Automotive Digital Marketing

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“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear – Frank Herbert - Dune

I’m writing this post at 35,000 feet as I am approaching Sydney, Australia on United Flight 863 from San Francisco. I have been traveling 13 hours of the 15 hours flight, and with land not too far away I started to reflect on the flight because of how I felt earlier in the day.

This afternoon, while in San Francisco, I actually had a short period of anxiety about flying which is not normal for me. I couldn’t exactly figure out why. But as I reflected on this discomfort, I started to understand the root of the problem. When I had told friends and colleagues about my trip to Australia, almost all of them had commented on the length of the flight. They acted as if I announced that I was going to run across the country.

Many said that they would never travel 15 hours on a plane. Others were convinced that flying coach class would be miserable, but in fact it wasn’t at all. These and other excuses actually have no reality except in the mind of the fearful. So since I have regularly traveled eight hours back and forth from Europe, I never felt that fifteen hours would be a far leap

Unaware of the influence of my friends’ negative projections on my trip, I had started to have cautionary reservations about getting on my flight today, but until now I didn’t realize how their feelings affected me in subtle ways. I was beginning to doubt my proven instincts and my vision for a trip with my son Connor in the land down under.

But actually, I slept the first 7 hours of the trip, watched some movies and read a book and now with 2 hours left to go I’m laughing at how easy the trip has been. I don’t feel any worse than any flight to Europe

What is Holding You Back?

I wonder how many people are held back from experiencing new adventures because of fear; internal or external.

My flight to Australia brought to mind what is happening in the auto industry. I have participated in numerous executive strategy sessions that discuss digital marketing opportunities and budgeting. Fear or panic is often dealers’ common reaction to the suggestion that they increase digital marketing spending.

The tried and true advertising models of TV, radio and newspaper have created a sense of security for automotive retailers, best compared to traveling domestically. Not many dealers are afraid of a quick trip to Vegas or to place another ad in a local newspaper. It’s something that they understand and have experienced first had.

Digital marketing spending is just like traveling to Australia; dealers have heard it is beautiful and a “must” in their travel portfolio but can’t see themselves getting on the plane. It is not uncommon for dealers to react with fear when I suggest that they increase their overall advertising budget dedicated to digital marketing from less than 15% to 30-50% over the upcoming year. Their reaction is normally followed by:

“What will I have to cut in order to spend more on digital marketing? My General Managers will freak out if I reduce their traditional advertising budget!”

This article is not meant to answer this specific question because it is different for each dealership location but let me ask you a question:

Is the reason why the average automotive retailer spends less than 15% of the advertising budget on digital marketing because of the fear or because they have carefully measured the ROI of all digital marketing strategies and have chosen wisely?

Related to that question, are sub-questions:

  1. Have dealers become too comfortable with what was successful in the past?
  2. Does engaging in discussions about digital marketing strategies make dealer principals feel awkward or even stupid?
  3. Has the lack of historical ROI data and published case studies on digital media strategies prevented dealers from embracing new opportunities or is that just an excuse?

I know a few dealer principals that have admitted to feeling awkward about engaging in digital marketing discussions when they don’t understand it themselves. They feel vulnerable. In these cases, my participation in planning meetings is to act as a bridge, creating analogies from traditional advertising to introduce the new paradigms of the digital and social media era.

A rising number of dealers are pushing through fear and realizing that to reach new highs for their business they must let go of the past and embrace the future of automotive retail marketing.

In many cases, the advertising team that brought dealers to their initial pinnacle of success will not be the team that brings them to their next mountaintop experience.

Since traditional media is difficult to measure true ROI, advertising agencies have had a free pass to continue dealer spending without fear of losing budget share but that is now changing. Dealers are now developing models to hold all methods of advertising to a standard cost/reward model. The agencies that can’t provide a fully integrated menu of traditional and digital marketing services will perish.

The Digital Compass

The automotive industry does need guidance for the constantly changing digital terrain. Dealers need a “Digital Compass” that directs their decisions and helps them “test the waters” for the new advertising opportunities that exist in the digital world.

A “Digital Compass” initiative should hold all methods of marketing to the same standard of excellence and ROI. The dealership of the future will have marketing budgets based on data and not fear of change.

Educational forums, social networks, digital conferences and reputable consultants can act as a dealer’s “Digital Compass” in the same way the pilot of US 863 knows how to take me to Sidney.

However, dealers have to make the first step and get on the plane so they are not left behind. The transition will never happen until dealers let go of the past. Dealer principals have to put aside their fears and excuses and embrace digital marketing, social media and reputation management with gusto.

The digital marketing plane is leaving the airport…will you be on it?

Views: 41

Tags: automotive marketing, digital marketing, fear and marketing


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Comment by Tom Gorham on March 31, 2010 at 10:17am
Thanks Brian, I think the aversion to risk is not just with the dealers. No one likes to recommend a new company or tactic and then tell the dealer a month later that it didn't pan out. You risk "wasting" the company's money or at least being accused of that. But you are 100% correct about patience. That's not been a traditional characteristic of dealerships. We've always been attracted to "special events" that sell 100 cars in one weekend rather than incremental results. Again, thanks for the great article!
Comment by Brian Pasch on March 30, 2010 at 11:49am
I like the concept of trying six things and if one works it pays for itself. Experimenting is so critical and I would like to add patience. It seems that combined with a lack of testing culture in a dealership, when a test is conducted, the window to measure success is small. For example, SEO strategies often take 6-12 months to fully show a benefit.
Comment by Tom Gorham on March 30, 2010 at 5:46am
I enjoyed this article very much. And I noted Ralph's statement that something that started 15 years ago isn't really new. But it is a constantly changing environment. I think many dealer's fear results from a reluctance to "experiment" with their marketing budget, rather than a fear of change. They want to know that a particular method, company, or resource "works" before the spend their money on it. That's not always possible. Ralph, I read something about the necessity to "experiment" some time ago, and you stated that if you try six new things and one of them works, it usually pays for the other five tenfold (that was the gist of it anyway). So it is the ability to take risk (educated risk) that is important to the elimination of fear. Great article Brian. And by the way, I have spent 15 hours on a plane to Beijing before... Long but definitely worth it!
Comment by Bryan Armstrong on March 29, 2010 at 1:48pm
@VJ-a saying I once heard that is similiar " we stay in our own sh**, it may stink but at least it's warm and we know what it is"
Not as PC but very applicable unfortunately.
Comment by Bryan Armstrong on March 29, 2010 at 1:41pm
Great post...and very timely as I just stepped out of my budgeting meeting for next months "spend"!
I believe that you are right on target when you surmise that the understanding of the Digital world leaves many "feeling awkward about engaging in digital marketing discussions when they don’t understand it themselves. They feel vulnerable." I attended my first Digital Dealer conference ONLY to be able to grasp enough of an understanding to hold my people accountable. I didn't understand their "language" nor was I able to enforce accountability from my staff or Vendors...and most are NOT interested in educating you out of the fear and complacency in their contract or Dealership role they have been allowed to slip into.
Thank you for all you have done for me personally in furthering my understanding. It was refreshing the first time I heard you speak at DD and you began with "now shut-up because what I am going to share with you would normally cost you thousands" your directness and desire to improve the Industry as a whole is why I "follow" you to this day.
Have fun down under and keep on calling em like you see em!
@joe-great adage, and I like your convoluted analogies!
@Ralph-please cut and paste my above appreciation to Brian into an e-mail for yourself! Thank you for all your unselfish input over the years.
Comment by VJ on March 29, 2010 at 1:33pm should fly more often 15 hours. Very thoughtful and so are right with the assumption that dealers are just too comfortable with the things they have tried in the past. We in Germany have a proverb "Jeder Mensch ist ein Gewohnheitstier", which means that almost every human just love to stick to their developed habits. If it is now structure and successful implemented ideas or even the lazy habits, like not putting back the cap onto the toothpaste. These habits, as we know are difficult to break down, and it is much easier to stick with a possible mediocrity.
The awkwardness’ you described has (I strongly believe) to do with all the established “superstars” in delaerships, who were able a few years ago to turnaround their operations with adapting new processes, email follow-up procedures, PPC campaigning, etc…It worked, they were indeed the stars but forgot to see what is up on the new horizon, like the already beginning WEB 3.0 wave. Now 2-3 years later, it feels awkward for them to throw all the learned and so well functioning processes possible over board and learn new skills, techniques and tactics…again! It is the fear of the new things and the efforts we all have to develop year after year, because the market is demanding it.
Compliments on the findings in 30,000 feet altitude…Keep on flying Brian ;)
Comment by Ralph Paglia on March 29, 2010 at 1:17pm
@ Joe - I was speaking with a writer today about digital marketing and the auto industry... Since Digital Marketing has been around for car dealers more than 15 years, I am wondering if it is time to stop referring to digital as "New Media" and perhaps time to stop accepting lack of familiarity with digital marketing as a valid excuse for dealers who have not developed competency in an area which came into use over 15 years ago... It is always good to have understanding and compassion in our soul, but when do we stop accepting lame excuses and call incompetence by its true name?
Comment by Ralph Paglia on March 29, 2010 at 1:13pm

The Dune movie with Kyle MacLauchlin (?) was and is one of my favorite movies of all time... And the quote you open this blog post with is so appropriate in so many ways... It is the prayer that allowed "The One" to stick his hand into the box that would result in either his confirmation as "The One" or in the most horrible agony of pain beyond imagination... Certainly a lot more risk than shifting ad budgets from offline to online!
Comment by Joe Webb on March 29, 2010 at 1:04pm
Very thought-provoking, Brian.

The ancient adage is "the devil you know is better than the devil you don't." It is the same adage that keeps salespeople/managers in place at their current dealership rather than reaching out for bigger and better opportunities.

The same can be said for digital marketing. Dealers keep hearing about the myriad of online campaigns they should be dedicating money to, but the fear of the unknown (the devil they don't know), keeps them spending on traditional advertising.

You, I, and many others no longer fear the change we made as it is what defines us. We've seen the unknown, embraced it, and now seek to travel further out into the online landscape of space. (Yes, I know how many analogies I have working here.) That being said, everyone makes the leap of faith eventually. They will learn that fear is not something you avoid, but something you overcome. As you did when you went on a crazy-long trip. Safe travels. In reality and digitally.

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