5 ways to make sure your messaging doesn’t miss the mark
Watch just about any sitcom and you’ll notice something: when everything goes wrong for the main character, it’s almost always because there’s been a miscommunication. Sometimes aliens or zombies are involved, but usually it’s a standard case of mixed signals between two people.
Miscommunication is a common source of conflict for film and television writers because it’s a common source of conflict in our lives. Look at the many ways interpersonal communication has evolved in recent years…we can get ahold of anyone, anywhere. Yet we still manage to send the wrong signals. When it’s a “What time are we meeting again?” text sent to the wrong friend, you might miss the movie. When it’s a thousand offers emailed to the wrong prospects, you will lose a lot of business.
I remember when, a few years back, I wanted to send a lease promo to some of my customers. I put together an attractive offer; one I knew would appeal to lessees whose contracts would soon be up for renewal. The email looked great, had a strong message, and was well worth the time I’d put into it. With a click of a button — whoosh! — it was sent off to hundreds of inboxes.
It wasn’t until I looked at the data the next day that I realized my mistake. Instead of sending the promo to customers who were nearing the end of their lease, I had sent it to those who had just renewed in the last few days or weeks. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it still gave my customers the impression that I didn’t understand their needs — or worse, that I didn’t care. Not exactly loyalty-inspiring stuff.
Mistakes like that happen. We’re human, after all. But there are plenty of instances where we have the opportunity to make a connection with customers through email, but fall short of making that connection meaningful. The more you take advantage of those opportunities to connect — and the technology that makes connecting more efficient and automated — the more you’ll stand out from your competitors.
Here are five ways to make sure you never miss the mark in your automated emails:
Prepare to get personal
Something I see all the time is dealers resting on their laurels with their email campaigns. They think they have a great offer so they over-use it: Every customer gets the same reminders, the same messaging — but they don’t account for where the customer is in the buying cycle…and where he is in his life. Special occasion emails during Truck Month or Memorial Day can attract new and existing customers alike. But too many of these one-size-fits-all emails will do the opposite. Similarly, the bachelor who wants a muscle car in his mid-20s doesn’t want another one when he’s 35 and has two kids. If you don’t evolve your messaging to match his evolving needs, he’ll have no inclination to respond.
Change your mindset from mass email campaigns to segmented email campaigns. Getting something relevant into your customers’ hands once a month is a good goal to start with. It doesn’t have to be a sale or a coupon; it could be information on safety ratings for the new minivan your former muscle head now wants, or tips for how to get better gas mileage during summer road trip season. Just make the connection and make sure it’s relevant to the recipient.
Make new friends, but keep the old
Customer acquisition is historically a top priority for dealers. It’s a big investment of time and money, so you’ve got to do it right. But don’t focus on customer acquisition at the expense of customer retention.
If you’re a newer dealership, you probably don’t have a lot of prospect contact info to work with yet. That’s alright; you can use direct mail, social campaigns or events to start gathering email addresses — but don’t stop there. Look for critical indicators that help you segment new leads accurately. Then focus on building lasting relationships with each segment. One segment of new prospects might be people who clicked on your Facebook ad about mid-size truck accessories. Show them you’re paying attention by following up with an email about how to take care of your truck in the winter. Earn their trust fast, and they won’t forget about you. Think how quickly customer retention can help pay for customer acquisition.
If you’re not a new dealership, take a look at your customers marked as one-time sales. That’s a list you don’t want to grow long. You want customers coming back, spending more money, telling you more about their needs and preferences with every interaction. If they’re not hearing from you, or hearing something irrelevant to them, they won’t be motivated to spend more money with your dealership.
Do nurture campaigns right
If it’s starting to sound like all you’ll be doing is thinking about and writing to your customers, don’t worry. I’m the first person to urge dealers to automate as much of their correspondence as possible — drip campaigns are your new best friend. And yes, it’s possible to be highly automated and highly personal at the same time, if you think about your customer categories correctly and set up the right email triggers at the right times.
Start by dividing your customer list into cash buyers, finance buyers and lessors. Then ask yourself general questions about the buying and service cycles for each group, such as:
- When do people buy cars?
- When do they get service?
- When do they re-up their lease?
- When do they renew a warranty?
These are your email triggers. For example, anyone who purchased at least 30 months ago and still owns the car is likely to be in a good equity position, so you might want to send them buy-back or lower monthly payment offers.
If someone’s not ready to buy, get them involved in a service loyalty program and segment them by average ticket and frequency. Send service reminders to those who haven’t returned in the last three months. At six to nine months, send a service coupon. Twelve months, a free oil change. Give them a reason to come back or spend more.
Once you’ve answered the “Whens,” you can move on to the “Whys,” such as:
- Why do they buy from me?
- Why do they buy from someone else?
- Why do people stop coming to me for service?
These are tough questions because they require you to get out of your own head to answer them. But this is the type of thinking that makes personalized, automated campaigns profitable: when you think like a customer instead of like a dealer.
Test, tweak, repeat
Of course, email automation isn’t helpful if your emails aren’t compelling or appealing.
Too often, I’ve seen the message and design of emails devalued by dealers, usually because the creative seems like an unnecessary cost. You have to look at email marketing as an investment rather than an expense. When you don’t have expert resources in house, outsourcing the creative and/or the data analysis is your best option.
Don’t be afraid to test and tweak your emails — just make sure you focus on one thing at a time. If your open rate is low, changing up your subject line might help. If people are opening the email but not clicking through, try a different call to action. If small tweaks don’t make much of a difference, it could be the message that needs a closer look.
Drip campaigns evolve along with your customers, so never go too long without looking in at the results.
Focus on the metrics that matter
You can’t run successful campaigns if you don’t define what success looks like first. For promotions, success is generally based on redemption rates. These are simple to pinpoint because promo codes and coupon barcodes are easily tracked. You can build similar trackability into your emails with UTM codes, which will show you how much web traffic your campaigns generate.
Other objectives require a little more analysis. For example, if your goal is to boost average repair spend or frequency, then you’ll need to look at the average number of times your service customers visit per year and how much they spend. If the goal was a 10 percent increase in May sales over last year, then check that number against your trending increase or decrease in sales for the year.
And remember — you need a decent sample size before you can accurately determine how well each email performed. If you send out 10 emails and one has been read, that doesn’t tell you much. If you send out 1000 emails and only 100 have been read, however, you might have a miscommunication on your hands — but at least now you know what to do about it.
Here’s the bottom line: Your business is not a sitcom where a new miscommunication every week is something to laugh at. Use the rapidly evolving technology and avenues of communication to make new and lasting connections with customers.
Author: Brian Schmid
As dealer marketing manager for VinSolutions, Brian helps dealers maximize their marketing investment and deliver the right message to the right people at the right time. He has coordinated thousands of email campaigns for dealers nationwide, managing everything from art direction, message development and responsive coding to targeting and distribution. Brian graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in strategic communications.