by Cheril Hendry
I came across this article and thought it would be of interest to our readers.
Even the best online efforts of national and regional automotive marketers fall victim to the retail dealer’s ability to destroy them. But times are going to change.
Today’s auto dealer has the opportunity to benefit from the cheapest form of advertising his business has ever known. Yet his ability to give customers what they want in online shopping at the retail level continues to blinded by his past marketing tactics. He does what he’s always done when making marketing decisions. He relies on the influence of his equally blinded constituents in the retail automotive world, other dealers, and ignores any opportunity to understand and respond to the consumer better than ever before.
The result? Online versions of tacky dealer marketing that resemble past initiatives historic to print and broadcast: Lack of differentiation. Commodity advertising that ignores any kind of retail brand effort, and internal systems that give customers the same poor service they’ve received for decades. Now it’s just happening online instead of in person.
One obvious case in point is the average dealer’s Web site, most often built by a third party provider who knows the one thing a dealer wants from online marketing is leads. Leads that will bring live bodies into showrooms within hours. Leads that, he fears, may not come in unless they are coerced and teased and manipulated through online tactics. Every click, every link, every effort the consumer makes to get relevant information from a dealer’s site is responded to with a form to fill out. My personal favorite is the common “Get an Instant Quote Now” link. Once clicked on, you get a 15-line form to complete with the promise that someone will get back to you quickly with a price. Consumers are leaving virtual skid marks on links like this.
When a dealer is presented this information logically through Web site back-end statistics and industry behavioral tracking, he agrees this is not what most shoppers want to go through online. Yet when given the opportunity to change his website and provide customers with information they really want, he defers to his main competitor’s site that just happens to have the same form submission. Since this competitor is outselling him by 30 or so vehicles a month, the dealer assumes this particular form submission process must be a part of their success. So he sticks to what he’s been doing, and the consumer sticks to his opinion of dealer advertising. Bad.
But things are changing.
Contrary to retail automotive dealers’ past ability to deliver poor quality marketing messages and still be successful, today’s incomparably tough industry conditions require survival of the fittest. And guess who gets to be the judge? Refer to Time Magazine’s Person of the Year (You). Or Ad Age’s Agency of the Year (The Consumer). Consumers are in control and over the next few years if they don’t get what they want from a dealer’s online communication methods, they’ll have the ability to “virtually” kill the dealer. And “virtually” killing him by lack of attention online will equate to killing him via minimal showroom traffic, trickling service R.O.’s and non-existent repeat and referral business.
There are some smart dealer principals already aware of this. They understand a trip to their physical showroom is contingent upon a customer’s interest in their virtual showroom. These are certainly tomorrow’s industry leaders who will be chuckling all the way to the bank. Meanwhile, the factory’s job of filtering out the weaker franchisees may become a little easier with the help of these new consumers.
What will be left is what I personally hope for. The best of the best. Smart dealers taking good care of customers while they make more money due higher grosses and lower advertising costs. They will deliver what the customer wants. And it will center much more around a dealer’s brand than a dealer’s price. Just like Best Buy. And Starbucks. And Nordstrom. And all the other retailers who take advantage of the knowledge their customers offer them and do something with it.
Cheril Hendry is CEO of HLF Brandtailers in Irvine California, an agency exclusive to automotive marketing and advertising. www.hlfbrandtailers.com.
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