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Right product, right people, right advertising

2010 is going to be a great year. I feel it in my bones. Sort of like that arthritic pain I get just before it rains. Recently I had the chance to huddle with several great dealers I deeply respect to review their game plans for the coming year. Let me share some of the ideas from that meeting.

Advertise or Die. You need three things to be successful in the retail automotive business: 1.) The right product. 2.) The right people. 3) The right advertising. You need inventory. You won’t survive as a catalog showroom. You need to focus on building a trusted team. This takes time but it’s a good investment for the future. You need to keep your name out in the public. According to a new Ad-ology Research study, “Advertising’s Impact in a Soft Economy,” more than 48% of U.S. adults believe that a lack of advertising by a retail store, bank or auto dealership during a recession indicates the business must be struggling. Conversly, a vast majority perceives businesses that continue to advertise as being competitive or committed to doing business.

Build MY brand. Someone just sent me an article on the diminishing effect of brand loyalty with manufacturers. Back in my early days your dad was either a ‘Ford’ man or a ‘Chevy’ man. (Okay, sometimes a ‘Dodge’ man.) Auto brands were as cherished as your favorite sports team. Loyal followers overlooked an off-year ‘bad’ style, and the common engineering/manufacturing flaws of the day. Every Chevy person would tell you FORD stood for ‘Fix Or Repair Daily.’ I don’t remember what the Ford owners said about Chevy but it was equally scornful. Today it’s not uncommon to see buyers swapping marques with every new purchase. The single greatest opportunity for brand loyalty is within your OWN brand. In testimonial interview after interview our staff hears more comments about DEALER loyalty than brand loyalty. You are the umbilical…the connection of a mode of transportation to the customer. You are the face for all of their sales and service needs. There is a direct correlation to the perception of YOUR brand with repeat and referral business. Memo to the manufacturers: Automobile dealers are YOUR retail clients. How about focusing on building YOUR brand with them! The better you take care of YOUR customers, the better they’ll take care of you. If you’d like a free copy of the Brand Survey Template which will help you focus on understanding exactly what your brand means to the public, just email me with the title of this article in the subject line and ask for the Brand Survey Template. Remember, the PERCEPTION of your BRAND is reality.

Budget for Success. Right now. Today. This is the time you should be putting together an advertising budget strategy for 2010. Don’t wait til after the holidays, do it now. Review your best sales periods of the past three years. Factor in your vehicle availability, allocations for greatest profit potential in new vehicle sales, used, parts and service. Rough out the entire year with projections of sales and advertising investment necessary. Plan to spend at least 12% of your total gross, both front and back, new, used, and backend. Once you have your entire year scoped out, focus on drilling deeper for the first quarter with specific events and promotions. Then nail down the upcoming month in fine detail. Once you have your plan in place make sure everyone is on board. You can always tweak, but stay away from radical shifts in your planned budget.

The Right Media Allocation. While every market in the U.S. is a little different, here is how many highly successful dealers are planning their media breakout for 2010. 25% to radio, 37% to television (15% to broadcast, 22% to cable), 12% to print, 6% to direct mail, 15% to e-related (internet, website, social, SEO & SEM, banner ads, email & text), 5% to outdoor and misc. One of the interesting aspects of e-related expenditures is a higher projection for 2010 vs. this past year (approx 11%). Many dealers pulled back on the Internet in 09 in order to put more money in broadcasting and a more pro-active approach to advertising. The reasoning being that while 85% of the car shopping public is using the Internet in some form prior to purchase, there were simply fewer people consciously in the market in 09. With higher aging/mileage of vehicles on the road coupled with improvement in personal equity, many believe a higher number of shoppers will be searching the net for information in 2010. Of interest, I just received an article from a conference held in Las Vegas this month suggesting that the closer shoppers are to buying a vehicle, the more they check out automotive Internet sites. This strengthens my long standing argument that the Internet truly is the replacement for the ‘information medium’ of yesteryear, the newspaper. To get your share you must do a better job on search engine optimization, and your own website’s relativity to the process. Is your website fresh, frequently updated (daily), accurate, show inventory and pricing, provide the best possible contact methodology of the customer’s preference, fast loading, easy to navigate? The most successful dealers I know check, or have someone else check, their website several times a day every single day, seven days a week. Your website is your e-showroom. Make sure it’s ‘clean’, customer friendly, and ready to do business when the customer WANTS to do business.

Manage the Message. I’ve written at least 30 articles devoted to creative development. There is a great book out there by Chip and Dan Heath that sums up a lot of what I’ve stressed so often. The book’s title is ‘Made to Stick’. It’s a great read and a highly worthwhile addition to your collection. Using the acronym Succes (success), the Heath brothers lay down these tenants of stickiness:

  1. S – Simplicity: Streamline your message. The more information you try to convey, the less effective your message will be.

  2. U – Unexpectedness: Surprise your audience with new information or something they don’t expect. They’ll be more likely to pass it along.

  3. C – Concreteness: People respond better to concepts they can grasp. Rely on concrete examples (the number of miles to a tank of gas) rather than abstractions (great gas mileage).

  4. C – Credibility: Choose details and spokespeople with care. A highly satisfied person who has bought from you repeatedly will have more credibility than a celebrity endorsement.

  5. E – Emotional: Why should anyone care about your product or service? It’s up to you to give them a good reason. Hook with emotion. Close with logic.

  6. S – Stories: Show, don’t tell. Find stories that illustrate how your product or service has improved your customers’ personal or professional lives. Again, testimonials can do a fantastic job in telling your story. And here is the final ‘S’ I’ve taken the liberty of adding to the ‘Success’ acronym.

  7. Send them to your website! Make sure your promote your own website with an easy to remember URL in all of your other advertising. If you have a complicated, long URL (such as get another URL that is easy to advertise and remember, such as and have that URL pointed to your regular website.

Use the principles of SUCCESS to make your marketing ideas stick in the public imagination.

Good selling in 2010. I’ll be looking forward to sharing YOUR success story.

10/21/09 Copyright© Jim Boldebook (for December 2009 Issue of Dealer Magazine)

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