Automotive Digital Marketing

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For those of you who know a little bit about me, you know that I  worked in the print media and advertising industry for nearly a decade and grew up around the industry my entire life. I want to spend a couple of minutes discussing some concepts that I am more than confident will help your dealership in attracting new and returning customers so that you can start seeing more (and better) results for your dealership immediately. That's right - I just said "IMMEDIATELY".

A little bit of background first:

Over the years, you've probably noticed that the ads you see in the newspaper or in magazines haven't really changed much. They consist of a bunch of pictures of vehicles and the prices associated with those vehicles; Starbursts with low finance rates, or bold letters promoting the BIGGEST SALE EVENT OF THE YEAR! Everything always seems to revolve around price.

There's no doubt that price is an important topic, but maybe not as important as you might think - especially if your aiming to get a fresh influx of new customers walking onto your lot.

To demonstrate, let me encourage you to drive down any auto mile wherever you are, and take a look at the signage that dealers are placing near the roadway with hopes that it will capture new business. What do you see? 

  • Employee Pricing Event

  • Red Tag Sale

  • Really Big Sale

  • Year End Clearance

  • Inventory Blowout - unbeatable pricing!

Everything revolves around price!

Not even in the market!

Have you ever considered what percentage of people in your area are even in the market to purchase a vehicle? Think about it. What good is busting your chops over showing people how low your finance rates are, or how low your prices are when majority of people aren't even in the market to buy? Don't believe me? Consider this example.

Have you ever found yourself thumbing through a consumer electronics flyer from the weekly paper? If you're like me, you do it all the time. I'm sort of a gadget geek. But what happens when you get to the appliance section of the flyer? You slam the thing shut or throw it away? Why do you think that is? 

Vehicles are much like appliances. When you have appliances that are working, purchasing new ones are the last thing on the totem pole of priorities aren't they? So it is with vehicles. When people have a vehicle that is working, they aren't really in the market. All the best pricing and finance rates in the world won't do a hill of beans for your efforts in attracting new business.

Plenty of Fish in the Sea...Just Not Where You're Looking

Have you ever heard that saying before? It's absolutely true. There are plenty of fish in the sea. The problem is that by focusing primarily on price, you and all of your competitors are fighting over a very small portion of in-market consumers. Have you ever wondered why your print ads aren't getting you the results you want? Have you considered why your website isn't producing the leads that you want it to? 

When you really take a look at it, Dealers that enter the arena prepared to battle over price may not realize that they are fighting over around 2-5% of the entire population. That's really the percentage of people that are in the market to buy a vehicle today. So much effort for so little potential! It's kind of depressing isn't it?

Let's use the odds in your favor. In order to start seeing immediate (measurable and duplicate-able) results for your marketing efforts, you may be required to change the way you think a little, and perhaps; change some of your current process to meet consumer expectation. All in the name of profitability.

What Drives Consumers to Buy?

If only 2-5% of consumers are in the market to purchase a vehicle today, have you considered how you could tap into the other 95-98% of the market that perhaps would be willing to purchase a vehicle but may not necessarily be in the smaller percentage that cares about price?

It's absolutely vital for every dealer that wants to start selling more vehicles, products and services to understand what drives consumer purchase decisions in order to offer something really unique and actually tap into a never ending pool of customers. Let's take a look at a couple of examples of what drive consumers to purchase.

1. Emotional needs / wants: We all have them and because of that,advertising how your products and services can fill an emotional need will actually help you penetrate a larger market and get your business in front of more interested people.

I'm a perfect example of this. A couple of years ago, when my wife and I received news that she was expecting our second son, one of the first things we discussed is how our small sedan would no longer fill our transportation needs (Emotional need #1 - necessity). Could you imagine two car seats, potentially two strollers not to mention half the house that you have to pack up when you have kids, all crammed into the back of a small sedan? We went from not being in the market to being in the market in a matter of days.

The more we thought about what we would need, other issues came up. Safety (emotional need #2), Comfort (emotional need #3), Room (emotional need #3), Vehicle features (emotional need #4) and so on. Price wasn't even on our mind yet because we were too busy formulating our list of needs.

Then came the emotional wants. Status (emotional want #1), luxury (emotional want #2), add-ons (emotional want #3) get the picture.

You see, not everyone is in the market to purchase another vehicle. Everyone however, is in the market of fulfilling their emotional needs and wants. While all of your competitors are engaged in the price battle over a small percentage of the market, you could be addressing the demand of a larger market and funneling those consumers into your dealership. You will never run into a short supply by focusing your energy on the things that everyone wants fulfilled – Their emotional needs.

When you have your approach set up correctly, you've strategically provided the right information and uncovered the emotions of your customers, the results will be like magic.

2. Reciprocity: Have you ever heard of the law of reciprocity? This is something that successful marketers have been using for decades and let me tell you, it works extremely well! Most cultures have this law hard-wired into the back of their minds. To simply define it, let me sum it up as I give you something and as a result, you give something in return.

Often I find dealers practicing this law, but in reverse. Customers often have to make a purchase before they can get the value added offer, when really it should be flipped the other way around. Give something of value to the customer first, build the relationship and they will reciprocate by making a purchase from you.


Whether you want to believe it or not, it doesn't really matter. The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result. If you truly want to increase the profitability of your dealership, stop focusing so much energy on pricing. Remove yourself from that never-ending uphill battle and re-target your efforts into fulfilling the emotional needs/wants of consumers. Provide value by offering the right information first and let the law of reciprocity take you all the way to the sale. 

Your success starts here.

Michael Cirillo

Views: 853

Tags: automotive, behavior, best, consumer, digital, marketing, online, practices, pricing


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Comment by Michael Cirillo on July 16, 2012 at 2:51pm

J. Michael Zak, you're welcome. I appreciate your comments. 

Mark, this certainly evolves into bigger issues doesn't it? Reputation (Both online and off), Level of service etc. Around and round we go!

Comment by Mark Dubis on July 16, 2012 at 9:36am

Dealers talk about price because that is all most have to talk about.  They have a revolving door for employees so they can't talk about their great staff. Customer reviews are manipulated or non-existent, so they can't talk about great customer service.  Every dealer has an OEM award of some type so that is no longer a point of differentiation.  

Until dealers embrace a new perspective and connect with their loyal customers to promote their brand, they will continue to struggle.   Fortunately for dealers a new engagement marketing program is available that can help them move to the next evolution of online marketing.

Comment by J. Michael Zak on July 16, 2012 at 9:29am

This article brings up solid points from a marketing standpoint, the same points we have been communicating to our sales team repeatedly.  Car buying is an emotional decision and unless you are paying cash the total price is immaterial, weekly, bi-weekly, semi-monthly, etc., payment is more important.  Sell the value of the dealership; sell the value of the vehicle; sell your integrity, abilities, and desire to help the customer AND THEN you will rise above the other 90%.  Be the one person that can be depended upon and they will come and tell others.  Thanks Michael for reminding us about the obvious.

Comment by Michael Cirillo on July 16, 2012 at 9:17am

Michael - love it. You're right on the money. 

The other thing to consider with price is exactly what will happen when price/market analysis tools are in the hands of everyone? It just furthers dealers away from where they need to be.

If you really pay attention to any automaker commercials on TV, they always plug some sort of emotional need/want. It's the best way to open the market!

Comment by Michael McPherson on July 16, 2012 at 8:36am

This is great stuff. I never really understood fighting over price.  Someone will always have a lower price. If price is it, Walmart would have put everyone out of business a long time ago.  It's the other items that lead a consumer to select you to do business with.

Greet every customer when they enter your business with a smile. I mean walk right up welcome and thank them for walking in your door. They chose you. It begins right at that moment. I see this simple gester overlooked in many places. Have you been to a Subway sandwich location in your travels. Every customer, everytime is greeted before reaching the counter to place an order.

Any business can compete on price (weak). How are you different? Tell your story.

Comment by Michael Cirillo on July 16, 2012 at 6:06am

Great comments everyone. 

Geoff - in helping shift the paradigm, does your mind gravitate to any one idea in particular?

Manny - A very interesting way of putting it.

Gillon - Thanks for the thoughts and helping us dig deeper into the topic.

Have any of you seen effective emotional marketing as of late? 

Comment by Gillon S. Johannson on July 16, 2012 at 4:11am

Great  words Michael...I concur! At some point, the price of a thing might make a difference, but until you have a person's trust it's unlikely they will buy from you regardless of the price.

The old days of feature/benefit price justification have been somewhat lost in today's market. Today, for the most part, a $30,000.00 car is a $30,000.00 car, regardless of which brand or model. The playing field has become much more level, and lemons have become a thing of the past.

Even when price is a big issue with a customer, until you have their trust, what you say about price doesn't matter. Remember, nobody will buy anything from somebody they don't like.

Talking about price on the phone is especially bad. I coach my people to avoid talking about price on the phone whenever possible. Price is a subject to be discussed when the customer is across the desk-in front of you.

You're right on about the emotion of it all. The more emotional the process, the better your chances are. Make an effort to get emotionally engaged with your customer. Help them to understand that you-like them-also have feelings, friends, family, and goals.Your life, like theirs, is complex and filled with choices. We all love to know people who offer good direction based on sound thinking and knowledge of a thing. Be this person. When you are this trusted person, and you tell them that they have negotiated a great deal, they will believe you. You will no longer need to justify the price.

Comment by Geoff Sykes on July 15, 2012 at 11:38pm

Agreed 100% Michael - good article, now if we can just get sales persons to start focusing on identifying these market opportunities when they are prospecting for new business and change the paradigms they are currently operating under, we can make huge inroads into improving the bottom line and stabilizing sales volume in good times and bad.

Comment by Michael Cirillo on July 15, 2012 at 9:50pm

Thanks David. I appreciate the kind comments. Stay tuned for some more blog posts coming soon and in the mean time, check out my free podcast on itunes by searching for "The Dealer Success Network" a once a week podcast that discusses a variety of online marketing topics.

Comment by David Sharp on July 15, 2012 at 9:46pm
I think you make some great points here. I would be interested in hearing more from you on how I can offer to meet these emotional needs and wants. I look forward to reading more from you on this topic.

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