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Car Dealers Use Email As Source Of Competitive Advantage - And Dare I Say: ENGAGEMENT

At the risk of "engaging" in the use of a buzzword that is overused and abused (according to JD Rucker) let's take a look at some insights I have discovered regarding the use of email to prompt Customer Engagement that can drive Competitive Advantage for your Car Dealership...

According to Forrester Research, we are now in the “Age of the Customer.”

Today, advances in technology allow every dealership to tap into their OEM data and information treasuries, and even the cheapest, most IT stringy car dealers can access all the computing resources they need from a variety of cloud based dealership supplier products and Software As A service (SAAS) suppliers. The ability to tap into cloud based technologies is no longer considered an advantage; rather, it’s a way of life. Think about how almost every American car buyer at some point uses Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or any number of User Generated Content (UGC) sites and networks... All cloud based SAAS, despite what anyone wants to say about it. Today, being the customer’s first choice is the only remaining source of competitive advantage, hence the fascination we saw the auto industry have with Google's "Zero Moment of Truth" concept a couple of years ago... However, the competition is fierce. To win, car dealers must be obsessed with their customers, focused on understanding them and engaging (JD's favorite word) with them better than anyone else.

What am I talking about when I say "engaging email"?

   

The New Digital Car Buyer

Three major trends have emerged out of the recent (and far too rapid for many car dealers), evolution of car buyer behaviors across email, social, search, and the Web.
1. Buyers are more empowered:
Thanks to information abundance combined with better search and sharing technology, product information is now ubiquitous. The Web provides automotive consumers with instant information gratification. And mobile devices add a wherever/whenever dimension to every aspect of the experience. Consumers can access detailed specs, pricing, and reviews about goods and services 24/7 with a few flicks of their thumbs on their smartphones. Meanwhile, social media encourages consumers to share and compare. Today’s buyers are increasingly self-directed when it comes to making purchasing decisions. They have broad access to resources and proactively gather information across a number of digital channels, often developing brand perceptions before they ever interact directly with a brand. By the time a buyer comes to you, he’s probably already made his purchasing decision, so it’s time to throw out the old model of a persuasive shop girl greeting your customer at the door. Meet today’s buyer. She has the upper hand when it comes to making purchasing decisions. Tech savvy and brand sophisticated, she is wise to the ways of marketing, and she expects a lot. She believes you should inform and even entertain her, but never bore or, worse, irritate her. And she’s fickle — if you don’t keep communications interesting, she’ll opt out faster than a credit mooch when you go to pull a credit bureau... And as for you sales guys, the idea of schmoozing a customer sounds great, and it may even happen occasionally, but you know it’s not feasible for you to spend an inordinate amount of time schmoozing everyone. With today's modern CRM apps, and the ones just around the corner, if you are in car sales, then the reality is that you manage a portfolio of hundreds or even thousands of customers! (orphan owner reassignments)

 

2. Car Buyers know how to Opt Out:
The junk mail of yore kept automotive consumers prisoner because they couldn’t “break out.” But today’s car buyers can easily opt out of marketing communications they don’t want. If you’re sending marketing emails using a white-listed email marketing services provider (ConstantContact, ExactTarget, etc.) and tracking your results (and we hope you are!) you probably know that yucky feeling when an email campaign triggers an exceptional percentage of opt-outs – worse yet, spam complaints! But automotive consumers who take the initiative to unsubscribe from your dealership's emails might only be the tip of the pissed off customer iceberg created by your abuse of having their email addresses. Many more of your customers might be “passively opting out” — simply ignoring any future emails you send. We’re all getting better at tuning out the noise of today’s digital circus, and the result is that most traditional marketing techniques, which are based on “renting attention” from the car buyer as they go about their business, are becoming less and less effective as car buyers get more tech-savvy.
3. Automotive Consumers have Higher Expectations:
Today’s car buyers expect companies to keep seamless track of their purchasing history, communication preferences, and desires. If your system isn’t a well-oiled data machine, you’ll lose brand loyalty fast.
Consumers look for a unified and personalized experience across all of your touchpoints: your website, social media and photo platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), email marketing, etc. They want to find the information they are looking for in the medium that is most convenient for them at the moment. Whether they’re in front of their computers at work or in lines at post offices on their mobile devices, they expect an experience that’s streamlined and consistent — and it must be personal, too. They also expect you to recognize them — this is where it becomes critical to capture and store data over time and across
channels — and then feed them the exact information they want at the moment you interact with them.
It’s an exciting – yet challenging – time to be an automotive digital marketing practitioner. It’s no longer sufficient to simply push static information to car buyers in a mass advertising model, not even in CRM application data mined and segmented batches. In order to achieve a competitive advantage, car dealers must fundamentally shift the ways they engage with customers across multiple online channels throughout the vehicle ownership lifecycle. In order to do this, as an automotive marketing professional, you must learn to engage each and every prospective customer individually and personally... Which is going to require planning, strategy and execution if we want to do this in an efficient and scalable manner.
“Building on the vast increase in consumer power brought on by the digital age, marketing is headed toward being on-demand — not just always ‘on,’ but also always relevant, responsive to the consumer’s desire for marketing that cuts through the noise with pinpoint delivery.”
– Mckinsey, “The Coming Era of ‘On-Demand’ Marketing"
Email Is More Important Today Than Ever Before
In 2009, The Wall Street Journal published an article claiming that email was dead...Ironically, it was the most emailed article of the day!
Just about every day since then, someone has published an article or blog post echoing email’s demise. In
fact, if you Google “email is dead,” you’ll get over 1.5 million results. (To emphasize just how radical a
number that is, comparison searches bring up only 280,000 results for “blogging is dead,” 180,000 for
“social media is dead,” and only 2,500 for “podcasting is dead.” All of these numbers were current at the
time we wrote this in June 2013.) But the reports of the death of email have been greatly exaggerated, and the hysteria around the notion only shows that email is more important than ever. While companies now have the flexibility to communicate via traditional channels, such as direct mail and TV, as well as through newer channels, such as social media, email is still the quickest and most direct way to reach customers with critical information. Why? Because email is the one channel your audience accesses regularly. We – consumers – are addicted to email...
“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” – Mark Twain
Email Matters More Today Than Ever Before
                   
Contrary to what you may have heard me say, Email is Alive and Well
On any given day, your dealership's previous, current and future sales and service customers may or may not visit your dealership website, one of your blogs or any of your Facebook pages; but with few exceptions, automotive consumers check their email every day, if not multiple times a day.
Scratch that — how do you make it through all those meetings? It’s more like multiple times an hour! Despite what I have been heard to say at various presentations, meetings and even last week in Miami Beach, despite our illustrious #AutoMarketing experts, gurus, Thought Leaders, conference speakers and dealership suppliers sales reps or auto industry pundit criticism and cynicism, the stats around email are resoundingly positive. For example, there are currently 3.3 billion email accounts in the world.
(Source: Mashable)
What’s more:
  • Of Americans age 12 and over who are active online, 94% cite email as one of their regular activities. (Source: Pew Internet and American Life Project’s Generations 2010 report)
  • Jay Baer, Social Media Speaker, Author and Coach, says that 58% percent of adult Americans check email first thing in the morning. (Source:MarketingSherpa 2013 Email Summit)

Email is very much alive. Plus, it’s still the number one way for marketers to communicate directly with customers. According to new research:
  • Email is the customer preference. In a recent survey, a staggering 77% of consumers reported that they prefer to receive permission-based marketing communications through email – and email was the number one source for all age groups including 15-24! (Source: Waldow Social)
  • Email generates nearly a 200% return on marketing investment compared to other channels. For every dollar spent on email marketing in 2013, there was a $40.56 return. Compare that to other channels, such as search engine marketing, which is the next closest at $22.44. (Source: Direct Marketing Association and Smart Data Collective)
  • Email investment is slated to increase. 64% of companies indicated their organizations’ investment in email marketing was expected to increase in 2014. (Source: MarketingSherpa 2013 Benchmark)

 

The point is, email is not going anywhere. As an automotive marketer, it’s still your number one tool for reaching car buyers and service customers fast.
If you agree that email marketing is NOT dead, please make my source for this article happy and take a
quick break to tweet: "Email Marketing is NOT dead! #DG2EEM #ADMPC" (Thank you!)
"Where do you tell people to send important calendar items, documents, or discussions about important topics, either for work or home? Our guess is that ‘Facebook’ wasn’t your answer. It was probably email.”
– Jason Falls, Digital Strategist and Co-author of “The Rebel’s Guide to Email Marketing”
Email Marketing Faces Multiple Challenges
Here are the key areas of these new challenges to email use as a marketing tactic:
  • The Economics of Attention: Information abundance and attention scarcity make it harder than ever to get buyer attention
  • Opt-Out, Screen Out, Tune Out: Consumers don’t want to feel they are being marketed to, and will find ways to tune out unwanted communications
  • The Cross-Channel Marketing Revolution: New communication channels mean email can no longer be a standalone channel
  • Imprecise Metrics: Imprecise metrics that don’t show true impact means that email struggles to be strategic Email still matters – perhaps more than ever – but traditional paradigms no longer cut it. It’s time for a reality check regarding the new challenges that email marketers face as digital consumers get more sophisticated.
The Economics of Attention
The rise of the Internet has resulted in a quick transition from information scarcity to information abundance. The world is producing information faster than the human mind can wrap itself around the data. According to a 2011 IDC report titled Extracting Value from Chaos, the amount of global digital information created and shared worldwide grew nine-fold from 2006 to 2011, growing to 2 trillion gigabytes. This number is expected to quadruple by 2015.
Opt-Out, Screen Out, Tune Out
People are inundated with pitches, advertisements, and other interruptions on a daily basis. Consumers are marketed to so often that, as a matter of self-defense, they’ve raised a psychological “anti-marketing shield.” This is particularly the case when it comes to email content. Consumers with a vested interest in achieving “Inbox Zero” have many tools to help them sweep and filter unwanted emails. They create their own definitions of junk mail using custom filters in their email software, and if they don’t like a message, they’ll not only make sure they don’t see it again, but they’ll also tell others about their displeasure. And, let’s face it, most marketing emails pretty much suck. Even if yours don’t, that doesn’t mean they’ll interest your audience. What’s creative and alluring to you might just look or sound like another sales-y, drone-toned e-blast to your end viewer: “Hi, are you ready to buy a car today?" Don’t be that car dealer!
Information Abundance Means Attention Scarcity
Social scientist Herbert Simon first talked about attention economics when he wrote:
“In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes." What information sent by dealers using email marketing consumes is obvious: the attention span of its recipients. This means it is only getting more difficult for the emails your dealership sends to engage automotive consumers, whether you are seeking their business in the service drive or on the showroom floor...
The Cross-Channel Marketing Revolution
Today’s buyer seeks relevant and personalized content across all digital channels: email, mobile, social,
display advertising, you name it. Omni-channel, customer-focused marketing is no longer nice to have;
it’s a must-have for car dealers seeking a marketing based competitive advantage.
Companies that want to put customers at the center of their marketing strategies must engage them across the board, but this is only possible when marketing teams have a channel strategy that unifies their
products and teams. Traditional email marketing tools were designed for just one channel – email. It started as a single communications channel with no core connection to other marketing channels. Even
today, car dealers using standalone email service providers (ESPs) are stuck with a legacy approach that
doesn’t take into account the reality that today’s car buyer is adept at multi-tasking their car shopping information gathering across channels — engaging with email in one moment, a website the next, and then flitting across to social media. And he does it all while talking on the phone or texting. Traditional ESP solutions can’t adequately address this level of sophisticated multi-channel customer engagement. Nor can ESPs adequately capture all the online and offline behavioral patterns that automotive marketers should, and must track to stay on top of their dealership customer whims. To spearhead the movement toward true cross-channel coordination that incorporates email marketing, a new breed of automotive marketer is quickly rising to the top. These forward-thinking marketers are embracing strategies that leverage email as the best platform to tie together the customer relationship with the dealership and its franchises over time and across all marketing channels
Imprecise Metrics
With traditional ESP solutions, the marketer has to manually sort through multiple reports to track unsubscribes, clicks, opens, bounces, and so on for each email campaign. The insight these reports provide is, unfortunately, not that insightful with regard to customer engagement. When stuck with imprecise and generic metrics, email marketing remains merely a tactical channel, relegated to the sidelines instead of becoming a strategic part of leadership’s revenue plan.
"Automotive Marketing Professionals waste too much time trying to connect the dots using the basic email reports and metrics provided by their dealership ESP's to the strategic metrics that dealer principals and general managers actually care about, such as leads and sales generated, and gross profit impact."
--Ralph Paglia, Founder, Automotive Digital Marketing Professional Community
Definition: Engaging Email Marketing
Consumers are always on, always connected, and always overwhelmed. If you want to connect with them, you have to work hard to engage them. In order to be truly effective, email marketing must provide some level of value delivered to the automotive consumer in order to become more trusted, more relevant, more conversational, more thought provoking and more strategic.
Think about it: you probably pay the most attention to emails from friends, family, and colleagues, people with whom you have genuine, trusted relationships. Sure, the relationship between a dealership, or even the people who work there, and an automotive consumer is never exactly the same as the relationship between friends and family, but automotive marketers can narrow the gap. Dealerships can enjoy some of the benefits of a trusted relationship by marketing to the car buyer and the service drive customer in a natural, non-marketing-speak way that truly engages him.
The best marketing that a car dealership can engage in (I used "engage" for JD's benefit) doesn’t feel like marketing at all. If you can genuinely engage your audience through email marketing, you can build direct, trusted relationships across all channels. Do this right, and you’ll be the dealership that cuts
through the noise.
Let me cite an example I witnessed from a friend of mine who is a Volkswagen and Mazda dealer in Albuquerque, New Mexico. While I was participating in a CRM Product Advisory Group meeting last week, Bob Cockerham showed me an image he posted to Facebook which contained a Holiday themed text caption... I was surprised to see it had achieved thousands of likes and hundreds of shares. The image Bob posted outperformed any pure business based image he had ever posted.  Now, let me be very clear on this topic... Obviously dealerships and their marketing professionals need to publish information directly relevant to the products and services they sell, but what Bob Cockerham did with his somewhat spiritual non-business image post was engage thousands of people and create the perception of who he is, as being somebody people can trust!
“Remember that the best campaigns aren’t about you or what you want subscribers to do. They’re about your subscribers and what they want.”
– Matt Blumberg, Chairman and CEO of Return Path
Five Key Attributes of Engaging Email
To engage and succeed, your dealership's marketing emails must, above all else, be:
  1. Trustworthy
  2. Relevant
  3. Controversial, excuse me... CONVERSATIONAL and Not Campaign-Based
  4. Coordinated Across Channels
  5. Strategic
This article is adapted and inspired by a 156 page eBook I obtained from the fine folks at Marketo... In their eBook, Marketo goes into great detail about the 5 key attributes to engaging email marketing characteristics listed above... ADM Professional Community members are invited to download this treasure trove of email marketing knowledge using the link below. Once you have read about these key attributes of engaging email, Marketo provides information about the technology needed. The eBook also goes into marketing automation and how it can help your dealership graduate from basic email services to real, hit-it-out-of-the-ballpark engagement strategies. Ready to dive into making your dealership's email marketing a lot more effective? Download the free eBook in PDF file format by right-clicking the link below and selecting something like "Save As":
Please Note: You must a registered member of the ADM Professional Community and logged in to have file download privileges... If you want the eBook and do not want to become a member of the ADM Professional Community, then take a hike - JUST KIDDING! You can use the source link below to submit your information to Marketo and download a cope of this eBook.

 

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Tags: Car Dealers, Competitive Advantage, ENGAGEMENT, Email, Marketo, email marketing, engaging car buyers

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Comment by Big Tom LaPointe on January 17, 2014 at 9:37am
Great piece Ralph. The irony for me is that a dealer or salesperson's owner base - or blue sky- only seems to have value when the store is for sale or a salesperson is pitching his value to a new store. When the truth is that it is a living entity that must be fed and nurtured.
Comment by J.D. Rucker on January 14, 2014 at 12:28am

Great stuff. I never object to the proper use of the word "engagement". The thing that gets my boxers ruffled is when it's tossed out there abstractly without a plan to make it happen as so many vendors do nowadays. This article talks about the proper stuff - love it!

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