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Internet Conferences; Sharing Knowledge or Selling Ad Space?

I recently attended the JD Power Conference as a panelist as I have every year since its inception. It is by far one of my favorite automotive events and I am proud to have been associated with this prestigious event for many years.
However, this year I was very concerned and upset about the session on OEM Website Strategies, present and Future.
This panel was moderated by Dealer.com and 3 of the 4 panelists were their clients.

Aside from completely ignoring the creditability and class that this event has been built on over the years (I have spoken or been on a panel every year), my problem with the panel moderated and dominated by Dealer.com and it’s clients…is that much of the information was very incomplete and did NOT represent any other successful strategies and ideas that are taking place as we speak.

Our success with Mazda as the exclusive web provider has produced very custom websites for the dealer, while still maintaining the brand equity Mazda requires. Dealers have been extremely happy and dealers that don’t want to participate don’t have to. Novel.

This was a perfect example of how the OEM HAS taken the dealers life into account when developing their web strategy; A very hot point for the dealers on stage with good reason. This would have made the discussion so much more relevant and accurate

Moreover, Dealer.com and Dealerskins are 2 of 4 preferred web developers for Nissan. Nissan’s philosophy is to give dealers a choice of four companies that have proven they can build compliant websites, and also offer national incentive and sales event updates across multiple vendors. A CRUCIAL point that would have completely changed the course of that conversation and encouraged dealers that there CAN be a positive OEM/Dealer website initiative that can please everyone…a point that would have been FAR better to end that discussion on.

Being a much larger data set, and a far better web strategy, why was Nissan not the panelist??? Because they use more than just Dealer.com for their strategy? Of course, this would have negated Dealer.com’s sales pitch of using only one provider to have the best solution. It’s not true.

Frankly, the Subaru web initiative is one of the smallest (with only about 100 dealers participating) and has statistically NOT been one of the more successful. (We have multi-line dealers with Nissan, Mazda and Subaru and their Subaru site ironically performs at much lower levels than their others) The Subaru Rep even admits that these OEM website mandates are done because "most dealers don't know what they are doing on-line", thus the need to provide websites to these dealers. So they are honest in saying they are catering to the lowest common denominator on their dealer body. What about the dealers who do know what they are doing on-line? I guess I give a lot more credit to dealers these days, the ones I work with are excellent at their Internet strategies.

Subaru should Never have been the ONLY example of OEM website strategies on that panel. Mainly because Dealer.com has other OEM relationships that are NOT exclusive that would have made far better examples.

There should never have been ALL clients of the moderator’s company on that panel. That defeats the whole purpose of these panels and destroys the opportunity to give the listeners the most accurate, most intelligent, most diverse, and most comprehensive information available. Instead they left with the understanding the Dealer.com is the only company that has this “website thing” figured out.

In the years past, Kevin Root, formally with Cobalt, and I were on that same panel to give at least two opinions from the web builder’s side. It was much more valuable and informative to listeners. This year NO other web developers were given a chance to represent their successful strategies with much larger and more successful OEMs. I’m just extremely disappointed and frankly offended that this was allowed to occur.

The worst part ultimately…the dealers were not given the proper information in which to make important business decisions for their livelihoods and THAT should be the only reason why any of us are in this business…the dealers pay all of us….they deserve accurate, non biased, multi-channeled, verifiable, statistically valid information.

Jason Ezell
Independant Internet Consultant
Founder - Dealerskins

Views: 92

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Comment by Joseph R. Turner on October 30, 2009 at 12:10pm
Mike, I too understand that you played the hand you were dealt. Hopefully, JD Power will use the forums to provide dealers with more perspectives on future panels.
Comment by Mike DeCecco on October 30, 2009 at 12:06pm
Thanks to everyone that has posted. I'd like to point out that we're wide open for next year.... Thanks Jason for pointing out the reality that we did the best we could for panel spot we were assigned. We did not have just our clients on the panel, and we only had one OEM because the others asked either chose not to participate, or backed out at the last minute.

This was a learning experience for all of us and we appreciate everyone's comments on this forum. We're looking forward to next year!

Vendor
Comment by Jason Ezell on October 30, 2009 at 10:06am
Ralph, Agreed 100% and in fact, DDC and myself have spoken on how to make this panel next year much more diverse and inclusive. You are right, my complaint is not with DDC directly as they were only utilizing the opportunity given to them to the fullest. Certainly not a fault of theirs and an opportunity most companies would love to have.
The panel I was on discussing Mobile Media was excellent as well...well moderated and had a very diverse group of people...as did your panel on Social Marketing (One of my favorite of the show).

I appreciate your objective view and agree that there should be some way to improve on this in the future. I was very glad to see DDC was excited to open up this discussion next year. We will be working on a proposed plan for this to submit to JD Power in hopes that we can always provide the best range of information possible at these functions.
Comment by Joseph R. Turner on October 30, 2009 at 9:57am
Ralph, I certainly understand Jason's concerns. I think JD Power should have somehow noted or pointed out that the panel was a only represented by one vendor. Some sort of disclaimer would have at least given some transparency. Even agencies like Fox news point out potential conflicts by disclaiming that a person or source is part of their parent company.
Comment by Ralph Paglia on October 30, 2009 at 9:50am
Jason, it seems to me that the value of your post is more related to the credibility impact of supplier bias when a J. D. Power panel session is chaired by a supplier who turns the session into an infomercial. Regardless of the merits of which vendor and what OEM is being featured, you seem to point out that the event is billed and sold to attendess as being informative and based on objective data, but your panel session experience was anything BUT objective.

Conversely, my experience on the Social Networking panel, which was moderated by Razorfish was the opposite... Mary Butler was objective and seemed relatively free from overt bias towards Razorfish as a supplier. The differences between your experience with a Dealer.com moderated panel, and mine with a Razorfish moderated panel should be noted by J. D. Power management and factored into their guidelines going forward.

Vendor
Comment by Jason Ezell on October 29, 2009 at 8:14pm
Great perspective Brian and I would agree. Dealers and OEMs alike have pushed web developers to provide the best platforms for their needs and the best ones allow for this level of flexibility. Obviously, with the results you mention from last year to this, those who understand the future have adapted and evolved with the demand for high SEO and high flexibility.
Always appreciate the insight!
Comment by Brian Pasch on October 29, 2009 at 7:39pm
I'm going to take this on a tangential path about the changing downside risks to OEM mandated platforms.

In the past, the differences between automotive platforms vendors in regards to on-site SEO and search marketing architecture were vast. In fact, last year, when I decided to do a casual review of automotive websites platforms from an SEO perspective, only two vendors made the grade of what I considered Google Compliant. In addition, many platforms did not allow consultants like me and Paul Rushing go in and edit SEO tags so the limits and website edits were magnified by administrative roadblocks.

If an OEM picked on of these closed and SEO unfriendly platforms and forced them on their franchisees, dealers did lose their competitive edge. The savvy ones built out other alternatives like microsites or a second full service platform with another provider.

This year as I studied 34 website platforms and the changes that have been made in one year have been amazing. Nine vendors had outstanding platforms and another 10 were in a tight pack behind them.

It would seem that at the current trajectory of website development and platform enhancements that most all basic SEO and search marketing functionality will be available in base car dealer platforms. That is a significant change especially as many platforms are opening their architecture to third party consultants to add content, widgets and enhancements.

What I see happening is that website platforms will become more open, less proprietary and allow for dealers to differentiate themselves with third party specialists and tools. For example, over a dozen website platforms now allow dealers to add content pages on the fly with full control over page titles, descriptions and URL names; all without assistance from tech support.

This change in philosophy allows two franchise dealers in the same state or adjoining PMA's using the same mandated base platform to completely create a unique web experience and search marketing visibility. One dealer can do nothing and another dealer can add dozens of optimized pages of content for search marketing without being limited by vendor staffing experience and customer service.

So, in the coming year I see that the platforms that have the most robust set of tools and that have an open architecture will have the most traction in the market for dealers and OEM decision makers. There is a balance to be found in the near future if an OEM mandates one or two platforms that both have open architecture.

Tonight I was testing a new WordPress plug-in that drops in SEO compliant car inventory listings that takes a standard WordPress blog and turn it into a deep, organic marketing engine. This is a game changer since it takes dealer marketing tools to the open frontier. The same widget could drop in specialized pages for used cars, news cars, featured cars, car configurations, loans, etc.

The future of car dealer websites will be an open platform with best of breed plug-ins that dealers can leverage as they choose.

My best analogy is that when I first started computer consulting I was assembling IBM PC's with special AST memory cards, Seagate hard drives, Phoenix BIOS chips. Today we buy a PC and expect it to work when we turn on the switch. We "add" software but the box is basically sealed and all boxes perform at the basic functions at the same level.

The future of automotive web development will be to purchase the best platform architecture or "box" and allow dealers, consultants and innovators to use their marketing experience to build the better mousetrap with drop in "plug-ins" or tools.

The OEM mandated platform discussion will become less relevant in the days to come and more emphasis will be placed on marketing strategy and how to get in front of the consumer who is online. Most of that will become off-site SEO and social media strategies so I like what the future looks for consultants.

Influencer
Comment by Christian Salazar on October 29, 2009 at 6:57pm
touchy subject... everyone of us here on this blog knowing what we know.. Think that only a backwoods, country, redneck out of touch with reality dealership wouldn't have a website... Truth is, there are so many owners out there, I talk with them everyday.. that either don't have a website, don't do anything with it, or just believe the "free" one provided by the manufacturer is good enough.

This "Ad" from dealer.com is good, but, are these dealers that i am referring to going to the JD power event?? probably not.. so i do agree with you, it does seem a lil "addy" well, now in the middle of writing this, i have changed my opinion...

it's almost like dealer.com is like walmart... they were there first.. they stroked all the big deals, and they have a bunch of resources, hence the pitch.

I believe the problem lies within the dealer, like you said, most of these DP's are to scared to admit they need help or have to much pride to think they need a website... It has never brought them any business before....

The nissan point is a good one... every website weather it's dealer.com or skins, or hd, or whatever has to look the same...

it is time for subaru, nissan, and every manufacturer for that point to encourage their dealers to get creative, spend some money, be different. Hire that young buck tech guy, get a motivated m-f 9-5 "internet guy" in there (that you actually pay well)... car dealers have got to start running their business more like a business... and less like a Car Business..
Comment by Chris Hanson on October 29, 2009 at 3:24pm
@ Mike I couldn't have said it better. I have experienced Subaru's commitment to digital firsthand (at the dealership level when they first started and now with my current position) and I am extremely impressed. Leads are way up, sales are up and and the list of monthly sales per manufacturer looks a lot different with Subaru working its way up the list. The people Subaru has in place and what they are doing is very impressive and the dealers as a whole voice that quite clearly.
Comment by Joseph R. Turner on October 29, 2009 at 1:51pm
Good point about using Social Media to set yourself and your dealership apart.

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