BOOM! Made you look! Yes, the words NEW and FREE are still the hottest action words in the advertising spectrum. And despite the edicts from some states attorney generals, you can use the word FREE. “Set yourself FREE with our FREEDOM CELEBRATION. FREE APPRAISAL of your current vehicle. FREEDOM from high payments with our tiny lease payments. FREE coffee and donuts!” etc. And don’t forget, there are no automotive regulatory laws on the books regarding the use of FREE in service/parts advertising.
But let’s talk about some advertising ideas that are truly free…or cost very little to win friends, influence buyers and build profits.
SMILING FOR DOLLARS
I’ve written several articles on this subject over the past 20 years and a number of dealers have written to tell me SMILING really does make a difference at the cash register. Actually, exhaustive research has been done on this subject over the years by research firms and major universities. Like this article from INC. Magazine. Smiling demonstrates competence and builds confidence and trust that pumps points on the ‘likability’ scale. And if a customer ‘likes’ you, there is a better chance the customer will want to do business with you. Smiling can lead to laughter! And Coca Cola has done some research on that! Go to YouTube.com and search “Why Coca Cola hired this man to laugh.” Smiling and laughter are contagious and completely change the current mindset of most folks thru chemical changes in the brain. About 15 years ago I met a sales manager who started his sales meetings with a comedy video clip…and before the meeting ended, asked people to share any good jokes they had heard. He managed one of the most productive teams I’ve ever encountered.
And here is an idea that has worked well for a Michigan dealer who got the idea from an article I wrote 20 years ago.
“Spend a little effort making sure those customers are greeted with a smile and warm, cheerful welcome and watch your closing ratio skyrocket.”
I CAUGHT YOU SMILING! This dealer sends in mystery shoppers on a regular basis to visit the sales floor and service department. When, the shopper comes across an employee with a smile and friendly greeting, that employee gets a ‘I Caught You Smiling’ card which allows them to draw from gift bag at dealership quarterly meetings. And some of those gifts are very nice. You spend a whole bunch of money bringing customers into your store, and onto your lot. Spend a little effort making sure those customers are greeted with a smile and warm, cheerful welcome and watch your closing ratio skyrocket.
POST-IT NOTES ON SERVICE VEHICLES
It’s an old idea that still works well. Have the service department put a ‘post-it note’ on the steering wheel of every vehicle. The message can be printed or handwritten, but the more individualized it is, the better it works. For instance, a note on an SUV that says: “We are in desperate need of good SUVs on our used car lot. Because you service your vehicle here, that’s a plus! Please see (name) (or call on his/her cell phone -number) and let us offer you cash for your vehicle or a generous trade allowance.”
This one you need to do with great care because social media posts have pros and cons, but if you handle it well once, you’ll do it on a regular basis. It works! Almost every one of your employees is on Facebook. And most people have 50-200 ‘friends’. Pick a weekend and tell all your employees that you’re having a Facebook Family and Friends sale. It won’t be advertised anywhere else. Ask the employee to consider putting a post on their site something to the effect: “I work at Jones Motors and we’re having a family and friends sale this weekend. If you’re thinking about a car, you should check out the deals. Be sure to mention my name to qualify for the Family and Friends offers. Whenever a customer mentions that employee’s name, it goes into a ‘drawing’ where all winning referrals get a gift. At an Indiana dealership that tried this sale, an office worker was responsible for bringing in 10 customers. And yes, she got a very nice gift for her effort.
This isn’t free, but it’s cheap. EDDM is a new direct mail category from the US Post office that allows you to mail to every person within a neighborhood section. If you have someone that handles your direct mail, they know about it. You can google EDDM and there are a number of direct mail companies that specialize it in. With their websites, you can drill down to specific neighborhoods and do a mailing to every home in that neighborhood for as little as .25 a piece. You can also do it yourself on the post office (USPS) website and as long as you follow the rules for size, weight of stock, bundling, etc., it’s fairly easy and cheap. I’ve heard several success stories from dealers who fund salespeople who mail cards to everyone in their home neighborhood. It has worked especially well in areas of ethnic concentration. Let’s face it, everyone wants a friend in the business and this is like giving out a business card to everyone in your neighborhood.
FLYERS ON VEHICLES
Art K. is an old school used car guy who has such a loyal following he rarely takes an up, but he told me he regularly puts small flyers under the windshield wiper of vehicles he knows are hot items on the lot. The flyer says “We desperately need vehicles like yours on our lot. Please stop by (dealership) and let me make you a cash offer for your vehicle, even if you are not in the market to trade.” And Art personally signs every flyer.
Several years ago, I visited a dealership with a large used car lot and as I walked the lot I saw a number of vehicles with a magnetic ‘tent sign’ on the top with bright lettering that said. This car is headed for the auction on Wednesday unless it is sold to you. Make us an offer! I’m told by the dealer that people actually come by the dealership on a weekly basis to check for the AUCTION BOUND vehicles and the tactic has been working extremely well for over 10 years. Radio ads for the dealership are often tagged with ‘Be sure to check out our AUCTION BOUND vehicles before Tuesday.”
Be a cheapskate. Don’t be afraid to ask for FREE or low cost ideas from your in-house folks and/or your agency. When you have a contract that is coming to an end with any medium, send them a letter telling them you are in the process of evaluating that medium’s future in your marketing efforts. Ask if there are any no-cost or bonus merchandising and promotional activities that might enhance their chances of being included in your upcoming budget. If you don’t ask…you’ll never get.
Author: Jim Boldebook
JIM BOLDEBOOK is Founder of CBC Automotive Marketing, an advertising/marketing agency working with some of America’s most successful dealerships. He has been in the broadcasting, advertising and marketing fields for almost 50 years. EMAIL: email@example.com