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Best Practices for Dealership Email Campaigns

Honda Interactive Network (iN) White Paper:

Best Practices for Dealership Email Campaigns



We asked Ralph Paglia ( to share his extensive CRM experience with Honda and Acura dealers. Whether you're new to e-mail marketing, or you're an expert at segmenting your database and sending targeted messages, the following white paper will provide a variety of e-mail marketing best practices to ensure your messages continue to reach your customers.

Ward’s Dealer Business’ Cliff Banks says e-mail marketing in dealerships will explode this year and if you ask the top dealers in the nation, they'll tell you it is THE critical communication channel with their Internet prospects.

In its recent Internet Security Threat Report, Symantec Corporation reported that spam accounted for over 60% of all e-mail traffic from July – December 2004. The good news is - a plethora of spam filters that are springing up everywhere, from your ISP to your desktop, are doing their job. The bad news is – they're doing it too well.

According to iMedia Connection, as much as 17-19% of legitimate, permission-based e-mail messages are erroneously blocked by the top ISPs, a number that has been steadily increasing over the past few years.

Electronic communication (e-mail and web site interface) is critical for today’s auto dealer, so anything that disrupts this channel should be considered a hazard to your business. Anyway you slice it, a 17-19% loss in your business is staggering. In fact, this problem causes American businesses to lose billions of dollars every year.

Your Internet-related service providers (like lead providers, website developers, and CRM tool companies) should be your first line of defense when it comes to ensuring the integrity of your e-mail communication channel, so you can focus your attention on the business at hand – selling cars. Nevertheless, as a dealer, there are things you can do to increase the odds that your e-mail communications get through to your intended recipients. While the following best practices can’t guarantee that all your messages get through every time; the key is doing what you can to increase your odds.

Before we get into more detailed talk about e-mail communication, there’s one thing that every Internet-savvy dealer needs to keep in mind:

The telephone is still the "killer sales application," second only to the face-to-face meeting. Yes, you’re an Internet dealer, and yes, these are Internet prospects who prefer to interact online. Still, it’s business-critical to get on the phone whenever possible, in addition to e-mailing your prospects, until they expressly tell you not to.

Live Mine Fields Await Innocent e-mails

Anti-spam filters are the mine fields in the war against spam, and they're a threat to your innocuous e-mails. There are spam filters on the mail server, or Internet service provider, side; in corporate firewalls; and also on the client-side, or your intended recipient’s computer.

Many filters today assign a point system to certain trigger words, phrases, or punctuation that is commonly seen in spam e-mails. If an e-mail surpasses its quota of spam points, it is sent to the junk e-mail folder or else destroyed before it ever gets to your intended recipient’s in-box. The top Internet service providers, like AOL, MSN, Yahoo, and Verizon, all have their own customized rules for defining and weeding out spam.

The big ISPs have routers for their e-mail domains that analyze all incoming e-mails. These routers can automatically block e-mails that come from certain addresses, which the ISP has “black listed,” because consumers have complained about spam.

Any dealer that has mistakenly been put on an ISP black list knows how burdensome it is to get off. This is why it is so business critical to have a “good e-mail reputation” with your consumers, because one too many complaints can mean doom for your e-mail marketing program. This goes for both your dealership and your e-mail marketing tool vendor – both of which have an impact on ISP relations and a hand in staying off the Anti-Spam blacklists.

The most important element to getting your e-mail communications through is maintaining good relations with Internet Service Providers. In other words, the mail server that sends your e-mails must remain in good standing. If a few consumers complain to their ISP about junk mail coming from a particular dealership’s mail server, the ISP will address the issue by categorically blacklisting, or blocking all mail, coming from that server. This will affect not just your business, but every other business that sends campaigns from that server. A quality e-mail service provider will always work to maintain good relations with the ISP’s.”

As a dealer, the part you play in maintaining that good reputation is building your e-mail list, controlling e-mail content, and determining how often and to how many people you send campaigns. There should be a partnership where the technology provider and dealer protect each other’s interests

One strategy that experts like Bill Boebel, chief technical officer at Webmail (provider of secure e-mail hosting services), suggests is sending your bulk, or large list, e-mail messages from a different server than you use to send your one-to-one correspondences. This practice helps protect the integrity of your one-to-one communications in the event a consumer receiving bulk communications from your dealership complains, and that server is temporarily blacklisted. A good e-mail or CRM tool provider can help you with this strategy.


The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, or “The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act” has done little to stem the flow of unwanted e-mails burdening the system. Nevertheless, legislation has set some standards that legitimate businesses should follow, not just for self-protection, but to differentiate themselves from spammers.

Failing to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act can invite both criminal and civil penalties and allows suits by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), State Attorneys General, and Internet Service Providers. Here are some best practices:

  • Do have a functioning reply address and an unsubscribe system that operates for at least 30 days after your last broadcast e-mailing
  • Do include your postal mailing, or physical address in the message
  • Do provide a Point Of Contact with name, e-mail and phone
  • Don't use fraudulent or deceptive subject lines, headers, "From" names, or return addresses in your e-mails
  • Do include an opt-out system making it easy for customers to unsubscribe, or opt-out, from receiving broadcast e-mails
  • Don’t allow spammers to market your products and services – you can be liable if they break the law
  • Don’t send e-mails to people whose e-mail addresses have been harvested from websites or randomly generated
  • Don’t send e-mails to people who request to be removed from your list

On February 7, 2005, as directed by the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted new rules to protect consumers and businesses from receiving unwanted electronic mail messages on their wireless devices, such as mobile phones.

In order for a dealer to send broadcast e-mails to consumers on their wireless devices, or to specific wireless domains used to transmit wireless electronic messages, it must get “express prior authorization,” in other words, there is a strict opt-in requirement. In fact, it’s more stringent than the requirements set forth for regular, non-wireless e-mail addresses.

  • Do disclose the following at the time authorization is being collected:
    • Customer agrees to receive mobile service commercial messages
    • The name of the business that will be sending the messages

  • Do get prior authorization such as the subscriber's signature, including an electronic signature to send them communications to their wireless devices. This means you not only need to obtain permission prior to sending a message, you also need to be able to prove you have it.

These customers may be charged by their wireless provider for receiving messages. They may revoke authorization to receive messages at any time when being charged by their wireless service provider in connection with receipt of such messages.

Best Practice: If you have any e-mail addresses in your database that you believe are being sent to wireless devices, it's recommended that you contact these people and ask for another e-mail address.

Dealership Branding and Consistency

Using a reputable e-mail marketing tool provider is your first line of defense, the next is applying the same high standards of professionalism that you use in your showroom to your e-mail marketing communications. Branding and consistency make you look good and also instill trust with your customers.

1. Set clear expectations and define value.

If you’re asking for your customers’ e-mail addresses, set clear expectations with them on what they’ll get, such as monthly coupons for oil changes, special promotions, and data on new inventory. In your first communication to them, remind them of the e-mail address they gave to you and why they’ve subscribed.

2. Ask your customers to add your “From” address to their e-mail address book or “safe list” to ensure they receive your valuable offers.

You can put a short statement at the top of your outgoing e-mail communications that says: “Make sure you don't miss out on our e-mails, add to your address book now.”


“To ensure that filter controls used by your ISP do not interrupt the delivery of our communications and special offers, please add to your address book, or click here to send an empty e-mail to this address.”

This option takes advantage of the fact that many e-mail systems, like AOL, add the people to whom consumers have sent an e-mail automatically to their “Safe Senders List.”

You can put a short statement at the top of your outgoing e-mail communications that says:

“You have requested information from Maurice’s AutoWorld. Please add this e-mail address to your address book and our domain name, <> to your e-mail client “Safe List.” This will ensure that you receive our special offers and notices, and that they do not accidentally end up in your junk mail folder.”


Also consider placing a short statement at the top of your outgoing e-mail that says:

“Due to the more restrictive nature of several large e-mail hosts like AOL, MSN, Roadrunner, Prodigy and others, our messages may be filtered out. We will reply to your requests as soon as possible. If you do not get a follow-up message from us within an hour, please contact us directly so we can ensure that we satisfy your requests.”


It is helpful to provide subscribers with a link to a page where they can find further instructions on how to add your e-mail address to their address book. However, these instructions can vary from one e-mail provider to another.

3. Maintain a consistent Digital Signature or Footer in all your communications.

All of your dealership’s personnel who interact with customers should have a consistent digital signature. If you think about it, this marketing tool is one that is used as often, and probably seen by as many consumers, as any other medium. So make it consistent and make it look good. Include uniform font sizes, layout, etc.

The Proper Care and Feeding Your CRM Database

As you build your e-mail database, it will become one of your dealership’s most valuable assets. Here are some ways to build and maintain a database that is the envy of your competition.

1. “Double Opt-In” Activated by Your Customers

If possible, use a confirmed or double opt-in system. It’s the best way to prove that your subscribers gave express consent to receive your e-mails. This is something your e-mail service provider can help you set up. This could be something as simple as having your customer check a box on an application they’re filling out at the dealership. These records can protect you in the event a consumer complains about the e-mails they receive and you get blacklisted by an ISP.

2. Allow recipients to unsubscribe in one step, automatically. Then be sure they’re removed and your system marks them as opted out.

Many ISPs, like AOL, make hitting the ‘This is spam button’ as easy as hanging up the telephone. Consumers will do that as a way of opting-out, which only puts you and your e-mail service provider at risk of being blacklisted. Making it easier for your recipients to unsubscribe than to hit the spam button protects you, your dealership’s reputation, and your e-mail service provider. Not to mention, it saves you time, because those are the kinds of customers you don’t want to waste your resources on anyway – they become more of a liability than anything.

3. Do not purchase or rent lists.

This is part of CAN SPAM compliance, and you want consumers to be in your database by choice not trickery

4. Secure your customer data and don't sell or rent out your lists

5. Analyze bounced and undelivered e-mails.

Look for trends that you can correct. Also, some e-mails bounce due to simple typos and misspellings, which can be fixed.

6. Always remove undeliverable e-mails and bounces.

Your e-mail tool provider should have an automated system for deleting e-mails after a certain number of failed attempts. Repeatedly sending too many e-mails that bounce can alert the spam filters.

Watch Your Language!

Part and parcel with maintaining good relations with ISPs is the content and format of your e-mail communications. Words, phrases, punctuation and HTML coding commonly used by spammers raise red flags to the spam filters, so it’s important to be cognizant and avoid them when you can. It’s a list that changes on a regular basis, so be sure to check for updates.

“To” and “From” Fields

1. Watch what you put in the “To” and “From” fields in your e-mails. Try to avoid the following:

  • friend@
  • public@
  • success@


2. Also avoid in these fields

  • A lot of spaces

o An empty field a strange name, or unreal name in the From field

Subject Line Content
In your message subject line, be as specific as possible, with as many relevant details as you can fit. Spam filters are more inclined to let specific messages through than generic ones. Example: when your dealership sends a newsletter, say it’s a newsletter and include the month of the newsletter in the subject line.

  • Avoid using punctuation symbols – like “ ” quotation marks, $$$ dollar signs, and !!!! exclamation points
  • Avoid using all CAPITAL letters, in other words, no need to SHOUT – you’ll wake up the spam filters!
  • Avoid putting a toll-free (800) number in the subject line (local area code numbers are good


Deadly e-mail Terms to Avoid

The following words, in both your e-mail subject headlines and in the body of the e-mail are known to trigger filters:

  • o Free - alone or in combinations, for example: “free dinner with test drive”
  • o FREE – in all caps
  • o Guarantee, GUARANTEED
  • o cash
  • o money back
  • o Savings
  • o Call now
  • o $$$$
  • o !!!
  • o Hello
  • o Discount!
  • o What are you waiting for
  • o While supplies last
  • o Click here, click below
  • o Million dollars
  • o Don’t miss this
  • o 50% off!
  • o Subscribe
  • o Hidden
  • o Opportunity
  • o Compare
  • o You're a Winner!
  • o remove
  • o collect
  • o amazing
  • o cash bonus
  • o credit
  • o loans
  • o Act Now!
  • o All New
  • o Buy direct
  • o Special Promotion
  • o easy terms
  • o great offer
  • o No cost, No fees
  • o Offer
  • o One time
  • o Please read
  • o Don't delete
  • o Save up to
  • o Time limited
  • o Visit our website
  • o While supplies last
  • o Why pay more?
  • o You've been selected
  • o give it away, giving it away
  • o Large block of hexadecimal (16 units) code
  • o One or more lines of large fonts or all caps – YELLING at the recipient
  • o At least 70 percent blank lines
  • o Header contains numbers mixed in with letters
  • o Message body claims not to be spam
  • o Body contains "removal instructions"
  • o Body contains "Dear friend"
  • o Excessive use of “click here”

HTML Format e-mail

In addition to language, graphics, images and certain HTML coding can alert spam filters. Now, AOL, one of the most popular ISPs, and Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express, the most popular e-mail clients, will no longer automatically load HTML graphics, which means your artistic HTML e-mails may look terrible in your recipients’ preview screens. In addition, AOL may deactivate links in your e-mails before your prospects receive them.


HTML e-mails tend to get deleted more frequently than plain text e-mails. And, many consumer actually prefer plain text e-mails. One reason is that plain text e-mails load faster, which is especially important for AOL users who are still on dialup.

If you use HTML e-mails, consider the following to avoid spam filters:

  1. Do use all-white backgrounds instead of colors.
  2. Do use style sheets in your HTML code if possible.
  3. Do include links to Web pages with robust content instead of trying to include that content in your e-mail.
  4. Do use tables to organize information and separate numbers from text.
  5. Avoid sending HTML messages without a text alternative.
  6. Avoid oversized fonts.
  7. Avoid using a lot of different colored fonts.
  8. Don’t include “.exe” files or attachments with your message unless requested by recipient.
  9. Avoid using BCC distribution methods with over 10 names per e-mail.

Rapidly Changing e-mail Universe

The e-mail marketing universe is changing rapidly, with new technologies and new tricks by spammers, so it’s important to continuously monitor, test, and make adjustments to ensure the integrity of this critical communication channel for your dealership.

It’s a good idea to open e-mail accounts with all the main service providers, including AOL, Yahoo, MSN, Hotmail, Gmail, and others, so you can see what your customers see. Check your database and see what e-mail domains are commonly used among your customers.

…and Finally, Develop e-mail Standards and Policies for Your Dealership

Marketing with e-mail is one of the most cost-efficient tools at your disposal. This doesn’t mean you should simply accept it as a cost of doing business that a percentage of your e-mails are not going to get through. This is unacceptable and, in a way, let’s the spammers win.

A good e-mail tool provider is your first line of defense. Setting e-mail marketing standards for your dealership is your second. Make your e-mail marketing program is top notch, just like your showroom, your service department, and your website, and you can reap huge rewards from this vital communication channel.

Exhibit 1. Top 4 Ways to Increase Sales leads

Exhibit 2 Reference Sites

CAN SPAM Act of 2003

Wireless – Federal Communications Commission

Spam Filters

Author: Ralph Paglia


Phone: 1.505.301.6369

Published by: Innovation Online

Views: 122

Tags: Best Practices, CRM, Campaign, Dealership, Email, bounce, broadcast, bulk, delivery, lead management, More…list, spam filter


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