Automotive Digital Marketing

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Over the past eight-years I have read tens of thousands of emails.  I have written and setup over a thousand emails for clients in the auto industry.  

When it comes to email marketing, I am very proud to be consider by most, an expert in the field.  My expert knowledge of email marketing did not come from books or online tutorials, it comes from first-hand experience facilitating the best companies and individuals in the auto industry achieve success with email.  With that being said, I still understand there is always room for improvement and knowledge to be learned, so I make a conscious effort to learn everything I can about my profession.

Which brings me to this... About two months ago I got a call from a friend of mine, who works for a dealer group, asking me about email newsletters.  He asked which company I would recommend to handle this for his stores.  While I knew there were companies who provided this service to dealers, I could not recommend any one of them as I did not know the quality of service they were capable of providing.  You see, I will never recommend a company unless I know for certain they are capable of providing a superior level of service.  So, I told my friend I would do some research and get back to him with my recommendations.

Eye-Opening Research
Eager to help and admittedly curious, I began my research right away.  Holy headlights Batman, what an eye-opener.  I was absolutely astonished by the poor quality of setup and content being provided to dealers.  Most of the newsletters I found were of such poor quality, I did not know whether to laugh or feel sorry for the dealers who were roped into thinking these companies were giving them a quality service.  What I did realize was an immediate need for a competent email newsletter provider, one that could provide relevant content and proper setup with the ability to increase delivery, SEO and ROI.

The Right Content & Setup
Now, I am not going to start blasting specific companies, that is not my style.  What I will do however is explain exactly how an email newsletter should be designed, the content it should contain and some other important things you should have done that are (so obvious to me) not being done by the ‘so called’ top providers I researched.

Lets start with content.  First, the content must be focused and relevant, which was one of the first things I noticed missing from the email newsletters I reviewed during my research.  Travel gadgets and sinus infections are hardly relevant content for a dealership newsletter.  With that being said, content should be focused on three areas; the dealership, the brand and the region.  You will find when focusing on just these three areas, there is never a shortage of great content to provide to your readers.

Here are just a few examples for each of the three areas:

  • The Dealership
    • Tell a story about your dealerships history.  People love to read stories and most dealerships have great stories about their beginnings.
    • Employee Spotlight.  Pick a new employee to feature each month in your newsletter.  Let them write their own story to tell your customers.  This will do two things.  First it will give your customers a way to learn more about the personal side of your dealership and get to know your employees better.  Second it will make the employee feel special and boost morale.
    • Customer testimonials with pictures.
  • The Brand
    • Highlight popular new vehicles.
    • Exciting industry news.
    • Videos focused on top selling vehicles.
  • The Region
    • Events going on in and around your city or town.
    • Seasonal Service reminders (ex. winterizing your vehicle).
    • Events being held at your dealership.

Equally important is the setup and design of your email template.  While I believe images are a key element to making the newsletter look nice and professional, its important to make sure your email is setup in a way that images do not always have to be viewable to have a presentable look, and here is why... The majority of email clients today will almost always ask the user if they would like to “Show remote content?”  If the design is not setup with proper image placement, your email could easily look like it was designed by a group of first graders, throwing the all important ‘Professional Appearance’ out the window.

However before we get into image placement, I would like to cover some of the content basics.

  1.   For a professional look, the email body should be no larger than 650 mega pixels in width.
  2.   Limit the content to a maximum of five header sections.
  3.   Longer content should always be truncated with a ‘read more’ link located at the end.
  4.   Keep the length of your email short enough to be entirely viewable in most email clients.
  5.   Always include text hyperlinks to your dealership website (home, new, used, trade-value, testimonials, etc).

While its not rocket science, I felt it would be a good idea to let you know what the proper setup flow should look like, all the while keeping in mind the placement of images.

Images in a newsletter or any email for that matter should be used in moderation and never be located in the middle of the email body (this is a very common mistake).  I recommend using five or six images max and limiting the size of the images to 150 mega pixels or less, for the exception of the header.  The largest image in your email will always be the header.  The header should have the same look and feel as your website and always include your dealership name & branding.  All other images should be located at or near the footer of your email.  These images will many times be links to videos, dealership photos and current events going on in your region.  Alternate placement for images would be in the lower content header sections and be of thumbnail size.  By ensuring the proper placement of images, you can guarantee a layout that is easily read by all recipients whether the images are viewable or not.

Newsletter Content Hosting
Why would you host your newsletter anywhere other than your dealership website?  Email newsletters are an SEO Powerhouse.  Full of rich-text content being updated every month, the only place your newsletter content should be living is on your website.

Very Important Information...
If your newsletter is hosted anywhere other than your dealership website, you are throwing away the most powerful SEO generator you have available.  If a newsletter provider says they cannot or will not do it, then you need to switch immediately.

Wrapping this one up... A dealerships email newsletter is a direct extension to its customers and prospects.  When properly setup and managed, newsletters can effectively develop your customer relationships, increase customer loyalty and generate referrals month after month.  If you have any questions or need an effective newsletter solution, please reach out to me anytime.

Tom Kain
p. 606.657.0277

Views: 4624

Tags: AutoDealerTarget, Automotive, Dealers, John Miller, Newsletter, Tom Kain


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Comment by Tom Kain on November 22, 2011 at 8:44pm

Thanks John.  We are looking forward to working with Bradshaw Automotive on your newsletters.  You guys are now using all of our solutions.  Glad you're just as excited as we are about working together to improve your digital footprint.  Talk soon, TOM

Comment by Tom Kain on November 19, 2011 at 10:40pm

Thank you Tom, Good ideas and best practices is what I strive to provide.  Thanks for reading and let me know if we can ever be of assistance to Apple Chevrolet.

Comment by Tom Gorham on November 19, 2011 at 6:50pm

Thanks Tom, I am not running out to replace my newsletter provider but you gave me some great ideas.

Comment by Tom Kain on November 15, 2011 at 3:41pm

Yes, definitely makes for a more interesting marketplace.

Still a difference of opinion on the micro-site with regard to SEO, but that's just my experience and opinion.


As for tracking technology, links like the one below from your newsletter are spam triggers, and that's not going to change.


I'm in agreement on the images increasing click-thru traffic, however you have to make sure the images are in the right place.  Middle of the body is not a good idea, again my opinion.  Also, header images are never a good idea as without headers you have no real structure to the newsletter and if images are disabled, there's nothing to see.


The one thing we agree on for sure is that email newsletters are one of the best tools there is for staying engaged with customers and building long term relationships.


All The Best!


Comment by Malinda Terreri on November 15, 2011 at 3:22pm

Tom - I think we have different philosophies which makes for a much more interesting marketplace.

I'd like to clarify that we do not use embedded CSS in our emails - the link provided was for a browser display version - but that leads to another suggestion which is to test how your emails look in different inboxes.

We do use images in the body but find that the high click-through rates show readers really like the format and content. By building the content on a custom microsite, all of the dealer's link and chat features are right there without having to worry about the limitations of some website providers.

And tracking technology has come a long way to provide a much more personalized newsletter content experience without spam issues (as measured by inbox deliverability rates).

Again, thank you for the opportunity to share a different approach. I think we both agree that for long-term follow-up with customers - a monthly newsletter is one of the best tools there is.

Malinda Terreri
1to1 News, LLC
(800) 879-8870

Comment by Tom Kain on November 15, 2011 at 12:40pm

Malinda - I always welcome feedback and appreciate your insights.  I agree with many of your suggestions.  As for the example you posted - I never recommend using CSS in an email.  There are far too many issues that can come up with regards to styling.  There is also a large amount of image content (many in the middle of the body), which I do not recommend either, as I mentioned in my blog, if images are not viewable it really makes the newsletter look bad especially when important header/title information is omitted.  I would also point out the length as you never want your readers to have to scroll.


Hosting - As far as hosting the newsletter, its still much better for the dealership to have it hosted on their website and I'm not a big fan of auto-responders, they are just not personal enough and response to any customer should be personal and from an individual within the dealership, if they are hosted on the dealership website, not only do you get the great SEO advantage, you also have the customer where you want them and they can easily make contact via chat, email, etc.


Tracking technology has a big downside, which is being blocked by spam filters or in many cases the links are disabled all together.  Yes, its great for tracking analytics, however if the links do not work, its all for nothing.


At the end of the day I prefer the email being viewable, fully functional and most importantly engage the readers.


Thanks again for your feedback!

Comment by Malinda Terreri on November 15, 2011 at 11:14am

Tom - your post has great points. I'm particularly passionate about newsletters so I hope you don't mind if I add some more suggestions plus an alternative thought:

1) Subject Line
Your subject line is so important to getting past the inbox triage when a customer decides to open or delete your email. Don't make your subject line say "ABC Dealer News" each month - that gets boring. Instead, use "ABC Dealer News" as the "From" so you maintain consistency and then use you subject line to write a message that entices people to open your email.

2) Spam Check
Use one of the online spam checkers to review your content to make sure you are not accidentally using words that will flag your message as spam. For instance “Dear” will get you 2.5 points on the spam score which is halfway to getting your message blocked.

3) Personalization
We have all learned from the social media revolution that people are looking to connect with other people. Your newsletters should follow this lead - include your name and your photo so your customers know that the newsletter is coming from a real person and not the manufacturer's PR department.

4) Video
In 2010, YouTube users uploaded over 35 hours of video each minute, amounting to over 13 million hours of video for the entire year, according to year-end figures released by YouTube. People love videos so use them whenever you can for you content. While you can’t embed the actual video in your email, you can use a screenshot of the video and link to it from your email… and that gets people clicking.

5) Images
We take a different approach to images. Rather than having the header be the biggest image, we do just the opposite. We don’t use images in the header so that the first impression you make in the inbox - when images are turned off - has the dealer's name nicely displayed along with a subtitle that has a benefit to reading the newsletter and turning on images.

Here is an alternative thought on hosting…

I agree that hosting the newsletter on a dealer's website is best for SEO purposes, but you can get some SEO push-back by linking to offsite content. Here are two advantages to hosting content offsite:

1) Behavior-based Follow-Ups.
By hosting the newsletter content on our servers, we are able to use special tracking technology to send follow-up messages to particular customers based on what they view online. For example, if someone clicks on a story about a new model, we can automatically trigger an email follow-up to arrive a few days later inviting that particular person into the dealership with a special test-drive offer on that model.

2) ROI Accountability
By combining daily, automated polling of a dealer's database with advanced tracking from the pages on our server, we are able to analyze and  report to the dealer exactly which customers opened the newsletter, clicked on which story and then purchased a vehicle (with the gross profit listed) or had service work (with the RO Total listed).

Here’s an example of one of our newsletters and if you click on a story you’ll see it is built on a site to match the dealer’s website.

Probably the most important point regarding newsletters is that your customers have busy lives just like you do. At the end of the day, does your content educate and entertain in a way to justify asking customers to spend time looking at it and entice them to want to come back again next month?

Malinda Terreri
1to1 News, LLC

(800) 879-8870

Comment by Laura Mokelke on November 15, 2011 at 6:42am

Tom, Thank you for the recommendation. I will look at what my options are here regarding software and brush up on my HTML coding.

Comment by Tom Kain on November 14, 2011 at 7:34pm

I spent today learning from a great group of companies at the 'Automotive Digital Success".  Which is why I'm a bit tardy with my replies...

Ralph, Thanks for the compliments and for extending me the opportunity to share with the ADM Community.


Laura, We custom build the newsletters in an HTML format.  I use a very old version of MS FrontPage as it allows for a very basic HTML structure which is what you want when building email content.  The best tip I can give you would be to never use CSS as email clients all read CSS differently and it can cause big issues with the style.  Its also important to use common font types.  I recommend building the newsletter as an HTML doc and then copy and paste the code into ConstantContact.  If you need help, please let me know.

Jeff, Thanks for the compliments and I'm glad you find the articles I provide helpful.  If you need any assistance with your newsletter, please don't hesitate to give me a call.

John,  You're very welcome.  Thanks for the compliments and for reading my posts.

Comment by John Weltz on November 14, 2011 at 6:46pm

Great Article...thanx for the learning

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