Buy Dinner for a Soldier and He Might Buy a Car from You!
This summer, dealerships across the country will be having sales events. Red Tag Sales, Weekend Blowout Sales, Overstock Clearance Sales, they go by many different names, but the idea is the same: bring in a lot of people, who might not normally visit your dealership, and connect with these potential customers. Events are a great opportunity to not only sell a few extra vehicles over the weekend, but to collect contact info and build goodwill in the minds of people who might not be ready to buy a new vehicle right now.
Selling vehicles and connecting with possible, future customers is something that all dealerships need to do, but this month I talked to some of my friends at the Larson Automotive Group of Tacoma, WA (a suburb of Seattle) and they told me about something even better. Instead of throwing a standard event like so many other dealerships, the Larson Group partnered with Thanks-A-Bunch (www.thanksabunch.org) and their marketing arm Two Minute Marketing, LLC to put on a “Hero Appreciation Week Event” to help give back to the military and first responders in their community.
How It Works
The way the event works is simple: it lasts for two weeks and military and first responders are invited to the dealership to pick up a free, no-obligation $50 gift certificate for anyone of the 18,000 participating restaurants. That’s it; there is no test drive required, no credit application that needs to be filled out, the military or first responder just receives a gift from the dealership to thank them for their service and that’s the secret to this sale.
“It takes any kind of negative onus off of the dealership. It really gives the dealership a chance to just give away a 50 dollar dinner card to the military or first responder, with no strings attached,” explained Bill Magarity, principal and operator of Two Minute Marketing, LLC, “but the dealers tell us, even without it requiring a test drive, they get way more test drives.”
Even for the military and first responders that just want the gift card, the dealership still benefits from the positive feedback built into the Thanks-A-Bunch card.
“There’s a built in positive online review that comes to the dealer, virtually every time a card is given out,” Bill Magarity told us, “because on the site where they choose the restaurant, after they fill in their code from the card they get, it asks them to ‘thank the contributor for their generosity.’ And they can go in and say ‘thank you to such and such dealership for being a community hero and thank you for doing this for myself and my wife and I will be going out to dinner.’ And many times they mention, ‘we’ll be back to buy that truck, or will come back to look at that car again, or you’re the guys we’re going to come to when it’s time.’”
You just can’t beat positive feedback like that, especially since, as Bill also mentioned, “the dealer is able to put them [the online responses] up on his Facebook site, his own site, and some of the dealers are clever enough with dealer reputation and they put them up on Google+ now and get them onto the Google site.”
Marketing the Event
With a charitable event like Hero Week, dealers can often receive free coverage on their local news. The Larson Group, for example, was able to have the local news out to interview a soldier at the event and let everyone know that if they were military or first responders, all they had to do was show up and pick up their gift card.
“The base really got interested.” Bill told us. “The TV stations came out and did a news spot right from their Chrysler jeep store and [it was a] great spot! Had them on there, shaking hands with a soldier in fatigues, I mean just a heartfelt spot and I’m sure they got a lot of good feedback.”
Free media exposure is always an excellent way to promote an event, but you can’t always count on it; if the royal baby is coming on the same weekend as your event, you’re probably out of luck. Just giving away gift cards to military and first responders would be a nice thing to do all by itself, but to let the community know that you support our troops, firefighters, police, and other first responders, and receive the goodwill that comes with that, not to mention the extra traffic on your lot, you need to market your event.
B.C. Magarity, also a principal and operator of Two Minute Marketing, LLC, knows the importance of marketing, even for charitable events. He noted that their marketing is focused primarily around connecting with military and first responders.
“Every base is a little bit different, but they all have a public affairs office, so one of the first things that we do is we put together a press release and a flyer and we contact the public affairs office at the base,” B.C. explained. “Also there’s a department called MWR, which stands for Morale, Welfare, and Recreation, we also contact that department introduce ourselves, introduce the program and tell them what we’re doing and how we’ve been doing this all over the country…Pretty much all the bases have their own newspaper, so we look to either advertise straight up or to get some sort of editorial written up about the event and get it put into their community board, kind of ‘what’s going on this week’ type stuff. The bigger the bases the more options that we have…Now with first-responder, we kind of stay in that same template. We have a press release and we have a flyer and we contact whoever oversees the public relations for, in some cases all three, police, fire fighter, and EMT, by town, we send them over the information. They’ve been very receptive. They have a less restrictions than the military and so far they’ve taken it and run with it. They immediately take it and send an email out to their constituents.”
According to the folks at the Larson Group, the Here Week sale was a complete success. “It was a great event. It was a perfect way for us to give back to the community and find some new customers while we were at it,” John Brown from Larson Volkswagen told us. “Not to mention we had fun doing it. It was an all around successful event.”
So far Thanks-A-Bunch has, “done this now with 60 different dealerships in 50 different cities. And have given out approximately 15,000, 50-dollar dinner cards to military and first responders in their community through them,” Bill informed us. “So, that’s 750,000 dollars worth of community goodwill.”