Updated: September 29, 2022
The BIG #1: Define Your Brand! Not the brand(s) of vehicles you sell…YOUR brand! Why do people buy from you? For decades we’ve trained our salespeople on ‘selling’ the USP (unique selling proposition), but today, in the era of total transparency, UMP is a much more important concept. What are the real reasons people actually do buy from us? What is our unique marketing perception?
Perception isn’t just a ‘thing,’ it’s everything! We are what we are perceived to be. We can spend millions trying to convince the buying public of purloined platitudes, or we can do the kind of brand analysis research that will help us understand the real reasons people actually write our name in the payee line on the check. Start by asking your internal customers (your employees) why they think people really like us. Put a note in every payroll check next week. Ask your employees (and their spouses) to send you an email on why people buy from us. Then ask your customers at point of sale. What were the top three reasons you made the decision to buy from us? The more you stay at it, the better you’ll define your brand.
About 30 years ago, I conducted a research focus group in London on the marketing perceptions of various dealerships. A large public group had just purchased a Ford store in the U.K. Their tag line was ‘nice people to do business with.’ One of the respondents in the focus group said it was the farthest thing from the truth. He said: “Their slogan should be ‘you’ll get a pretty good deal but we’re really not nice people.’” Everyone in the focus echoed their agreement. You are…what you are perceived to be. Dara Treseder wrote a great article on building brand awareness and assessing Brand Value. If you’d like a free copy, email me.
The BIG #2: Internalize Your Marketing Efforts! Why settle for 10 salespeople when you can have 100? As you define your brand, share it in every way possible with every member of your team. Every time I talk to a dealer I ask if they have the email address of every single employee. Why wouldn’t you? The easiest, cheapest form of instant communication with every member of your team is an email from a list serve. With one click you can send an email to ‘team@AAAdealership’ President Trump loves to tweet every day to millions of followers. Why can’t you send a quick email to every team member once a week? Thank them. Tell them about some exciting happenings, an upcoming sale, what customers are saying, why they love us. A dealer friend of mine sends an email to his closest friends, marketing people and vendors about great achievements in sales numbers on a regular basis. How easy would it be for him to include a cc in that email to ‘team@’? Powering up your people can be as easy as better communications on the successes, opportunities, milestones, and achievements of your dealership. Everyone loves to be part of a winning team. And, by the way, why not ask your team members to share the great news! If everyone has 200 friends or 100 twitter followers, just imagine how much further your marketing efforts can extend. And how much does that cost? Close your eyes. What do you see?
The BIG #3: Tell Your Story! Don’t hire an ad agency or digital wiz person for fabricated content! You’ve got a great story to tell. No one knows it better than you! Let your marketing folks focus on communicating your story with maximum effectiveness and efficiency. Once you’ve defined the brand, tell buyers what it took to get there. Map out your history and your timeline. Roadmap your success story! Put it on video. Put it on radio. Put it on your website and social media pages.
The BIG #4: Research Research Research! You can spend upwards of $50,000 with outside vendors on research and you can pay hundreds…thousands for research reports and mountains of digital analysis. Or you can spend a whole lot less and get a whole lot more accurate feedback on what is actually making the dollar clock click by utilizing the content methods available to you right now. For starters, does someone in your organization know how to interpret the metrics of your own website visits? This info is yours. You’re already paying for it. If you’re buying social media ads, there is a plethora of information on hits and views. Why not devise your own ‘media habits analysis’ questionnaire to gain information from every buying customer? Not just the question of ‘what brought you in today,’ a one-page questionnaire on websites visited, favorite radio and television programs, etc.
When I was a youngster there was a jeweler in Hartford, Connecticut that would give out hundreds of ‘baby spoons’ once a year. He would advertise on five different radio stations, each of the stations with a different telephone number on the ad. The stations that pulled the most in terms of response would get 70% of his budget for the following year. But even more interesting, he would track the resulting sales data from the people actually picking up their ‘free spoon’ and meld those metrics into campaign spends.
Even something as simple as tracking zip codes tagged to specific models can help focus media spends for highest efficiency. My favorite research story is from 32 years ago when the late Bob Tasca Sr. in Providence, Rhode Island told me he stood next to the bridge crossing to his dealership “Most of the cars coming over the bridge from 6am till 8am were used” said Bob, “and most of the cars coming over the bridge after 8am were new. So I advertised used vehicles on the radio from 6am till 8am and new vehicles from 8am til 10am.”
The BIG #5: AA! John Wanamaker, famous Philadelphia merchant in the late 1800 gained notoriety for his quote: “I know half of my advertising is wasted .I just don’t know which half.”
In today’s digital dazzle I’m afraid more than 50% is wasted a good deal of the time, but there are automobile dealers who are improving the odds through AA (Analysis and Adjustment). Some years ago a Florida dealership chain opened up a new location and asked how much they should spend on the grand opening. I told them they shouldn’t spend one dime during the first month. Given their incredible high traffic volume location, excellent signage and general reputation (UMP) of the dealerships brand name, I suggested the dealership should open the doors with no advertising for 30 days and determine the baseline. I reminded them that location and signage often show up as a considerable influence on internal research. I suggested they then follow with a gradual soft opening build of media and track every weekend for the incremental increases on specific models from the baseline. We did exactly that with amazing success. Six months after actually opening the doors we held a grand opening. By that time we knew exactly where to put our money for the biggest bang.
I’m against long-term contracts, big upfronts and excessive commitments without substantial guarantees and reasonable opt-outs. Everything changes today. Everything! No one knew the kind of numbers the Roseanne reincarnation would draw. No one knows what the same show will draw in numbers next season. Sporting venues are unpredictable. The change of a personality or host can dramatically effect advertising return. Betting on any long-term value of media, traditional or digital, makes about as much sense as betting on the price of gold or fed interest rates.
That’s why the BIG #5 says pay attention to the BIG #4: Ongoing research. One of the best tools for this is the constant Analysis of media habits reports. But as important as the analysis is, courage to make adjustments should be equally weighted. I’m not suggesting you change course on a dime, but that you watch the trends carefully. Station A and program Z may have been a big funnel feeder when trucks were hot. But maybe the current increased used CUV activity suggests Station B and program W. Frequently, I find that dealerships using internal advertising departments tend to weight loyalty and tenure to media more than outside, objective analysis. Conversely, multi-layered commitments with digital providers can often mask necessary changes in delivery methods.
The BIG 5A Innovation! Okay, one more BIGGY! Don’t’ be afraid to try something new! Right now a number of entrepreneurs are nipping at the revenue heels of franchised dealers with used car delivery, consignment, warranties, flexible payments, on-line processing, etc. There is not ONE thing that these well-funded start-ups can do that you as a franchised dealer cannot do. In fact, with your experience, connections, established brand and location you are probably in the best position to compete with all the challenges that come your way. If you are open-minded, listen to employees and customers, do the research and explore innovative ideas that will keep you on top of the game.
Have a great summer…great selling…and an even better bottom line!
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