriad of other technical factors.

Dealers are not lazy as a rule. Neither are reputable vendors. They all work very hard and long hours plying their trade. Expecting the end user (dealer) to become a digital "expert" for a vendor's (your) product to succeed is a recipe for disappointment.

Good Selling All,


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