What is bringing customers to your dealership? To your website? Identifying the key motivators driving your traffic can dramatically increase your advertising efficiency and effectiveness. Most successful dealerships have learned the lesson of consistent, disciplined messaging that builds both share of market and share of mind, but changing markets, changing attitudes and the general economy may dramatically affect your messaging.
Over the years I’ve written numerous articles on strategies to define messaging and most of those articles have suggested your ‘”best potential customer” closely mimics the profile of your “best customer.” Who wouldn’t want to have more of the customers who have bought the most vehicles from you, allowed you to make a reasonable profit and recommended you to family and friends? But in changing times, a challenging economy, an era of declining loyalty and the natural aging/attrition rate of your existing base, it may be time to re-examine your messaging, clarifying the unique marketing perceptions that will help you realize your greatest possible opportunities right now.
Are customers shopping your dealership because “you’ll beat any deal…” or is your ability to offer more for a trade a more enticing message? Ten million home owners are upside down in their mortgages and three times that number are upside down in a car loan. Almost everyone understands the penalties of a mortgage short sale, but by the same token, most consumers believe some car dealers will offer more for a trade because they have a ready market. Regardless of the discount you offer on a new vehicle, many shoppers are still offended with a “short” offer on their current vehicle. Many dealers have pleasantly discovered a “more for your trade” message, coupled with a claim they will “even buy your vehicle for cash” is a strong attraction to many buyers.
How many of your potential customers are “on the FICA score edge?” An appeal to that potential market with backup that you have formidable financing resources may be the “nudge” that brings a shopper to your website, your switchboard or to your lot.
A number of new car dealers have found power train guarantees, lifetime tire warranties and roadside assistance on used vehicles are powerful U.M.P. (unique marketing perception) propositions.
A dealer friend of mine who has sold more used cars in the past three years, than in the previous five years combined, told me 60% of his total advertising budget has been shifted to messages focused on the quality, value and trustworthiness of the vehicles he sells. During some of the worst flooding in his part of America last year, his message was about the danger of buying “flood vehicles.” His ads explained how, despite salvage laws, many flood vehicles have their titles washed through successive sales. His ads explain how a “flood” vehicle can never get past the
inspection of the seasoned pros on his team. This dealer is enjoying record sales and record used vehicle grosses on top of improved finance revenue.
There are a number of ways to help redefine your messaging strategy. Consider a project through a research firm making personal interview call-outs with a sampling of your customers, as well as a sampling of competitive sales if available in your market. Research costs are based on the cost of lists, the quantity and time involved in each call. This does not have to be an expensive project. A five-minute interview with 200 customers (100 of yours, 100 competitive) with less than 20 questions should be between $5,000 and $10,000 depending on your market.
A number of dealerships have developed relationships with colleges and universities in their markets who conduct research as a project, with minimal cost for supervision and supplies.
Finally, the old-fashioned dealer principal customer follow-up is a proven formula for collecting accurate feedback on the effectiveness of messaging. Many “old school” dealers still pick up the phone and call both sales and service customers to thank them and ask for feedback.
On the digital side, a re-focus of key words on your website may show generous returns in organic listing results. While 93% of auto dealers fight for creative search engine optimization around words like “lower prices,” “lowest prices,” “best deal,” “deep discounts” etc., few dealers compete for the spotlight around financing terms, credit assistance, and other non-price terminology. Multiple landing pages for used vehicles, financing, service, credit applications, focusing on convenience, trustworthiness, inventory, warranties, etc., may boost your page positioning for those doing generic searches.
Not too long ago one of my auto dealer friends on the west coast sent me an article about the success of Coors beer ads. While the other beers talk about the malt and the hops and the great beer taste, Coors focuses on a message of “Rocky Mountain Cold Refreshment” strategically placed in front of the customer near “quittin’ time.”
Imagine the notion of selling cold beer based on its being “cold.” But Coors repeats that message over and over and over with great success. To win in a market crowded with similar competing messages, the trick is to repeat something extremely basic….and different….over and over again.
Whenever I visit a dealership for the first time, I always ask the owner and management why people shop there. Quite often these dealerships are amazed to discover the reasons customers actually do shop and purchase are different from their long held beliefs. A Ford dealer in Boston once told me he was sure that it was 100% price that accounted for his sales success. But the majority of customers we spoke with in a focus group said it was the service. In fact, some of the customers told us they would knowingly pay more because they were so satisfied with the service.
Finally, in considering the message, carefully look at your marketplace. What messages are out there now? Is it all price? Is it all discounts? Does everyone in town have the ‘best selection?’ Refocusing your messaging requires you take the road less travelled and convey a simple, basic premise you can etch into the minds of consumers, instantly identified with your brand.