Marketing to American Heroes

I’ve been in and around the retail automobile business for the past forty years. I owned and/or operated dealerships for the first twenty years. And, with my son, over the last twenty, we have created and implemented sales promotions, and prospect/customer follow up programs for dealerships nationally. We’ve worked with more than 7,000 dealers during that time.

What I’ve learned about dealers and prospects and customers during my time so far is that most things don’t change in the dealer business, but some things do. Like the dealers today, myself included, we always wanted to sell as many cars and trucks as possible, (we didn’t worry as much about customer retention before the internet, it just sort of happened). Consumers did not have as many choices or information available to them, so it seemed a little easier, I think. But we dealers always want to feel good, all of us, then and now. And we always enjoy and seek to be perceived as a “good guy” and the “go-to” dealer in our communities. If you can get that, that’s the icing on the cake. It’s both emotionally and financially rewarding, and that’s still the same today.

On the other hand, customers and prospects, these days, generally expect to get exactly what they want, and if they perceive that you’re not a “good guy” (even if someone just says so on the internet), they quickly and easily move on, and often times leave a negative review on their way out.

OK, so how do we get them coming and going, and keep them? Here’s our recent experience:

After a year of soliciting contributions and then handing out free $50 Dinner Cards to active servicemen, one at a time, on military bases and at air shows, Thanks-A-Bunch for keeping us safe ( received a 501c3 military non-profit certification. After reaching this status, TAB now hoped to make a real difference for more military heroes and veterans and their families, but they needed to get more $50 Dinner Cards to more of these American heroes. So they came to us in the beginning of 2012 inquiring whether we could create and test a marketing plan to get auto dealers to participate in a win-win event to deliver thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of cards to military personnel, veterans, and their families.

We did the research, piloted it in a few communities, with a few strategic dealerships, and rolled it out in October of 2012. (We added First Responders—Police, Firefighters and Paramedics, increasing dealer traffic by 50% in July of this year.) We have now run 75 Military and Hero Appreciation events in 60 different cities. Every dealer enjoying strong traffic, sales, and dozens of positive online reviews. Every single dealer!

Not only have each of the Hero Appreciation Week dealers become the “go-to” dealer for military, veterans, police, firefighters, and paramedics in their market, but more than half of these dealers have had TV stations come to their locations during the event and do live news spots.

Actually the easiest way to see all of this is on a four minute video at

So, here is what we’ve learned out there in this dealer/customer market over the past two years:

  • Everybody loves military and first responder appreciation across the country.
  • A dealer can stand out of the crowd in his market area by reaching out to these heroes.
  • You must promote it yourself in order to leverage it (not just only offer rebates/military discounts available from virtually all of the OEM’s).
    • Private brand ‘cards’ or other incentives
    • Make sure they’re honored at dozens of restaurants locally and thousands nationally
    • If you want to be the “go to” dealer in your area, get after this niche before some other dealer does
    • If you can, make sure newsletters or flyers are sent out to all of your target group in your market area (This is where a charitable organization promoting your location e.g. to all military and first responder organizations is paramount.)
    • Have plenty of signage—outdoor, indoor, and website—to let everyone know they’ve come to the right place.
    • In addition, take this opportunity email all of your customers in your database to let them know what you are doing and when. Invite them in with some incentive, as well.
    • Make sure a press release goes to all of the media about your altruism.
    • Newspapers, radio, and TV stations that you have spent money with advertising regularly in the past will help you.
  • You can get substantially more traffic by doing this for a “full” week (eight or nine days Fri/Sat thru the following Sunday). The “viral” effect keeps the traffic flowing.
  • Give them a good incentive to come to your dealership, something they can use for themselves and maybe for their family.
  • Give them the recognition they crave and deserve.

You know that you already are a “good guy”, but this is a great way for your community (and your employees) to know it too. And this will definitely help you take a leap forward in becoming the “go-to” dealer in your area.

Bill Magarity is the president/CEO of Two Minute Marketing, LLC., the parent and operator of the Hero Appreciation Week event. To view a short four minute video of the event being run live visit

Bill Magarity


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