MarketingCommentary & Insights

Marketing
A Career of Disruption

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“True disruption means threatening your existing product line and your past investments. Breakthrough products disrupt current lines of businesses.”  – Peter Diamandis  Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Owen Moon, CEO of FIXED OPS DIGITAL and a new Expert Panel Contributor for Dealer Marketing Magazine. For most of my 22-year career in the automotive industry I have considered myself to be a disruptor. My career started in early 2000 when I was hired to help an automotive focused advertising agency create and sell a comprehensive sub-prime program. For the next few years, hundreds of dealerships across the country utilized our program to break into what was at the time a relatively new, but lucrative market. This program included everything from Marketing, F&I, Inventory Management, Software, Leads Handling, and even BDC Training. I would spend the first few years of my career travelling around the country helping our dealer partners implement this program into their dealership culture. Looking back, I considered this experience to be the best education anyone could’ve gotten to learn the auto industry from the inside out. A few years later I once again found myself in a unique situation as one of the early adopters of personalized database mailers. At the time using variable data fields to personalize the information for each customer was a relatively new concept. I remember when we ran our 1st “buyback” direct mail campaign and helped a dealership sell 35 new KIA’s in a weekend utilizing a target list of 2,000 previous customers. In a weekend we helped sell as many new KIA’s as they usually sold in a month! Over the next few years, we would develop and execute multiple personalized database mailer strategies for dealerships across the country!  As technology began to evolve the “next thing” again presented itself. I was introduced to a new strategy called GeoFencing. Geofencing is a real-time location-based marketing tactic that uses geolocation data to target users within an established geographic area. Then delivering ads based on where they are or in what locations they have previously visited. I moved my focus to helping dealerships execute targeted geofencing campaigns. I also spent a lot of this time speaking at conferences and 20 groups showing dealerships the power of this new type of mobile marketing. Then came 2018. The auto industry was booming! Dealerships were spending most of their marketing budgets utilizing digital strategies and the industry was full of vendors and agencies who were more than willing to help! In such a crowded vendor environment I again found myself in a situation focusing on a new concept. This time in the service department. FIXED OPS DIGITAL was born and for the first 12-18 months there was just as much educating going on as there was executing. As FIXED OPS DIGITAL started to grow, we took pride as being the industry leaders in online service marketing. As 2020 rolled around we knew that service marketing was going to continue to get more attention. We had no idea that both Covid and the new vehicle inventory shortage would only magnify this! Today FIXED OPS DIGITAL is the Premier Service Marketing & Technology Company servicing over 650 dealerships in the United States and Canada.  Are you a disruptor?! Then I applaud you. Disruptors are risk takers. Disruptors are educators. The challenge with being a disruptor is that the first couple years are usually the hardest. Trying to educate and gain dealership adoption can be tough. As a new Expert Panel Contributor for Dealer Marketing Magazine, with the opportunities and challenges today’s automotive market is facing, I look forward to bringing my years of experience being a disruptor to provide valuable insight.      
Inhouse vs Outsourced marketing
How Marketing and Accounting Play Powerfully as a Team

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Within my own career journey, I worked at a high-line auto group based out of the New York Market. Originally when I took the role, the group had an advertising agency responsible for all marketing accounting oversight in conjunction with the CFO and Controller of the company. As time went on, the owner decided to eliminate the agency and have myself and my team handle all the marketing in house, including working directly with accounting on all marketing responsibilities that the prior agency held.  My responsibilities varied day to day as Vice President of Marketing but I worked very closely with the entire accounting department on annual and monthly marketing budgets. Reviewing parts statements, contract negotiations, vendor billing management, marketing accruals, co-op submissions, co-op management, and marketing accounting oversight, I had to sign off on every single marketing, advertising, or 3rd party invoice prior to it getting to the check signer for all locations. Depending on the dealership, this area is sometimes not well defined or looked upon as a priority. Having a buttoned up and fully transparent marketing strategy, where all the internal teams are in sync, is not always part of the narrative. Especially when making decisions, not all accounting departments are involved with the marketing strategy.  Flash forward to 2021 when I met Kelly Edgar, who I now know as The Virtual Controller. We clicked instantly over synergies we have as we both work within the accounting department of a dealership; we have very similar philosophies and mindsets on the topic of marketing accounting. I sat down to interview The Virtual Controller about best practices and any advice she has to maximize profitability for your store. M: What is a sustainable marketing accounting process that every dealership across the US needs to have?  VC: For all my dealerships, every month I run an advertising expense report. This is always matched up with the budget and ties to the financial statement, so the partner or the GM can easily see what they agreed to and where the final expense came in at. This is a great tool to use month to month to order to see and understand your expense tracking. This is also good for the GM to compare to their other advertising reports because they have access to reports that we don’t get to see from a traditional accounting standpoint. An example would be the ability to compare their ad expense on Facebook to the number of impressions generated: this is also helpful in terms of the GM’s ability to monitor and understand whether there are expenses that are able to be cut, those not converting to traffic for the store. These reports are important to produce, even if they’re not asked for because there will come a time that the GM must make a split decision and they can refer to these reports easily, building trust within your accounting department and controller. M: Why is reviewing the advertising budget important to do monthly? What are some best practices and tips you can suggest for a new General Manager or Owner? VC: From an accounting standpoint, their Controller should be in consistent contact with the GM/O/MP concerning any out-of-the-ordinary advertising items. I know, for me, most of the time, I don’t get the budget until the month is almost over. This is just because the GM certainly does not have to get my permission on what his ad spend is, but at the same time, I am responsible and required to let him know when I see something that appears too high or too low. This is also something I feel comes with time as well as knowing your GM. There are a lot of times that I advise my GM on items that appear out of the ordinary and don’t receive a response. Regardless, my GM likes to know that I am watching those things, that is what I am there for. Another reason it is important to watch the budget is because the GM can monitor trends, both good and bad. I always give my GM a report of where the actual expense came in; it is in this way that they can compare the impressions they are getting on Google Analytics vs. what they are spending on such. M: Why should a dealership have an accounting department (virtual or in-house) manage the marketing accounting vs an agency? VC: You know, I have worked at dealerships before where we had an in-house marketing professional as well as having worked at a dealership that used an advertising agency. I really do see the benefit of both. In my opinion, the consideration really comes down to who has the most/best relationships. You may be dealing with an advertising agency that has a far reach, for example, having used the same radio station for a long time and can get you the best spots at a discount. And you may find that local professional that also has longtime relationships with different outlets that can provide you the same value. Either way you are paying for their experience, which can be expensive. Ultimately what you want is the exposure for your store. I am a strong believer in allowing your staff to do what it is they thrive in doing. And to me, other than monitoring the expense side, advertising should be left to a pro. It is way too large of a commitment and expense to trust to someone without skin in the game.
The Not-So-Hidden Gold Mine That Could Increase Dealership Revenue Instantly

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A customer for life goes a long way in automotive. It’s not just the vehicle purchase, it’s everything that comes with it: maintenance, service, add-ons, renewals, and, of course, referrals.   But it’s hard to scale personalized campaigns to past customers and to leads that ghosted. The messaging is different, the approach is sensitive, and the timing has to be perfect. There are also several factors that come into play like the last website visit, VDP views, and lease/finance renewal.  While no human can physically scale this kind of personalization, this is just another application of machine learning that could turn your CRM into a money-making machine. Think about it: if your CRM has 10,000 non-active leads, and you can reawaken even as little as 10%, you're looking at 1,000 new customers for life. It’s really pure gold waiting to be discovered.  It’s all about the audiences  The first step in making sure you’re investing in the right technology to turn more of your CRM into revenue opportunities is the audience game. You want to make sure your dealership isn’t bucketing opportunities into irrelevant audiences, like lease renewal for someone who has more than a year remaining, or service for someone who just came in. The demanded-- and expected-- hyper-personalization starts with the right segmentation, so you need to be optimizing audiences like people who recently visited VDPs, cash renewals, and cold “non-buyers” (leads that converted over 8 months ago and did not buy a car from you).  Make it dynamic  Once you have the right machines in place to identify and segment appropriate audiences, you need to make sure your email templates and SMS marketing have dynamic templates and merge tags. No one wants to receive an email without their first name or pre-filled forms. If you’re sending the email, you should know who they are!  But it goes even further than this- as you send traffic from an email blast to a specific landing page, your dealership can have dynamic videos and forms already embedded on the landing page to maintain that 1:1 conversation with your prospect. Once someone clicks on a hyperlink from your email, you will know how to identify them and greet them when they land on your website, keeping the transition and user experience extremely smooth. You can also personalize things like vehicles of interest or relevant services with dynamic templates.  Don’t forget connectivity  Even if your dealership invests in the best technology for mining your CRM, real-time machine learning can’t possibly function at its best without connected data. Make sure your dealership’s website data and ad activity is connected and communicating with the CRM so you have a full picture of the prospect’s digital footprint. While CRM information is critical, it has to be coupled with shopper activity in order to make the most of every opportunity and turn more (dead) leads into sales. When data is connected it also provides you with the most updated version of your customer’s story, bringing you one step closer to conversion.   There are a lot of pieces to pull together when thinking about personalized lead nurture at a scale that can convert more of your database into business. And while no human can possibly do this, your dealership should consider AI-powered technologies that can learn your audiences, segment, and target shoppers with just the right message on and off the site. Your data and your customer base could be the gold mine you’ve been looking for, so don’t miss out. 
facebook marketplace
RIP Facebook Marketplace for Dealers?

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Facebook Marketplace underwent some changes in September and no longer lists vehicles from partner catalog feeds. This includes the entire marketplace experience: homepage, search function, etc.  There is a lot of debate on how this will affect the industry. But before we get into the juice, let’s clarify how dealers can still reach buyers on Facebook, even with this change. Create vehicle listings from the “inventory” tab on your dealership/business page Dealers still have the option to upload their inventory from their personal business pages (instead of having this also aggregated in Marketplace). While this is still a free option, the click rate on the inventory tab on business pages is quite low, so it’s critical to monitor this. It will be interesting to see if click rate and engagement rate will increase as Marketplace becomes more lean with inventory after this change.  Create AIA ( Automotive Inventory Ads )  AIA gives dealers the ability to upload an entire catalog of vehicles to Facebook so that the Facebook pixel can then target the best shoppers with the right inventory at the right time. The upload process is similar to the one disconnected with Marketplace, where you can send a feed automatically to Facebook. While this is not a free option, it’s an efficient way to get your vehicle listings seen by in-market shoppers (including placements on Marketplace among other placements on Facebook).  Manually create listings in Marketplace  This option does allow for dealerships to continue to showcase inventory (certified pre-owned only) on Marketplace, but since it’s manual the dealership would have to upload every/all relevant listings with all associated information. This is extremely time consuming, and for some, probably not worth the hassle.  So, what’s the field predicting with this change?   Some think it really won’t matter since AIA is the same idea, just paid, and will include ads on Facebook Marketplace when relevant. This is probably true for larger dealerships and/or Franchise dealers who have the means to do this through AIA.  Others think this will be a beneficial change for small and independent dealers since they usually entered manually anyway. Now, these smaller dealerships will also increase visibility since the larger franchises won’t have the capacity to upload manually. Cutting the competition and the noise can skyrocket results for these dealerships.  Lastly, some predict it will be similar to Craiglist’s change a few years back where they also eliminated the overwhelming amount of organic posts and in turn, helped shoppers find what they are looking for faster with a cleaner user interface.  What happens next? Like any big change in automotive, it’s going to be critical to watch trends for the next few months-- understand if this change was good or bad for your business. Do you have fewer leads? Do you have more qualified leads? Is your marketing team being more productive on other channels? Did your predictions for the change match reality? These are all important questions to tackle as we go into October and November and learn as an industry.  *This article was inspired by a forum thread in Dealer Refresh . 
user experience
The Automotive Website Tragedy Still Exists and Frankly, I’m Shocked

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We’re halfway through 2021 and we’re still seeing website tragedies in automotive. And yes, it really is a tragedy. When a dealership spends that much money for a solid website, competitive traffic, and SEO maintenance, you’d expect the website to be optimized for conversions and leads. If you want your website to attract most modern-day shoppers, there is some work to be done in the industry because, without this gem, dealerships can’t showcase their inventory, incentives, and dealership culture to the avid online shopper.  So let’s dissect some of the common mistakes that we are still seeing today and how you can fix them.  Overlapping CTAs One of the most common website tragedies is when CTAs (call-to-actions/buttons) overlap with each other. CTAs are your moment to shine, dealers! So if you’re crowding the button with bad UX (user experience), your expensive traffic is never going to convert into a lead-- and not just because of the aesthetic, but because it’s actually impossible to click the CTA underneath when something is blocking it.  This is a must clean-up situation so you can optimize for the most leads. Where can you start? Probably with consolidating on-site vendors so you can avoid these CSS mistakes, but if you insist on keeping separate vendors, I’d certainly recommend connecting the vendors to coordinate online real estate.  Stuck/Cutoff Overlays Dealership websites often have multiple pop-up overlays, including chat, that simultaneously interrupt a shopper's browsing experience. But what’s worse is that often the overlay is cut off, usually because it’s not optimized for every screen and every device. As you can imagine, not seeing the full engagement can lead to some frustrated online buyers.   To avoid this, dealers need to work with quality (not quantity) website optimization partners and ensure proper QA on every device. With our screen-obsessed generation, you never know if your next buyer will be searching for their vehicle on a tablet, iphone, or computer, but rest assured, they’ll expect the perfect user experience wherever they are.  Dead Specials Pages When consumers click on your specials page, they’re expecting gold-- how can they get the best deal and are you the store that’s going to give it to them? If your specials page doesn’t display any incentives, you’re losing an opportunity. Your dealership should be investing in technology that scans multiple data sources, in real-time, so you can pull any incentive opportunity for your dealership at any time. This way, your dealership doesn’t just rely on OEM incentives resulting in some dead days in the beginning of the month.  Lack of Transparency  Even if your store is not a one-price store, you can still show basic price transparency on your website and leave room for negotiation later. In this example, the sale price isn’t even listed which pushes away the modern shopper looking to understand ballpark prices before committing to a conversion online. Use transparency to attract all kinds of shoppers, but especially the experienced online shoppers.  While it’s important to look into all the new digital marketing solutions out there to build healthy streams of traffic, this is a reminder not to leave your website behind. Your website is your home base-- your lead magnet-- to represent your dealership and bring in more business in a world where 92% of shoppers will start their journey online. Let’s make it easy for them! 
digital disruption
A Guide to Getting More From Your Digital Retailing Tools

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When I joined the automotive industry, the Chevrolet Celebrity was the top-selling car in the U.S. A lot has changed in the intervening 35 years. Just as models are tweaked to address changing taste in design, so too do dealers need to address changing preferences for how customers buy and sell cars. I’ve been in many conversations with dealers about providing customer-centric environments. But setting an appointment and hoping a customer is willing to spend four hours on the showroom floor to close a deal no longer qualifies as customer centric. The standards for efficiency in customer acquisition are changing as consumers move beyond the traditional purchasing experience. Dealers who seamlessly integrate their customers’ online shopping experience with the in-store one can improve deal throughput and profitability. The capabilities are probably available in your existing digital retailing platform — you just need to take advantage of them. As a father, I watch how my kids interact with online tools to satisfy their needs — all in the moment, starting and stopping and picking up again at their convenience. A McKinsey report suggests that by 2025, millennials will represent as much as 45% of the new-car purchasing demographic. Smart dealers are already integrating their services to cater to the taste of these digital natives for a contactless experience, which will only grow as more consumers enter the market with no recollection of the slower, in-person ways.  It’s time to rethink the customer experience to address the changing attitudes of a new generation of shoppers, where dealers will be challenged to get consumers to the showroom. You can do this by: Taking advantage of digital tools to improve both marketing and operational efficiencies Ensuring seamless transitions from online to in-store experiences Facing forward Many dealers tap only limited functions of their digital retailing platform. They view the tools through a marketing lens, to send emails to attract the customer to the dealership, without thinking of how the technology can improve their operational processes already in place.  It’s easy to become so mired in your usual checklists that you overlook opportunities to improve efficiencies. Efficiency isn’t only about putting a trade or purchase value on the car, getting signatures, and determining the “we owe” to the customer. It’s more than simply revising an in-store process. If you only view your digital retailing platform as an extension of your marketing department, you’re not leveraging its capabilities. The platform integrates physical dealerships with the virtual world, allowing your customers to shop for cars on your website just as they’d shop for products on Amazon. After finding a vehicle on your website, potential buyers build their customized offer and explore credit position and financing options — all from their laptops or smartphones, whenever and wherever they desire. Robust platforms are able to track what the customer has done prior to coming to the showroom. This preliminary research will save time once they’re in the dealership. They’ll have a more informed idea of what they want and arrive more inclined to buy. It becomes a streamlined experience for the customer and results in improved throughput for the dealer. But this only happens if the transition from online to in-store is seamless, with the customer able to pick up the buying trail in-person where it left off online, rather than re-starting in the store from scratch. There are three key questions to ask about your digital retailing capabilities: Does your marketing messaging match the in-store experience you intend to give your customers? Is your team able to execute on your marketing promise to deliver a seamless online to in-store experience? Where do your inefficiencies lie and where can you become more efficient? It might sound trite, but words matter. Your messaging defines the customer experience, which itself is defined by the dealer's execution. If your website promises an expedited, always-on purchasing experience, you need to deliver that. And just as you maximize the efficiencies of your technicians on a day-to-day basis, so too should you maximize your digital retailing process. Ready for a change What’s at stake here is retailer throughput and ultimate profitability. Empowered, trained sales departments leveraging the capabilities of robust digital platforms can move more customers effortlessly through the buying funnel, with less manpower, adding to gross profit. If changing your process allows you to serve even three additional customers every busy Saturday through the course of a year, it can make a dramatic difference to your bottom line. And you can do that simply by using the features that are already available in your digital retailing platform. While not every dealer is seeking to offer a fully digital one-touch experience, every dealer should be seeking to maximize operational efficiencies.  Moreover, a robust digital retail platform can be used to solicit inventory in addition to outbound sales. Dealerships hungry to supplement stock in today’s tight market can reach out to customers to gauge interest in selling or trading in vehicles. The ability to get an accurate trade valuation without having to visit the physical dealership, and in a way that is transparent and easy to understand, might turn a disinterested customer into an enthusiastic buyer.  As inventory levels return to normal later in the year, customer throughput and wait time as vehicles arrive will become more challenging. It’s up to the dealer to turn that challenge into an opportunity. So now is the time that you should be analyzing your procedures to see if you're able to deliver the most efficient experience from online to in-store. However you adjust your operational processes, your customers will benefit as well as your bottom line.