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From the Trenches - 2012 Put your money where your mouth is


2012 – the year that makes or breaks you!  This is the year of natural selection… survival of the fittest.


All of us have a pretty basic question to ask ourselves.  Do we invest in the past… or the future?  Is our loyalty to what was… or to what will be?


2011 was to be the year of digital, and in many ways it was.  My company dropped newspaper advertising.  There was absolutely NO impact.  Life and sales went on.  Yes it was truly the year of digital, in that nearly everyone understood that traditional advertising was either dead, or on its deathbed.


So if 2011 was the digital year, where are we now in 2012, a year later?  I say we’re in disarray.  Many who dropped traditional advertising did so because it was the “thing to do”.  They heard the noise.  It came from so many reputable sources, so they did it.  But they didn’t know why….


I’m going to tell you why, and you may not like it.  But it’s too late for you if you don’t.


2012 will be a great year for the economy.  Cars will sell like hotcakes (do hotcakes really sell?).  Will customers be buying them from you?


  1. Campaigns are dead.  Forget about it!  People no longer believe in a free cruise in the Caribbean or a free Camaro. No-one ever wins and if they do, insurance covers it.  Customers call it fraud… lies…. Shut up and leave me alone.
  2. Potential customers want to know who you are.  Do their friends recommend you? Do past customers recommend you? Are you HUMAN?  Or are you just a money-making machine cranking out the same old stories about how great you are?
  3. All technologies will merge and become interactive.  Do you have an iPad, a PC, a smart-phone, or any kind of tablet?  Doesn’t matter.  They will be forever connected to each other and the “cloud” (storage is on the Internet, not on your physical device).
  4. Customers can shop you while they’re standing right in front of you.  Be prepared to say why you’re charging more than the other dealer, on the spot.
  5. Price will lose all meaning other than, “this is what we paid for it”.  When all prices are transparent, what do you have to offer?  What is your value proposition?
  6. Dealers will look for profit centers when profit is disappearing on new cars.  Profit centers are still there but declining.  Market pricing is cutting into profits on used cars.  Our government itself is cutting into this with Consumer Protection laws on financing.  They are also declaring “Right to Service” laws (see Massachusetts) that will provide robust competition to dealers for service.  Get tight!


So what is a “progressive” dealer to do?  I ask the question this way because, anyone who is not progressive won’t be a dealer for long.


First, understand that you have had a decade or longer to grasp this.  The Internet revolution didn’t start and end at any given point.  Where have you been?


If you have truly understood the Internet revolution, you are probably poised for the next step.  If not, you are fighting losing battles against not only the present, but the future.  You will be squashed, no matter how many battles you win. You will become a sweet but poignant memory.


So!  Back to 2012. 


  • Expect complete interactivity between businesses and their customers.  Immediate gratification on all counts and all methods of discovery.
  • Expect customers to want to be your friend if they are to do business with you.  This hearkens back to the old days… a repeated theme in my analysis.
  • Word-of-mouth is king and queen.  If you can’t win this, you can’t win.
  • Word-of-Mouth can’t be faked by companies offering “review strategies”.  You MUST earn it.  Customers will know the difference even if vendors and experts don’t.
  • Respect your customers.  Again, respect your customers. Don’t try to coerce them into doing things, such as in-house reviews, that they don’t feel comfortable with.
  • Entertain and be friends with your customers on Social sites.  Don’t try to sell there; take a      break.  Be HUMAN.
  • Ask your best customers to recommend you.
  • Find the profit places where you can make money and use the new car sales to drive business to that profit center.


Most of all, BE CREATIVE.  Your adversaries are not stupid people.  Respect them and their efforts to create wealth for themselves.  That IS the American way.  If they come up with a value proposition that appeals to the consumer, YOU must come up with a better one.


I really love this job and this industry.  But I am tied to nothing and no past glories.  Enjoy the great memories and create new ones.


Written by Tom Gorham

Editor, From The Trenches

Automotive Digital Marketing

Professional Community

Views: 969

Tags: Car, Internet, Media, Reviews, Social, True, digital, marketing, reputation, sales


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Comment by Tom Gorham on March 16, 2012 at 3:09pm

@Neil - thank you for your comment.  I especially liked your axioms that need to be considered.  I will repeat them:

* Axiom #1: People do things for their reasons, not yours.

* Axiom #2: Imagine the prospect has a sign on his forehead that says “so what?”



Comment by Tom Gorham on March 16, 2012 at 3:04pm

@Ruth - I really liked your statement, "Ironically, technology has become an agent of the personable, transforming i.d. numbers into faces and real people on our social networking sites. A benevolent paradox".   I can remember when computers threatened to be "giving you a number and taking way your name."

Paradoxically , as you say, it has taken who we are, name and all, and made it public.  Back to the home town where "everybody knows your name.".... and your reputation.

Your word "personable" is the key.  That's what we must be!

Comment by Neil Licht on March 16, 2012 at 1:56pm

Tom, Your perspective really gets it right. Thanks.

I'd like to add in that the new word of mouth is now the web, review comments and online social media groups. I'd like to offer up a path on how we can tap into the new online word of mouth and make genuine connections with many more people plus earn that "go to" reputation and trust.

While we all want to grow our businesses as painlessly as possible, there is some important homework to be done first in order to see the paths and avenues to take when trying to gain traction for a product, you and your dealership  so sales can happen. 

Look at these key issues in strategic positioning, messaging, understanding your target audiences and actual selling approaches that need to be addressed to get YOU sales: 

• Where is my target audience? Who are they? Where do they "hang out" online and offline?
• What do they care about? 
• How do they source? 
• Where do they go for industry updates and information and how do you get featured "there"? 
• How do I think from the point of view of my target audiences so I can relate and connect? 
• What do I specifically "say" that can instantly capture the targeted audiences, prospects so they want to talk 
• How do I differentiate myself from the pack so i get called? 
• How does my target audience evaluate a dealership, me as a potential solution for my needs? 
• How can I define my key audiences and position to be of service to each audience so they trust me and want what I offer? 
• How do I become a featured speaker at events and establish my position as a go to expert? 

That reveals where target audiences are, where their "influencers" are and where you should be active via articles, social media, blogs, email, newsletters, networking, events, functions to create a "go to" presence and reputation. 

Next, using what you found, apply 2 key sales axioms as the road map for tapping into what you learned, using/leveraging each identified path and for messaging accordingly in each avenue you found that can create calls, buyers, get attention and position you as the go to source: 

* Axiom #1: People do things for their reasons, not yours. 
* Axiom #2: Imagine the prospect has a sign on his forehead that says “so what?” 

These two principles guide the selling process, whether in letters, emails, your web page, blog or in person. If you remember these two axioms, your sales reach outs and what you say in them will come out as grabbers and connectors with issues and concerns that prospects interested buyers have, not as product pitches and then link/position what you "offer" as a way to solve those issues. 

Understanding this thinking in target markets and constructing your reach outs based on the 2 sales axioms can get you the desired national presence and reach that you want plus the all important interested "real" prospect that you want. 

Regards, Neil Licht,

Comment by Ruth Littmann on March 16, 2012 at 12:03pm

Tom, I agree. At one point in time -- not so long ago -- technology seemed an anathema to friendship and "the human touch." Now, as you pointed out, new technology enables us to engage with customers as friends. Ironically, technology has become an agent of the personable, transforming i.d. numbers into faces and real people on our social networking sites. A benevolent paradox :-) 

Comment by Tom Gorham on March 15, 2012 at 5:49pm

Thanks Tony, I appreciate your comment.

Ruth, I believe it's a technological return to our roots when small town businesses had to maintain good relations with their neighbors or go out of business.  Everyone was your friend and most marketing was word-of-mouth.  Technology just amplifies that and expands your reach.  Thank you!

Comment by Tony Abbott on March 15, 2012 at 12:13pm

Great stuff Tom. 

Comment by Ruth Littmann on March 15, 2012 at 10:47am

Thanks, Tom. I especially love this point of yours (it's so true): "Expect customers to want to be your friend if they are to do business with you.  This hearkens back to the old days… a repeated theme in my analysis." I work for MobileAppLoader; car dealers use our mobile apps to send Push Notifications. I've noticed a trend in the type of notifications they send: not just money-saving coupons but rather invitations to parties, concert ticket offerings, announcements of community events like blood drives, toy drives, fundraisers ... I think more and more businesses recognize the need to be more than "just that corner dealership;" they also want to be an active neighbor, a friend -- like you say.

Comment by Tom Gorham on March 15, 2012 at 10:09am

Keith, thank you.  Money... well.. important!

AJ, I always love your analogies!  Thank you.  Try blowing your nose! :-0

Comment by Aj Maida on March 15, 2012 at 8:20am

Tom, as always great stuff. I'm not sure but, I think Jim was out of compliance for a second there ;-). So much good and valuable stuff. Marketing in the Digital Age seems to be like working with a living breathing and constantly changing thing. Like an amoeba I guess, so I was drawn to your last line "I am tied to nothing and no past glories." I've stated many times that if I don't occasionally get my nose bloody then I'm not doing my job. There are times when something will work for me for a while and then my nose gets bloody. Letting go of the past is sometime the hardest and the best thing all at the same time. OK gotta go wipe my nose now.

Comment by Keith Shetterly on March 15, 2012 at 7:22am

Well done!!  Right on the . . . er, well ON THE MONEY!  :)

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