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Get Focused on More Effective Auto Advertising

As we head into the holiday season, this is the perfect time to get FOCUSED on creating a more effective auto advertising message and media plan. I’d like to suggest a two pronged program that will help you define both: Focus groups and message management.

Over the past several months you’ve had the opportunity to watch and hear numerous politicians tout their programs as they appealed for your vote. The two biggest tools in the political tool box are ‘focus groups’ and ‘message management.’ That’s how they get their points across in limited sound bites and two-line quotes. Discover what it is that will motivate voters, boil it down to just a handful of themes then repeat, repeat, repeat. Stay on message. For instance, let’s say a politician’s research says the most issue to his constituents is ‘job creation’. As the politician faces the TV camera, the reporter asks “Senator Smith, can you tell us about the rumors that your secretary has been travelling with you to the Bahamas on a corporate jet paid for by one of your biggest supporters?” Senator Smith shakes his head in amazement and says the following: “You know, this subject has been talked about time and time again. There’s nothing new here except more rumors designed to get you off the real concern of our voters…which is: JOBS! Everyday I field emails and questions from the people of the Valley asking me what I’m going to do to create jobs. I have a five point plan that will create thousands of jobs for our citizens.” The reporter persists: “But Senator, you’re dodging my original question!” To which the Senator replies: “I’ve heard those rumors too and I’ve also heard two of the mills in our town are shutting down in the next 6 months. What are these folks going to do for a living? They aren’t interested in petty rumors, they want jobs and that’s what I’m going to create.”

Sound familiar? This strategy doesn’t happen by chance. Behind the scenes trained media consultants are helping define the three or four hot buttons that resound most positively with voters through a process known as focus testing. In these focus groups, 8-10 people are assembled in a conference room on the basis of ‘blind research’. Rarely do focus groups reveal the exact nature of the information sought. Skilled moderators open a session by explaining they are conducting unbiased research on a number of issues, quality of life, political, social and lifestyle issues, etc. As the session progresses the moderator might ask what the greatest concerns about daily life are. Participants might make a list. As the meeting progresses, the moderator helps refine the key responses by eliciting comments or even taking periodic written votes. Then the moderator might ask a question such as: “With the issues you’ve just mentioned in mind, are there any politicians you are aware of who seem to address these better than others?” Then the moderator will continue to probe as to how each candidate is thought of in relation to critical issues. The moderator might then ask a question such as: “Now one of the candidates we’ve mentioned, Senator Smith, has said he will focus on jobs. Do you believe that?” Another question might be: “What might Senator Smith say that would convince you he is serious about creating jobs?” or “Is there anything Senator Smith might say that would convince you to vote for him over his opponent?”

Often these focus groups are conducted behind one-way mirrors where camera equipment is recording the responses for further analysis by the consultants, experts and perhaps Senator Smith himself. Once the focus sessions are analyzed and key issues defined, Senator Smith’s team now works with communication specialists who will devise a methodology for staying focused on the key messages that matter to the voter. Often a chart is designed that centers around the desired result : GET RE-ELECTED! All around that centered goal are key messages with descriptive bullet points to help the candidate stay focused. Along with these tools, the Senator and his communications team will undergo considerable rehearsals in which trainers will pose as reporters, debate opponents and regular constituents, quizzing the team on a variety of issues, trying to get the Senator off-focus, distracted and lead him into ‘political quicksand’ mired deeply in territory that confuses voters and wins points for the opponent.

Selling is no different than winning a political contest. At the end of the day someone wins. Someone loses. Which column would you prefer to be in?

Start by getting focused. Work with a professional in this field. There are plenty of them out there. If you work with an advertising agency, you might ask them to find you a specialist in this field. Greenbook.org is one source of market research focus specialists. If you need help, email me here at Dealer Magazine and I’ll be happy to help direct you to someone in this field in your market. IMPORTANT: There are lots of do-it-yourself formats to conduct your own focus group. I strongly recommend against this. This is one area of market research where you truly do need a skilled professional to help you maximize your defining effectiveness.

Next, message management. Again, there are trained professionals in every corner of the globe who can help you manage your message. In this case your own ad agency might have the skills, or work with associates who specialize in this field. A true professional will help you coordinate your message management with your salesteam, your ad agency, any public relations work that you do, and communication with your existing customer base.

The good news is, these professional services are more reasonably priced than you might imagine. Focus groups, including summaries and action plans can cost anywhere from $2500 a session to as much as $6000 a session. A professional, experienced message management company will probably charge $4000-$6000 per training session, or design a complete package to fit within your budget. Often, market research groups coordinate both the focus group testing and message management so you are dealing with only one person. I’ve worked with a number of professionals in this field and would be happy to forward you information or recommend ways to find those resources in your marketplace.

Fast Fix Focus. While you plan your strategy, here is a tactic you can use to move quickly to a more focused message and the most effective mediums for delivery. Have your sales managers or office manager pull together details on the last 200 sales your dealership has made. Now, begin a rating process to determine which of those deals were the best all-around deals for your company. For instance give a deal a rating of 1-4 for total gross profit. Give a rating of 1-4 for ease of doing business with that customer. Give a rating of 1-4 based on the customers past experience and business with your company, including previous sales. Does the customer regularly have their vehicle serviced at your dealership? If so give that deal an extra 3 points. Has that customer referred other people, associates, family, friends? Rate that 1-4. Finally, is the deal from a customer you consider an Ambassador of your dealership? One that writes you letters of thanks, one you might be friendly with socially, a customer who would never dream of buying a vehicle anywhere else? Give Ambassadors an extra 5 points. Now take the 12 highest rated ‘deals’ and write each of those people a personal letter from YOU Mr. Dealer. Thank them for their past business and tell them it is people like them that truly make your efforts worthwhile. You know what to say. Now invite them to a nice dinner with their spouses in a private room at a restaurant (or even have a nice event catered after hours at the dealership). Make it RSVP and limit the total number in the group to 12. So if you should get acceptance from 12 people with a spouse or partner, schedule to different events. Have your marketing/ad person with you. Have an enjoyable, relaxing dinner and just do an informal roundtable of questions to those attending about what it is they like about your dealership. What would they do to improve your business as an honorary ‘member of the board’. Ask them about their current media habits. Have someone take good notes. Present each of them with an ‘Ambassador’ plaque at the end of the evening as a token of your appreciation for their business and friendship.

These are 12 of your best customers. Wouldn’t it be great to attract 1200 more like them? Then follow the trail. Wrap your messaging around what these folks say is important to them and why they do business with you. Spend your money on the same media these folks are watching, reading, listening to. You’ll be absolutely amazed at the results! I’d love to hear about your experience if you choose to get focused and manage your message.

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