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From the Trenches - The Unfortunate Truth About Dealer Reviews

One of the pioneers of gathering user input to utilize reputation as a selling tool for its members online was eBay. It was intended to steer the user away from sellers who might have given former buyers a bad or poor experience. It worked. Amazon institutionalized the idea. I loved it! I purchase from Amazon regularly and never purchase from anyone with less than a 5-star rating. I loved it … as a consumer.

I remember one day I saw an article by Ralph Paglia, one of my online heroes,  pointing to a Google search of a dealer with many bad reviews. He speculated that the dealer was completely unaware that his reputation was being ruined online. What a wake-up call that was for me!

I guess it’s human nature that when we see something like that happening to us, that we immediately think about how we can get rid of the negative comment or at least hide it behind positive comments. So, Reputation Management was born. Whole companies sprang up to help you create positive reviews that would swamp your negative reviews and, hopefully, make them less believable. I’m a buyer for that idea, or at least a partial buyer.

But not long ago, I was reading page after page of bad reviews for a dealer and the bad reviews were uncomfortably consistent… “Sleazy, dishonest, couldn’t wait to get out of there…” And then, all of a sudden, a light shown through from the heavens and the reviews became 100% positive. Amazingly enough, they sounded almost like advertisements for the company. “[Dealer’s name], why buy anywhere else?”

Problem solved. Or is it?

I’m a consumer. Does that make me dense? I think not. What was obvious to me is obvious, I’m sure, to you.

I asked a dealer recently what he planned to do about his overwhelmingly bad reviews. He told me they were going to provide their sales staff with iPads so they could get (coerce) their customers to give good reviews before they left the dealership. What will happen when the customer goes on line to print a retraction of his most excellent review, stating that he felt coerced or his vote was bought and paid for?

Here is the uncomfortable truth about dealer reviews. You can’t fake them and you can’t buy them. You must earn them. Now I know there are many, many great dealerships that DO earn the satisfaction of their customers everyday. Reputation Management is perfect for them. But for those who EARN bad reviews, it’s time to wake up and repent. The Internet has changed the environment in which you do business. You cannot run; you cannot hide. Time to face the music and take a good hard look in the mirror.

So what to do, if you are in that position? Take a good look at your sales process, your managers and employees and their practices, make it clear that you are cleaning house. Then start to resolve problems as they occur, even if it costs you money. Reputation Management means MANAGING YOUR REPUTATION, not MANAGING YOUR REVIEWS.

I am now hearing word about Reputation Marketing. You can’t market what you don’t have. The first steps to Reputation Management, and eventually to Reputation Marketing begins by looking in the mirror. That is the unfortunate truth about Dealer Reviews.

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Tags: dealer, facebook, management, marketing, media, reputation, reviews, social

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Comment by Keith Shetterly on October 4, 2011 at 11:05am
And thanks Tom!  Sorry for any trouble on your thread here.  :)  See you at DD11!
Comment by Keith Shetterly on October 4, 2011 at 11:04am

Ha!  Thanks for the birthday wishes.
I am very well versed in VDP leakage, and I have the same problem with Cars.com vs. A/T--A/T leaks to OEMs and insurance, yes, . . . but on Cars.com, you can buy yourself directly on to your competitor's VDP.  So, to me, both are bad leakers but Cars.com is much worse.
So far, Google gives me the opportunity to dominate my own reviews on Google Places with minimal ads, even less than AutoTrader.  I think that model is most fair to dealers of any so far.
And there is no comparison to ADM on the core of the DR business model, at all.  Overall, in fact, the comparison to ADM . . . is so much a red herring.  Every "ad-supported" business is not the same any more than different non-franchised/chained restaurants are all the same because they sell food.  
I'm a capitalist.  Profits are GOOD.  I just don't like the way DR makes them.  That's unlikely to change until DR does.
My first suggested change is simple:  Never let any competitor buy on to the reviews once a dealer becomes active with you.
Because the way you do it now is not consumer-centric to help shoppers, it's DR-profit-centric--and gamed for DR all while talking about preventing dealers from gaming the same review system for THEIR profits.

Comment by Tom Gorham on October 4, 2011 at 10:55am
Wow, I love passionate conversations.  Happy Birthday Keith!  See you tomorrow at DD11.
Comment by Ryan Leslie on October 4, 2011 at 10:21am

-Our customers provide reviews for free that you sell ad space around--so supporting you as a dealer means supporting a DealerRater-centric view, not a dealer-centric, and certainly not a consumer-centric view.

 

-I find it more than ironic that you discuss an advantage of DR that dealers are prevented from gaming a system while DealerRater has ITSELF gamed the same system for it's own advantage.

 

I'm providing content here on ADM for free that Ralph is selling ad space around to my direct competitors, correct? Ralph didn't ask me to post and he didn't invite me to the community. So is Ralph "gaming the system" by creating a popular site that is ad supported that he knows my potential customers will read? Is he obligated to contact every vendor that comes up in a thread and offer ad space? Nope, he sells it to whatever vendor requests it and with all ad placements I suspect first in wins. Kudos to the vendors that have positioned themselves well on this site through an ad buy. Who am I to call Ralph's practices ADM-Centric as opposed to Vendor-Centric. This is clearly an ad supported site, right? I would also not expect Ralph to bump PCG or Presto on a 30 day notice in the middle of their term. That just isn't the way it works with an ad buy in any medium as it severely impacts the buyer and the credibility of the seller. That said, if Ralph told me I could have exclusive advertising rights to any thread that involved a discussion on DealerRater, I may consider it even if I had to wait for the opportunity. Is that gaming the system?

 

Keith, are you saying that a Google place page is Dealer focused? Do you know how many links there are to competing stores at the bottom of every place page? Do you know how many ads are on a Yelp, InsiderPages, or Edmunds review Page? Have you ever counted the links and leaks off a VDP on the popular classified sites? You CANNOT ever control those ads and leaks by design. I know you are really alluding to Presto who you openly refer, shoot you are using their ad copy in your post, but that model is very different than an objective 3rd party that allows no editorial control of review content. Now to carry the analogy a little further, if Ralph offered me the opportunity to delete every one of your posts that had a negative connotation about my company and only post the positive comments I wanted dealers to see, would that be dealer-centric? Clearly not, it would be DealerRater marketing material...

 

DealerRater is uniquely focused on the consumer, we provide the consumer with content that is unfiltered by the dealer, certified or not, AND dealer focused, we teach and train everything from building and leveraging positive reviews to responding to negative reviews and we supply a first class tool-set to do those things. Are there more "dealer-centric" products for marketing only like Presto? Sure, but they are by definition marketing tools, not objective review sites since editorial control is given to the dealer that owns the branded page. There is a massive difference in how an unsold prospect views dealer marketing and objective 3rd party content.

 

Here is my lighter note: Happy Birthday! I hope that this open exchange of ideas is challenging and fun for you too. No disrespect intended of course. We see this aspect very differently and I hope that the respectful exchange is helpful to dealers. Sorry again Tom for stealing your thread. I hope that all this discussion doesn't detract from your main point that no matter how you tackle reviews it must be top-driven.

Comment by Keith Shetterly on October 4, 2011 at 9:16am
Oh, and to lighten things up, IT'S MY BIRTHDAY!  :)
Comment by Keith Shetterly on October 4, 2011 at 7:43am

Ryan,


If you're at DD11, just email me keithshetterly@gmail.com and we can have that discussion.


To reply, I hardly agree that I'm misrepresenting your company's revenue stream.  Our customers provide reviews for free that you sell ad space around--so supporting you as a dealer means supporting a DealerRater-centric view, not a dealer-centric, and certainly not a consumer-centric view.  Essentially, you "ad-jack" the reviews for profit, and saying we can "always own" the ad space in the same paragraph where you say "you may have to wait out an agreement" . . . well, that's what I'm talking about:  I find it more than ironic that you discuss an advantage of DR that dealers are prevented from gaming a system while DealerRater has ITSELF gamed the same system for it's own advantage.  


And supporting ADM with content is supporting a forum of ideas and comments.  If there's a dealer here who would like to educate me how I've got this wrong about DealerRater, please feel free to write in this thread.  Or start a new thread.  And, Ryan, I'd encourage you to reach out to any dealer friends of DealerRater to come here and participate in this thread to do that education.


Because, just like the world dealers now live in with their customers and reviews no matter where they are posted, the reviews of YOUR customers mean a lot more to me than what DealerRater says.


Thanks,

 

Keith



Comment by Mike Warwick on October 4, 2011 at 7:24am
Ryan - we sign up to be Certified and we have to "wait out an exisiting agreement."  We're looking at nine months of "waiting it out."  My suggestion would be to make these ad spaces month to month and if a new dealer comes on board, they should not have to wait more than 30 days to advertise on their own page. The new dealer gets to buy their own tile and if they refuse, it should be wide open. I know this will never happen because it will disturb a revenue stream for Dealerrater but with Google's recent actions, it's making us take a hard look at whether or not we should continue with Dealerrater.  I'm a big fan of Dealerrater but this one area is a source of annoyance.
Comment by Ryan Leslie on October 4, 2011 at 7:05am

Hey Mike,

 

That is actually not the case and one of the things that I'd hoped to clear up here. Tom, forgive me for j****** part of the thread.

 

The store that is being reviewed ALWAYS has first right of refusal for the ad space on that page, ALWAYS. You do need to request it and may need to wait out an existing agreement, but you can ALWAYS own it if you choose to. The point is that you have the choice and as far as I know that is unique to DealerRater in the ad supported space. Call up Google and tell them you want to own all of the ad space on your place page ;)

 

I have stores that want the space and stores that give up first rights to the ad space that are both effective. They use the tool differently, but both see value.

Comment by Mike Warwick on October 4, 2011 at 6:45am
My one problem with Dealerrater is when you sign up to be Certified and find out that someone has already bought the tile on your page.  As long as your competitor keeps paying for it, you're screwed.
Comment by Ryan Leslie on October 4, 2011 at 6:35am

Tom,

Excellent point on video reviews. They clearly require a different process. You are also right that in-store process doesn't need to be done before F&I, but I talked with a dealer just a few days ago that had that as the plan from the get go. That's what I was drawing on when I said that the restraint is a good thing. Last thing, and I couldn't agree with you more, "you can't market what you don't have." Reputation is a top down initiative.

 

Keith,

No disrespect at all, but I think every time I post you raise the "At least Google doesn't make you buy ad space on your own review" flag and wave it around. This is clearly an issue for you and one you champion every chance you get. It is also the most misrepresented characterization of DealerRater by those that offer their services as an alternative to DealerRater. You don't have to go any further than the advertising on this forum to see that!

 

I don't want to threadjack Tom, but I would like to discuss this. I believe that I can make a very strong case for why we do what we do and support this statement with fact not hyperbole: DealerRater's ad policy is the most fair and dealer friendly of all the objective 3rd party sites and major online classified sites.

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