The Automotive Digital Revolution Is Starving for Leadership

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Dealer Principals and General Managers have more choices where to spend their marketing dollars than ever before! Dealer Principals today are very comfortable with traditional advertising: newspaper, radio, TV, and direct mail. They understand how it works. They know the costs involved and most likely have a trusted vendor who executes marketing messages in these channels each month.

The internet and mobile communications, however, have brought a tsunami of change to their business marketing strategies. Dealer Principals and General Managers, as a whole, are not as very comfortable with digital marketing as they are with traditional media.

Digital marketing investments can be highly targeted and personalized at a comparatively low cost. The Internet is the great equalizer; small dealerships can have a very strong presence without spending a lot of money. Regardless of these opportunities, Dealer Principals and General Managers need someone to show them how it all works to sell cars.

Many high volume dealers and larger dealer groups are creating the position of “Digital Marketing Manager” (DMM) to help them decide which investments are the best for the business. The position of Digital Marketing Manager comes with ample creative opportunities, but also great responsibility.

Unlike established job positions in dealerships a clear job description for a Digital Marketing Manager is often missing from Human Resource handbooks. This new role will likely not have a performance history, operating guidelines, or a competitive compensation plan.

In fact one of the weaknesses of this hiring strategy is that this role may not have the technical and strategic support that the Digital Marketing Manager needs to succeed. The owner or General Manager at the dealership may not care to learn or understand the responsibilities of the DMM. Management may pass the digital marketing decisions solely to the DMM, which could result in a costly disconnect. It could eventually damage the momentum of the business.

Dealers, who are considering establishing a Digital Marketing Manager (DMM) position, will not succeed without the involvement of the executive team. This comes down to a discussion about leadership; will the dealership make the commitment to master the new tools of e-commerce?

Dealer Principals and General Managers must understand that until the consumer walks into the showroom, they are in an e-commerce business. The executive team cannot continue to use excuses to delay the personal investment they need to make to manage their digital marketing investments.

I’m in the process of completing my next book entitled “Mastering Automotive Digital Marketing”, which will be a 300+ page guide for Automotive Digital Marketing Managers. As I put the final touches on this book, it is clear that in order for the US automotive industry to evolve and leverage advanced phases of digital marketing, the Owners and General Managers must commit to continuing education certifications.

Without the management team understanding the “real-life” demands of a Digital Marketing Manager, they will likely get bored and fire a perfectly good candidate that they feel is underperforming. My inbox is filled with stories of DMMs that left their dealership, because they felt that they were working on an island; they were the only person in the dealership who understood what they did each day.

Many dealership executives can’t mentor, inspect, or manage their Digital Marketing Managers. Dealership executives can mentor all other areas of their dealership, except for this important role. This is a cultural bias that must change, and change quickly.

The need for executive level training and certifications for digital marketing must be reinforced by OEMs, Digital Marketing Speakers, and NADA. All Dealer Principals and General Managers should be required to obtain digital certifications, as part of a continuing education program. Without such education, our industry will be at risk. We will never fully leverage the opportunities that exist to create a better online customer experience.

Brian Pasch is the CEO of PCG Consulting as well as an international speaker, writer and trainer.

Michael Bowen


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