Do We Even Need Digital Marketing Conferences Anymore?

people in suits holding question marks

Six Takeaways from AutoCon 2013

Okay, so you went to a digital conference a few years ago or attended a workshop at NADA. Some of your vendors bring you new ideas on a regular basis (they better be anyway). So you’re keeping up pretty well right? Well, okay, if “pretty well” is good enough.

Today, according to a variety of industry sources, a local dealership should be allocating around 40-60 percent of their local marketing budget to digital marketing. Some dealerships (like Auburn Volkswagen whose budget I personally manage) have that number closer to 80 percent. So take a second and ask yourself, what do you know about video pre-roll? The marriage of Polk data and Facebook? The buzz on the rollout of Google cars? If you don’t know the answers, you should, because it’s a good bet your competitors do, or will soon.

Here are some solid reasons to attend an event like AutoCon:

  • Attending a conference like AutoCon establishes a solid platform for your day to day marketing decisions back at the store. Sure, automotive blog sites have news and tips, but rarely do they provide more than part of the larger story. Having in-depth time in a focused environment like AutoCon provides a solid foundation to build on.

    • Differing viewpoints and ideas. I find significant value in hearing from multiple industry leaders, all in one place, at one time. Sure, the presenters are looking for business, but AutoCon in particular really does do a good job vetting them and making sure that they genuinely present relevant sales-pitch-free information. Many of the ideas are related and, like attending university, you begin to see the bigger picture when several of pieces are presented simultaneously.
    • Networking. I always tend to undervalue the impact of talking with other dealership folks—until I’m sitting next to them. I found myself at more than one session whispering to the attendee next to me “what do you think of this?” and in some cases getting some very honest feedback, good and bad, about the product or idea being talked about.
    • Dedicated time. Yes, your email is blowing up, you missed your kid’s soccer game—there are 100 things happening in your life while you’re here. But given the advertising spend of the average dealership (and you’re above average right?) and the potential outcome of those dollars to sell cars, you really do owe it to yourself to carve out dedicated time to immerse yourself in your digital automotive decisions.

    So yes, digital automotive conferences are still relevant, and if you missed AutoCon 2013, here are some of my key takeaways from the three-day event.

    Take-away #1. Integrated marketing is back.

    While there was never any real disagreement that all the pieces needed to integrate, this conference provided a much more holistic approach. Even the most devout digital evangelists acknowledged in various workshops the rightful place of both traditional and digital in the marketing mix—including a surprisingly well attended workshop on integrated marketing.

    Take-away #2. “Social media is now part of Reputation.

    The former multitude of social media vendors I’ve seen in past conferences has thankfully given way to a handful of better integrated solutions. The best conversation about Facebook had little to do with posting on a dealership page, and plenty to do with the new tools available to mine Facebook as an advertising platform. Brian Pasch did a nice workshop on the integration of wildfire, Facebook, and third party data touting the ability to drill down to things like type of vehicle the user likes or drives, their credit status, and more. This was a fascinating blend of user self supplied information blended with industry available data and was compelling enough to make me consider investing in some Facebook (almost).

    Take-away #3. Mobile is hot!

    A number of the workshops talked about mobile and while it’s no surprise to most attendees that mobile is hot, it was educational to see firsthand some of the new tools available to make the most of mobile car shoppers. From Wildfire, to responsive mobile sites, to the simple fact that many website providers (including some of the big names) really haven’t completely connected the dots between a mobile offer and where the click lands on a dealers website when viewed on a mobile device, was fairly eye opening and there is real opportunity for smart dealers to win big here. Takeaway: pull out your smart phone and start checking how your own website connects.

    Other Trends

    #4. In case you missed the memo or have been living under a rock, you can make a lot of money selling cars out of the service bay. It’s such a simple and powerful idea that requires zero external marketing partners or investment, and uses your own customer base in a very grass-roots way. I suspect most dealers are already on this (all of mine are), but it was still very powerful and inspirational to hear Brian Benstock of Paragon Honda share firsthand the impact this concept had on his business. He’s a dynamic speaker and well worth the price of admission.

    #5 New tools for big data. It’s no longer about information—we’re drowning in that—it’ s about interpreting the data in a meaningful way that’s relevant to your dealership. Easier said than done but new tools and metrics continue to evolve to help dealers along this path.

    #6. Video continues to evolve. As this is my personal area of expertise I’m probably more critical than most. Video has always been one of the most powerful marketing tools uniquely combining the use of sight, sound, motion and emotion—and it was refreshing to hear video vendors and presenters reach beyond video as just SEO. The conversation is finally beginning to be about the quality of the video, not just the quantity, and discussions touched on some of the evolving opportunities for dealerships to really hit it out of the park from both a branding and information standpoint. When you consider how phones are getting smarter, internet connections are getting faster, and frankly attention spans are getting shorter, this is one area of the conference I’d like to see get more attention.

    Overall, the Automotive Connections Conference and Expo 2013 at the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas was well worth the time to attend -and I encourage you to not miss the next one! I’d like to thank the team at First Class Educators for organizing and staging a high quality, engaging event.

    Ed Steenman ( owns Steenman Associates, an integrated automotive marketing and digital services firm serving a host of leading Northwest dealerships. He’s a veteran digital conference attendee including NADA, Digital Dealer, Automotive Boot Camp and more. He has worked nationally and internationally with Volkswagen, is a contributing writer for Dealer Marketing Magazine, and a professor at Seattle University.

  • Michael Bowen


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