You’ve noticed a suspicious looking growth on your face. You visit a dermatologist and find out it is melanoma, a type of cancer. Your doctor wants to cut off the growth, pursue follow up treatments and work to rid your body of the cancer. Sounds like a logical course, but you aren’t sure, so you seek a second opinion. The next doctor says, well it may be cancer, but it’s not really a cancer that will kill you anytime soon, so why don’t we put this good looking, expensive make-up on it and it will look just fine. Which course of action would you take?
I use this analogy because this is exactly what I observe happening in auto retailing regarding the “health” of many dealerships. We have issues in auto retailing dealing with how we treat our employees, our customers, and the perception the public has about the vehicle buying process. A number of dealers use aggressive, intrusive, and sometime dishonest tactics that often serve to perpetuate the reputation we have earned over the years. These actions are driving consumers to post negative reviews at various websites.
Treat the symptoms
Dealers have two options when addressing their reputation. Change behavior, treat employees with respect, and offer customers a great buying experience; or spend thousands of dollars a month paying companies to manipulate the game. These services and companies target the negative reviews that unhappy customers are posting online, and use black hat or other suspect tactics to minimize the impact of those reviews and “game the system.”
I’ve been watching closely “the experts on SEO and Reputation Management” in our trade publications, at digital conferences and active on industry networks. When you really look at what they’re selling, it’s clear they are pitching the makeup and not trying to cure your cancer. And from what I hear they are finding lots of dealers who are buying the makeup.
They lure you in with techno-terms like, SEO keyword tracking, social media management, content creation, video SEO, and micro-sites. Then they pull out the bogeyman technique and try to scare you with, “If you aren’t on the first page of Google, you are losing business!” If you fall for that one, I want to talk to you about this bridge in Brooklyn. It sounds like these are the same folks that a few years ago were selling overpriced water filters and telling us we would die if we drank water right out of the tap.
Work on the cure
Just a few weeks ago, I had a conversation with the owner of a Chevrolet dealership in Northeast Ohio. They have a great operation and terrific reputation in the market. I asked him how he weathered the storm in 2009, hoping it wasn’t too devastating. While his dealer group has only been in business five years, he shared with me that 2009 was their best year from a sales perspective. They have no aggressive social media presence, do not come up consistently on the first page of Google, and only have a modest presence on YouTube.
So why was 2009 his best year? Their social media efforts are targeted at the community level. They have a culture in the store of treating their customers like they are in a department store or a fine restaurant. They greet prospects as they enter, hold the door open and are very accommodating. Additionally they are aggressive in being a good neighbor. They hold a monthly blood drive at the dealership, sponsor area little league teams, and encourage employees to get involved in each of their programs too. They even sponsor a bocce ball tournament that has grown to become one of the largest in the Midwest. A good portion of their marketing budget goes into these community activities.
They also have a unique pricing policy that says, give the customer the best price on a new or used vehicle and post it on the vehicle and online. Yes every new car has the best price on their website. No standard MSRP or one model only “sale car price” but their best price. And guess what, their store is not only a great place to work but a great place to buy or service your car.
They don’t lose sleep over comments on Facebook or Twitter, don’t need Reputation Management Analysis, or automated alerts on various brand names. Visitors to their website will not find a link to Facebook or Twitter on their dealership home page but can quickly find links to inventory, financing and service information. They simply do what’s right every day; keep their brand visible in the market, and work hard to make every customer very happy when they leave.
Is this easy? Absolutely not, but it works much better than paying thousands and thousands of dollars a month for services that just hide your problems. Every market is different and you need to discover what works best for you, but understand the more transparency you offer the more your reputation will improve.
Dealerships and sales people need to leverage the many free resources available to help build and protect your reputation online and gain visibility. Don’t spend money you can’t afford, on projects with no clear ROI, to reach an audience that has no interest in your products or services.
Focus on your people, treat them right and they will show you amazing results and take care of your customers.
Mark Dubis is an auto retailing marketing strategist and an executive with Carfolks.com, a dealer advocate website.
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