Play Active Role in Marketing

Auto dealers, often uncomfortable in the marketing arena, sometimes defer to their ad agencies, especially those that act like know-it-alls. Big mistake. So says Adam Goldfein, whose first job at age four was stamping brochures at his father's dealership. He went on to run his own dealership and manage stores for automotive chains, such as AutoNation Inc. and Rick Case Enterprises. If you are a dealer

Auto dealers, often uncomfortable in the marketing arena, sometimes defer to their ad agencies, especially those that act like know-it-alls.

Big mistake.

So says Adam Goldfein, whose first job at age four was stamping brochures at his father's dealership. He went on to run his own dealership and manage stores for automotive chains, such as AutoNation Inc. and Rick Case Enterprises.

“If you are a dealer who has an agency, stay completely engaged,” says Goldfein, now host of AutoScoop, a nationally syndicated CBS Radio talk show on car buying.

He draws on his dealership experience and feedback from his radio show's listeners to deliver a keynote address entitled, “Marketing Trends — What the Consumer Wants in 2009,” At Ward's Automotive Spring Training Conference in Tampa, FL.

Dealers often struggle with marketing, thinking it consists of a funny or screaming ad or parking a demo model outside a sports event, he says. It's more than that, but it's not overly complicated either.

“Marketing, like selling, merely is persuading or convincing,” Goldfein says. “It's not so scary when you think of it that way.”

He advises dealers to pick a media company with a good reputation “and one that won't keep you in the dark.” It's wise to play an active role, considering that advertising is a big chunk of most dealerships' budgets.

Consistency of message is important, too, he says. Otherwise, “there is a lot of trying this, this and that, and then wondering why you aren't getting any traction.”

Modern marketing efforts should be in sync with the way today's customers shop for cars.

“In the old days, people came to the dealership during the shopping phase, a period that could last two to three months, Goldfein says.

Today, shoppers do much of that preliminary work on the Internet. It takes away much of a dealer's opportunity to sell the dealership on the premises during those months. “Consequently, you need some form of advertising to do that,” he says.

A good marketing campaign starts with self-understanding. “But a position statement must get beyond, ‘We're family owned,’ or ‘Lowest prices in town’ or ‘Largest inventory,’” Goldfein says.

He warns against copying competitors, especially if they are bigger.

“Burger King would have been crazy to go head-to-head with McDonald's, so what did Burger King do for a different marketing message? They came up with ‘flame-broiled’ and ‘Have it your way.’

“That ad campaign resulted from someone sitting down with a marketing guy who asked, ‘What do you do?’”

Dealers should ponder the same question as a way to identify and then leverage their strengths. They should assess competitors' strengths, too, “and go in the opposite direction,” says Goldfein.

He offers these other dealership marketing tips:

  1. Don't treat car sales as a commodities business. “Doing that says you've got noting unique, nothing special.”
  2. Changing times requires different approaches and messages. “Who is doing relatively well today? Hyundai and Kia which are selling value.”
  3. Integrate media messages. “There is more media today than ever before.”
  4. When buying radio and TV ads, beat the competition to locking in prime spots during traditional peak car-selling times, such as spring sales and the Fourth of July.
  5. Consider all available assets. “If you think you only have a few media choices, you are stuck in the 1980s. Ask your media company to show the offerings. A lot of assets aren't being taken advantage of. But that doesn't mean you should buy them all.”
  6. Look for a media company with the ability to influence the end user rather than just reach a lot of people. Pay for levels of engagement, not mere audience share.
  7. Get more from media partners. “Strike a deal with them. There are hurting. It's an opportunity to drive a great deal.”
  8. Recognize that powerful marketing is not telling consumers what you hope to be or want to be, “but what you are.”
TAGS: Dealers Retail
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