CommentaryApr 30th, 2024

10 Things I Hate About Automotive Marketing

The Marketer Image 2 One Joe Brown -2

Written by Joe Brown, Chief Marketing Officer of Frank Leta Automotive Group. Joe is a third-generation dealer who merges tradition and innovation to achieve exceptional results.

I didn’t choose automotive, I was born into it.  By nature, I am not a “car guy”.  But I am a marketing guy, and that has allowed me to find my niche in the family business.

As a third-generation dealer, my automotive career began as a child actor in Grandpa’s commercials. Grandpa would proclaim, “You just can’t beat a Frank Leta deal. Right, gang?” Cut to the adorable grandkid "board of directors" gathered around a conference room table, delivering the iconic line, “Right, Grandpa!”

Through the years, I washed cars, worked in the service drive, learned the ropes in the finance department, moved into marketing, and am now the CMO for the Frank Leta Auto Group.  Throughout my career, I witnessed firsthand the rise of dealer websites, chat, Google Analytics, digital retailing, CDPs, AI, etc.  

As the dealership tech stack grew, so too did my job description and number of hats worn.  My relationship with automotive marketing can best be described as the love-hate variety.  What follows are some of the roadblocks and frustrations that I’ve encountered over the years.  My intention is to let others experiencing similar issues know that they’re not alone, and to serve as a catalyst for pushing the industry forward.

1. Marketing’s Marketing Problem

Dealership marketing departments are understaffed, underappreciated, and underfunded. Very often, the “department” is a single individual.  Luckily we’re creative!  

Speaking of creative, automotive marketing creative is often anything but creative.  Traditionally, less is more.  But in auto, more is more.  “Can you make the logo bigger?”  “How about a big starburst?” “Make sure we have a CTA for every possible scenario jammed on both the VDP and SRP” “Needs more balloons”.  The “M” in GM must stand for marketing.

When marketing is going well, sales gets the credit.  When sales are down, marketing gets the credit.  We tend to only get attention when there’s a problem (which is frequent).  Most marketers include a firefighter helmet in their collection of many hats.

2. The Leads Are Weak

Sales: We want more leads!

Marketing: We have leads at home!

Sales wants marketing to generate more leads.  Marketing wants sales to work the leads they already have.  The solution is somewhere in between and requires continuous communication between departments.  Both sides need to realize that they’re on the same team and that the customers are the true enemy.

3. Race to the Bottom

Sure, there were a lot of downsides to the global pandemic and microchip shortage, but automotive was coming up roses.  Now we’re back to high inventory levels, and even higher competition.  Dealers quickly returned to the pricing game, where it costs a lot to win, and even more to lose.

4. Websites

Most franchise dealers have to go with an approved website provider.  But every OEM has its own set of approved vendors, so not all dealer groups are able to select a single provider for consistency.  Provider options are limited.  And, unfortunately, new innovative providers are rarely able to get on the OEM lists.

Let’s talk about user experience!  The bar is set so low for automotive websites.  Comically low.  Automotive is a sort of unicorn where no matter how many pop-ups, squeeze pages, lead gates, CTA stacks, and slow load time, a user will STILL submit their contact info.  Ask yourself if you would put your own mother through your website experience.

5. Digital Retailing

How did we let ourselves get conned into thinking that we need to pay significantly more than what we’re currently paying for an already expensive website, to add functionality that a dealer website needs in order to remain relevant?

6. OEMs Know Best

They mean well.  Probably…  But OEMs make our job as marketers very difficult.  Between compliance, co-op, and OEM programs, our options become very limited very quickly.  

In a competitive market, you need to stand out.  But you need to use one of only a small handful of vendors who all produce compliant ads with OEM creative, so everyone ends up looking the same.  Great for the OEMs.  Not so much for the dealer.

OEM programs also mandate fixed pricing, preventing dealers from doing what they love most… negotiating!  

My favorite compliance violation is when the OEM cites an OEM-created slide/page for being non-compliant.

7. Same S***, Different Vendor

Raise your hand if you had one vendor tell you that they can outperform your current vendor, only to switch to that vendor, maintain similar results, and have another vendor tell you that they can do better than your (new) current vendor.  Or, you get an amazing sales pitch from a brilliant company figurehead.  Once you have signed up, a low-level account rep -- who knows nothing about the promised recipe for success -- is assigned.

If you rely solely on vendor reporting, they’ll always over-deliver and are single-handedly keeping your dealership afloat.  Some vendors are better at taking credit for sales than they are at actually generating additional opportunities.  If they could apply that same creativity to enhance their product, imagine what could be accomplished.  

We need a good match back report for OUR efforts to claim credit for sales.  Maybe a big starburst with “OVER DELIVERED”.

8. Lack of APIs

Why can’t we all just get along?  It’s always amusing to me when someone from outside of automotive, who assumes APIs are commonplace in every industry, thinks they’re being punk’d by auto’s lack of openness.  Then they discover the MS-DOS-looking DMS interface and really lose it.

9. The Automotive RenAIssance

When did every automotive vendor become an AI company?

10. But Mostly…

I hate the way I don’t hate automotive marketing, not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.

Maybe a little…

What I Love About Automotive Marketing

I have grown to love automotive marketing. I have a voice, and I am working, alongside my peers, to make it better. The unique challenges that we overcome on a daily basis only strengthens our creativity.  Automotive retailers are resilient. Overcoming obstacles IS the game.

I’ve met some of the most wonderful people in auto. People with entrepreneurial spirit. People who came from nothing, and have made lucrative careers for themselves. Trailblazers, like my Grandfather. I’m proud to be able to carry on my family’s legacy.  I can’t think of any other industry I’d rather be in.

Written by Joe Brown, Chief Marketing Officer of Frank Leta Automotive Group. Joe is a third-generation dealer who merges tradition and innovation to achieve exceptional results.

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