‘Word of mouth’ has always been the most effective form of advertising, not only in the automobile business, but in virtually every category. Social networking, chat rooms and comments on business reviews open up the entire world to whatever the ‘word of mouth’ might be in terms of satisfaction and trust. And the power of this transparency will only grow with time. In fact, posting and review protocols have made it even easier for a customer to drill down quickly to the bottom line. “Do I want to do business with this company?”
Even though most studies suggest 85% of car shoppers get information on the on the web, a substantial portion of those e-researchers only use the internet for basic information. Identifying makes and models, price ranges, inventory and the locations of selling dealers, but in the process may light up review pages of both product and dealer through key words. In fact, most search engines now post prominent reviews at the top of the page.
Some retailers like Amazon tack review information with ‘star’ ratings next to every item they sell, inviting shoppers to drill down for ‘word of mouth’ from other customers.
One very successful dealer in Connecticut encourages shoppers to read the reviews with verbiage in their traditional advertising talking about the thousands of reviews, 97% positive. Another dealer suggests in advertising that customers visit the dealer website and click on reviews from local customers so they can see what their neighbors think.
The younger the demographics, the higher percentage of shoppers using internet search tools. In fact, a recent study by Edmunds.com shows 80% of millennials do some form of search on mobile phones, but in that same study a majority of those shoppers, 64%, say they prefer face to face dealer interaction and 96% say they want to test drive a vehicle.
It’s important to understand what impression your first time shoppers are getting as they do their basic research, because that ‘word of mouth’ might be the precursor to a face-to-face visit, hopefully a test drive and hopefully another satisfied customer posting rave reviews of the process.
Aside from personal conversations and letters, do you know what the ‘word of mouth’ on your dealership? It’s probably the easiest thing in the world to discover. Simply ‘google’ or ‘bing’ your dealership name and make/models, then start reading. Try at least 5 or 6 different keyword combinations. For instance, if your dealership is Acme Ford in Scottsdale, search all of those words, try these keyword combinations:
‘Best Ford dealer in Scottsdale’
‘Best car dealer in Scottsdale’
‘Best Ford deal in Scottsdale’
‘Complaints about Acme Ford’
‘Car dealer reviews in Scottsdale’
You’ll get a pretty good idea of where you rate on the ‘social trust scale’ with this exercise.
Research like this gives you a couple of very valuable tools. First, you might discover areas you need work on. Personnel, facility, process, service, etc. Secondly, you may be able to capture a positive perception to incorporate into your marketing. One dealer in Tennessee noticed that several young women had commented in a review on the womens lounge with baby changing station and even diapers. He incorporated that idea in his advertising.
A friend of mine in Virginia called to tell me about an amazing experience she had at a Mercedes dealership. This woman had bought a used Mercedes at a CarMax location. After several months she needed a headlight replaced and decided to take it to the local
Mercedes dealership. When she went to pick up the vehicle she was prepared for a huge bill. They brought her car around. The headlight was replaced. They had replaced a rusted screw in the license plate frame, filled her washer fluid and vacuumed and wash her vehicle, even detailing the tires. She was appreciative of those extras, but was totally shocked with the service manager told her there would be no charge at all. Even for the new headlight. She has been telling everyone she knows about this experience for the past 3 weeks. She also posted a review online for the dealership. And she’ll be back.
Building trust doesn’t happen overnight. Trust must be earned over a long period of time. That explains why some of my dealer friends continue to hold above average grosses in complex, competitive markets. Why a higher percentage of their factory surveys are returned and why they constantly enjoy better than average overall ratings in those surveys. Simply, a trusted brand is the greatest asset you can own. It’s about the only ‘blue sky’ left in this business. Trust is the mortar that ties the greatest building blocks of the best businesses together.
Your marketing dollars have two important functions:
Build Share of Market: Promotional messaging that reaches the greatest number of potential shoppers, driving traffic to your door and website today.
Build Share of Mind: ‘Word of mouth’ messaging that builds a platform of trust for future business consideration. Social reviews and comments are a critically important component of that process.
The Power of Social Trust is substantial and growing. Harness it, and watch your positive ‘word of mouth’ grow exponentially.