‘Tiny’ wrote me a great letter recently on the ABCs of common sense advertising. ‘Tiny’ is a lawyer-turned-car dealer who married into an ‘automotive’ family in 1985. His real name is Pete but most of the world knows him as ‘Tiny’ from the days he topped 350 pounds. He’s down to around 220, fit as a fiddle (just ran a 26 mile marathon with his son), but he still answers to ‘Tiny,’ so what can I say.
‘Tiny’ sells Chevy, (yes excuse me GM, I said Chevy), Dodge and Kia vehicles. The dealerships are located in a town of about 14,000 with a total market area of about 70,000 within reasonable driving distance. Pete asked me not to use his family’s name if I published the letter but I’ll bet quite a few dealer’ will know who ‘Tiny’ is. So here’s what ‘Tiny’ has to say about common-sense advertising:
I just read your Dealer magazine article from July about ‘baby boomers’ being still one of the best groups of people to go after and it made me think about the time we first met at a Ford meeting in the 80’s. If you recall I was trying my hand at car sales when I decided I wasn’t cut out to chase ambulances.
You may not believe this, but I still have the notes and handouts from that meeting, and I have used many of your tactics over the years in deciding what and where to advertise. I thought I’d list some of the ‘common sense’ ad ideas you shared with our group back in 1989.
1. Don’t whet appetites and have the customers end up eating somewhere else. This has been rule #1 for me for the past 20 years because I know how much people hate bait and switch tactics. When we advertise a vehicle, we always have at least several in a similar price range. If you advertise something you can’t offer, you push a customer into buying mode and they may end up at your competition.
2. Don’t bury the disclosure in a flurry of words at the end of the commercial. To this day we weave the necessary legal disclosure throughout the spot so there is never an appearance we are trying to bury the ‘fine print’.
3. Don’t use sales managers or sports stars as spokesmen. At the dealership I was working for when I met you, we were using a Spanish speaking salesperson on our television spots. We made him a star. Two years later Ford backed him in his own dealership. We had spent a small fortune building his brand. My wife has been doing our ads for the last 10 years. Not only is she good, her last name is on the dealership sign.
4. Negotiate everything. One of the reasons I asked you not to use our name in your article is for protection of my rates. The ‘rate card’ is just a place to start negotiations. We are fair and reasonable but I better not ever find out some sub sandwich shop is paying less. I also remember you saying that paying your bills on-time will go a long way in keeping rates low. We do. It has.
5. Be consistent. We have had the same motto and slogan for almost 20 years. We have focused on building our brand, not the make brands. Even though we no longer sell Fords, and have since acquired a successful import, our name, and what it means, is what we emphasize most in all of our ads.
6. Tell stories. I remember you telling our group that your agency was a great storyteller, looking for great stories to tell. That really stuck with me. We do have quite a story to tell and we constantly look for different ways to tell it. Last month we ran parts of some of the television ads my father-in-law ran back in the ‘70s. People loved it. We are planning on doing an ad campaign for an upcoming promotion with three different generations of the same family who have bought vehicles from us.
7. Get everyone involved in the marketing process. We make sure every single person in our 80 person organization understands what we are advertising and why. We have been using an employee referral program for about 10 years with tremendous results. Every one of our employees is an ‘authorized representative’ responsible for spreading the good word about our dealership and sales opportunities. Two of our best salespeople came from non-sales backgrounds.
8. Use good point-of-purchase materials. I remember you talking about cutting out positive vehicle reviews from the newspaper and putting them in the windows of our vehicles so people can read about test drives. Back in those days there was no Internet, but now our staff scours the various news websites and when we find a positive article on a vehicle we sell, we put copies in the windows. I’m amazed at the selling points we learn from these articles, often based on test drives.
9. Advertise what people are buying. When I first heard you say this, I thought it was a pretty dumb comment. But amazingly, I’ll hear my competitors advertising models they need to get rid of, instead of the models people are most actively shopping. When we don’t have a lot of a popular new model, we’ll advertise certified or used of that model, but we never waste our advertising dollars on vehicles that aren’t moving. We’d rather put more money into these deals when we have a chance to move them.
10. Here is a common-sense tip I didn’t hear from you, Jim (but again, when you spoke to us no one had even heard about the Internet.) Round the clock contact info on all of our vehicles. We bought several cell phones that we rotate on a volunteer basis. In the window of every vehicle there is a cell phone number and texting information. The phones are answered by live people at all times, answering as many questions as possible and directing interested customers to fill out credit applications on our web site 24/7.
As I read the letter from Tiny, it dawned on me on how little has changed in the past 30 years when it comes to common-sense. About the only thing missing from Pete’s recall is one of my favorite common-sense marketing tips of all time.
Make it easy for the salespeople. The easier advertising is for salespeople to understand, the easier it is for them to help customers through the buying process. This is especially true with all of the complex rebate/incentive programs that proliferate in our industry. For many years a lot of good dealerships lost a competitive edge and substantial profitability by not presenting lease opportunities to customers simply because the salesperson did not understand how to present the value of lease advantages. Take the time to educate salespeople on the “what and why” of your advertising efforts and reap the considerable benefits.
Got some common-sense marketing tips to share? We’d love to hear about them and share them in future articles.