CommentaryJun 6th, 2024

Marketing Alignment & What I Wish the Auto Industry Knew

The Marketer Image One Dustin Schuler FIXED

Written by Dustin Schuler, Marketing Manager at Bud Clary Auto Group

Dustin is a data-driven marketer who is focused on results-oriented leadership.

When it comes to marketing, Automotive is a special industry. Unlike ecommerce, or even some of the larger buying cycles that I’ve encountered such as mortgage lending or condo rentals, we have the most fragmented customer journey and buying funnel that I’ve ever engaged in to date.

However, I can pull some similarities with other franchise industries such as regional chain restaurants and gyms that only allow their franchisees to work with specific vetted marketing agencies, much like our OEM infrastructure that many dealers face.

As someone who lives and breathes automotive marketing, I work through some challenging alignment issues that we wouldn’t face in other industries. The key misalignment that I see in our industry is both coming from the OEMs and vendors to dealers (and dealer groups!)


While I know that the OEMs have a very challenging role outside of just marketing, the marketing aspects for Tier 2 (regional) and Tier 3 (dealer level) marketing tend to be outsourced to agencies to handle everything from co-op submissions and approved vendor sign-ups.

From my perspective, they do this to scale and have a turnkey solution that they know will work for dealers. When it comes to having a list of approved vendors, they do this to protect the single-point dealers, and small groups, that don’t have someone primarily focused on marketing, from signing up with vendors that are bad actors, provide poor results, or don’t follow the OEM brand guidelines.

They also sometimes come with pre-negotiated rates that a single point would never have the chance to come close to. So, I do see the value in it, especially when we’re looking out for the small dealers.

As of recent years, this has grown to include OEM tracking capabilities for them to see everything going on from their tier 1 advertising down to tier 3.

Some of the more advanced OEMs are even showing comparison reporting between how vendors perform at a macro level allowing dealers to simply choose the best of the bunch and enhance competition.

However, without calling any OEMs out directly, the approved vendors and their OEM requirements bring constraints to dealers and the vendors alike — both with different challenges.

For dealers and groups, we face substantial process change when vendors are removed from these programs especially when it comes to websites, digital retailing, and equity mining tools.

We can have empirical evidence that the tool we’re currently using performs better and helps us sell more cars, which you would think would be in alignment with the OEM’s goal, but if it’s not an approved vendor, you risk co-op loss, compliance strikes, or worse, reduced allocation.

As a dealer group, like mine, this throws another wrench in our plans. When you run a multi-location brand, you’re looked at differently. Customers expect the same or better customer service from your other dealers that share the same brand name This is easier to accomplish when your entire organization is running like a well oiled machine with the same processes, and you guessed it, tools and vendors. For a real world example, I’ve had stores that share used car inventory, a parking lot, and staff that have had to change digital retailing tools with 30-days notice because one of the franchises had new vendor requirements.

That’s a rather extreme example and to their credit, we usually have at least 60-90 days notice, but It’s rather difficult to advertise a uniform buy online program as a brand or dealer group when all the processes are fragmented due to OEM requirements.

On the other hand, this affects the vendors quite a bit too. It really hurts innovation because some OEMs don't allow small vendors in, which has the ability to disrupt the status quo and it’s difficult for companies in other industries to disrupt our market.

Our websites are still on a standard content management system (CMS) with substandard hosting and sending leads through antiquated ADF/XML. While we’re on Wordpress, other industries have already moved past headless wordpress websites and are now evolving to next-gen server-driven frameworks utilizing websockets to stream websites instead of loading them.

Think of how quick our chat tools respond on our websites. Now imagine if your website was basically a chat tool that constantly streamed content rather than loading something and waiting every time that you click.

Just last week, I met with the owner of a major website company in our industry and he said that they can easily do it or start working on it, but the OEMs aren’t ready for it. We need to start thinking about how to start moving forward as an industry rather than making marginal improvements to check a box and make us feel good.

The OEMs can help the dealer body by setting up virtual marketing 20 groups to get feedback from the marketing specialists, managers, and directors that operate within their OEM and allowing more exemptions for testing out new vendors. I know that the initial pushback on exemptions would often be that the companies need to be able to handle the scale of their dealers, so I’d recommend regional roll-outs for new vendors, which is already common for some OEMs.


When it comes to the advertising vendors in automotive, we have some of the most intelligent and passionate individuals I’ve ever seen in marketing. However, over the last several years, I’ve consistently come across vendors that are out of alignment with dealers. If you want to be successful in this industry, there’s one acronym you need to know and it becomes significantly more important when times are challenging.

D.I.S.C. — Does it sell cars?

Everything you do needs to drill down to either acquiring, selling, or servicing cars.

Now, I understand how to take what a vendor gives us for reporting (or make my own) to paint a picture of effectiveness for ownership for every marketing medium, but when most dealers have a GM, GSM, or SM working with these vendors, it can easily turn into a hack and slack budget cut when times are tough.

The ad agencies and SEO companies that I’ve encountered through personal signups or store acquisitions fall short on this the most. If you’re providing reporting for paid digital ads, clicks and impressions matter. However, what matters more is the hard conversions and leads that these drive.

If I run a Google VLA campaign that drops people onto specific VDPs, the VDP views we receive shouldn’t be the primary metric for instance. That’s the entire objective of the campaign.

How many chats, phone calls, form fills, trade appraisals, and digital retailing leads did we receive?

When it comes to SEO, most reporting is surface level. Here is how many keywords you rank for, your search visibility, keyword improvements (or declines), and organic traffic for the month. None of that directly hits on the D.I.S.C. question and positions your service as a luxury and the first thing to cut when sales start slowing down. The simple way to show real value is to… well… show it.

Add to all your client reports the hard conversions that visitors to your blogs or content brings and the assisted conversions that your pages brought. If you don’t have those, how much traffic did your pages bring in and what is the estimated CPC based on industry benchmarks or your client’s average cost-per-click? That at least helps paint a picture early on if you don’t have conversions to show.

What’s strange about this is that this is common practice outside of automotive.

The local HVAC company who absolutely needs their marketing to work in order for their team of 8 to eat, that guy needs to know what his cost per lead is; not how many sessions you brought to his site.

It’d be unacceptable or likely your agency just wouldn’t get paid, contract or not, but in auto, that’s what we see from the vast majority of vendors, and especially out of the box from the OEM turnkey advertising vendors.


You didn’t think I was going to leave us out of this right?

For dealers, we need to have clear expectations for our vendor partners and be vocal about it. That also means we need to be willing to email them back when they ask a question or need our help.

We can easily become our own worst enemy by not being prompt with requests on our end or by not speaking the same language from the beginning. As busy as we are, the account reps we have likely have dozens of other accounts, dealers, and groups they have to manage, so it goes both ways.

When it comes to the OEMs, we have to use our voices to be heard. As dealers, by participating in national and regional boards, we can help the OEMs and help bring change. Carve out that extra time with your OEM reps, instead of just checking a box, to push for what you want or need (outside of more allocation…), it will make a difference for everyone, but it does take all of us.

It’s not all doom and gloom.

As a marketer in this industry, the one thing that drives me is how my work affects others. What I do (or don’t do) directly affects the paychecks of every person in the dealership.

If I don’t get that ad live, the opportunity cost is great and affects the sales teams numbers. If I don’t send out that service reminder campaign, that affects the food on the table for every service advisor.

I say this to reinforce the fact that it’s not dealer vs OEM or dealer vs the vendors. We’re all in this together to push our industry forward and we all play a critical role in this equation.

If I can sum up the auto industry as a whole in one word, it would be resilient. We’ve gone through many ups and downs together and we keep moving forward.

Written by Dustin Schuler, Marketing Manager at Bud Clary Auto Group

Dustin is a data-driven marketer who is focused on results-oriented leadership.

    Curated, quality insights?
    Content worth the click