Adding Muscle and Trimming Fat—Creating Integrated Marketing Plans

Marketing an auto dealership is worlds away from marketing a grocery store. The goal of marketing, however, has been the same since early tradesmen started to paint signs on the outsides of their buildings—to grow business and increase sales. Since the days of hand-painted signs, however, marketing has changed. Today we have the internet, mobile, television, newspaper, and radio, not to mention outdoor advertising and direct mail; marketing has become infinitely more complicated since those first days. All this complexity, however, means that you can reach the right consumers, with the right message, at the right time, you just need to know how to find them.


Helping dealers learn about the latest techniques and technologies and how they can work in an auto dealership has been the goal of Dealer Marketing Magazine since its founding in 2002. That’s why were sponsoring the 2011 Automotive Marketing Boot Camp. We believe this is an opportunity for dealers who want to take their advertising and marketing to the next level.


As the Editor of Dealer Marketing Magazine, I have had the opportunity to speak with many dealers, learn about how they spend their marketing budgets, and find out what has worked and what hasn’t. Here is where I would like to show you a chart of marketing channels and how much of your advertising budget should be spent on each to maximize your ROI, but unfortunately what works varies greatly from one dealership to the next. What all the successful dealerships do have in common, however, is an integrated approach to marketing and a desire to stay abreast of the latest marketing innovations and how they can fit into their marketing mix.


Staying up-to-date with the latest marketing techniques does not mean shifting your marketing plan every time something new comes along. It means you carefully study your ROI and how a new marketing technique can benefit your dealership then make a decision based on reliable information. You should not stick with something just because that’s what you’ve always done, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater either. Study your marketing reports including web analytics and customer surveys, then make a decision based on sound information. Remember, even with all the new media channels created since those first tradesmen, no one is suggesting dealerships should take down the signs because they have such an amazing Facebook page.


Dealerships with the greatest ROI from their advertising know that all their marketing needs to work together. The best way to do that is still your website. Your website, of course needs to be up-to-date with your latest inventory, lots of pictures, and complete vehicle descriptions, as well as pricing information and easy navigation, before you start to build your web traffic. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter if a customer is ready to buy, she’ll just click over to another dealership website that gives her the information she wants.


Once your website is ready, all of your advertising, not just your television and radio ads, but everything: bumper stickers, business cards, mailers, even the mural on the side of your building, should encourage people to go to your website. When you do this, you will see your website traffic skyrocket. Website traffic, however, does not sell cars people do; so you need to give customers on your site as many ways to contact you as possible. Every web page needs to have your email, phone number, and address. Very few customers will buy a vehicle sight-unseen off the internet. Customers want to take a test drive and get a feel for the vehicle that pictures can’t provide, so you need to make it easy for them to contact your dealership and schedule a test drive.


Once the customer is on your lot, marketing has taken her as far down the sales funnel as it can. The rest is up to your sales staff all they have to do is make the sale—and that is a subject for a different article.


Michael Bowen is the editor of Dealer Marketing Magazine. If you have any questions or would like to contact him, please email or visit




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