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Mastering ‘Experiential’ Marketing!

Updated: Mar 22

The word ‘experiential’ is a Latin word from the 1600s relating to our actions from ‘learned’ experiences.  From a customer’s perspective, it’s more than just a temporary or staged ‘experience’.  It’s the overall perception of a shopping journey, measured by every expression, impression, and touch-point they encounter.  Today, we are inundated with cause and effect attribution claims by marketers.  Mostly those on the digital side of things.   The ‘masters of the ‘E’ world besiege us with metrics, algorithms and data points to convince us their proprietary technique or program is the nirvana of nudge at the final of the sales funnel.  Some of these ideas are good.  Some not so good.  All dig into an ever-tightening bottom-line.  Here is the simple truth.  Your best marketing effort with the highest return on investment is an internal program to master ‘experiential’ marketing.

Here are some key points in that process:

  1. Your CEO has to be a CMO! Taking a page from some of the world’s largest corporations, marketing isn’t just a thing, it’s everything.  The leader of your organization has to be savvy to every marketing opportunity on every level of your organization.  If you’re a hands-on dealer principal lacking marketing skills, move over.  Yes, you can still be the owner and manage the mechanics of your operation, but your day-to-day operational top dog has to understand how critical every customer touch point is to not just this month’s bottom line, but to the long-term impact on your brand.  You can no longer afford just an ‘advertising manager’.  Your marketing team must do more than just place ads and review creative.  There has to be consistency in every single message.  There has to be a ‘sticky’ brand definition in every department on the lips and in the smiles of every employee.  You simply can’t shoot from the hip and hope to grow in ever challenging environment without someone at the very top managing expectations.

  2. Your team is your greatest marketing asset. Think of every single employee in your organization as an ‘associate’.  A partner.  The lot person, the receptionist, the janitor, the techs, the office staff, even some of your most closely aligned vendors and suppliers.  Every single person that gets a check out of your account is a valuable member of your team and can contribute tremendously if given the opportunity.  Do you have an internal digital newsletter?  Do you consistently share goals and achievements?  Do you have an email list of every employee?  How about a texting list of all employee cell phones?  We have the greatest communication opportunities in our history.  I personally know of several dealerships that sell quite a few vehicles from internal recommendations during major sale campaigns.  Have you ever conducted a brand survey with your employees to find out what they think your strongest attributes are?  Email me if you’d like a free brand survey template that will give you some guidance.

  3. Unconventional Research. Have you ever heard of ‘Faith Popcorn’?  She’s considered a marketing ‘futurist’ and even a psychic by some.  Her firm makes oodles of money consulting to some of the biggest corporate names in the World.  But Faith is not a psychic.  She’s a woman with great intuition who understands the concept of ‘content analysis.’  Simply, not just keeping an ear to the ground, but keeping all senses open to what is happening in real time.  On social media, at the coffee shop, at the point of purchase in multiple venues.  The key to her success is a constant pulse of what is happening in real-time with a reasonable extrapolation to future trends.  30 years ago, the late Bob Tasca Sr. told me that he placed radio time on the basis of his research as to what kind of cars came over the bridge to his dealership.  Bob found out the best time to advertise to used vehicle customers was between 6 am and 8 am.  The best time to advertise to new vehicle customers was between 8 am and 10 am.  His methodology was based on what kinds of vehicles were coming over the bridge at those times.  The late Ron Tonkin told me he had great success running a number of ads in ‘old movies’.  Why?  Because with newer movies people wait for the commercial break to go to the bathroom, but with old movies, people take their breaks while the movie is on..(because they’ve seen it so many times)…and they tend to sit thru more commercial breaks! A client I worked with in the suburbs of Philadelphia laughed when I suggested a country music station, but when we walked thru the dealership and asked every customer and employee we met, the country channel came up in the top three. In Michigan, a dealer asked for my thoughts on putting a new vehicle point in a small adjacent town. I told him I thought he’d do better with used cars in that market because the Walmart had more oil stains in the parking spaces than most, there were very few banks and several check cashing and furniture rental stores. The used car operation he opened in that town was one of his top producing deals.

  4. Partnering and product placement. It’s interesting that some of the new ‘streaming’ shows on digital channels have no commercial breaks.  Instead, they are being funded by natural ‘product’ placement.  No more fake labels or hidden brands.  The viewer sees a product in use that is an unspoken endorsement.  Are there video opportunities for content created in your market?  Recently a dealer shared a successful program developed with a local credit union, where the dealer is not only financing used vehicles through the credit union but is disposing of CU repos and getting attractive signage at the CUs 3 locations.  The CU is getting counter point-of-purchase at the dealership.  Another dealership has partnered with one of the largest HVAC companies in his market with over 30 vans on the road.  As part of the negotiation for vehicles, dealership signage is painted on every van.  Several dealerships with the land and site control have partnered with premium drive-thru coffee shops on an out-parcel with an attractive lease in exchange for the additional traffic the shops draw to the dealership.

  5. Modeling after other successful retailers. Who are the most successful retailers in your marketplace in other categories?  Where do you enjoy shopping for furniture, jewelry, clothing?  What are your favorite restaurants?  Consider talking with some of the people you respect most for their ‘experiential’ marketing.  Ask them for advice on your signage, lot display, employee dress, etc.  One of the top dealerships in Michigan has their showroom ‘dressed’ by a leading retail store decorator several times a year in traditional themes.  Never be afraid to entertain constructive criticism from other circles.  Often the things we overlook are the most critical to our complete success.  Several years ago, I enjoyed the opportunity to partner in the founding of a casino.  Wow, what lessons I learned.  In this industry, there are consultants for every customer touch-point you can imagine.  The scent in the air, the temperature, the lighting, the music, the colors of the walls, rugs, and ceilings, the bathrooms, the display layout of the machines, the overall ambient sound level.  The casino world is geared to total experience.  And of course, good grosses.  Here is an easy one.  Ask the spouses of your top managers to visit the dealership and write a report on what they would change if they were in charge.  Give them a reward for their time.  It will be worthwhile, and often eye-opening investment.

The automobile industry continues to undergo constant competitive challenges from both digital and brick/mortar start-ups who have tuned into customer wants and needs.  The good news is, there is nothing any of these competitors can offer that will totally disrupt the long-term success of those dealers who focus on being the best they can be and master the ‘experiential’ marketing opportunities of their enterprise.

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