I was naive. I can't remember the last time I felt that way in my professional career and surely not in the past four years of active engagement in the field of Digital Marketing and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Looking back at a recent event I have come to understand that my naivety was supported by my unbridled passion for online marketing and the shared energy of fellow automotive professionals that engage in online blogs and forums.
Through my activity on online communities I was lulled into thinking that articles I penned on Automotive SEO, microsites, reputation management, Google Page One Management
(GPOM) and keyword strategies were exactly what the automotive community needed, would actively read and engage.
Automotive professionals posting comments and opposing views made my articles take on a life of their own; elevating the perceived importance and reach into the dealer network. I envisioned General Managers and Internet Sales Managers forwarding links for my articles to their 20 groups and friends in the industry. I am sure some did but my viral marketing vision was more like the one day flu.
I was schooled over a thin crust pizza
I was having dinner recently with successful automotive marketing executives when the conversation turned to a discussion on the latest online marketing strategies that are available to car dealers. I proudly pointed out that my blog posts and whitepapers, viewable on popular automotive forums, were raising the level of awareness in the automotive community; Automotive SEO
, inventory listing architecture, IRM, GPOM, and online brand protection to name a few topics.
One of the executives smiled and said "Brian, but you must understand that at best your articles are reaching a small percentage of the car dealers in America. Car dealership executives are participating in online communities and reading the latest articles on Internet Marketing strategies much less than you think."
The comment was not mean spirited. It was a compassionate wakeup call that the dealership employees that are actively engaged on Automotive Internet Marketing blogs are often not those making leadership and budgetary decisions at the dealership level. It took a few seconds to regain my composure; were my efforts in vain?
Their statement prompted Pasch Consulting Group to create a survey to poll dealers on their awareness and usage of key Internet Marketing strategies. We also asked how dealers are adjusting their budgets in 2010 for online marketing. The survey data from Internet Sales Managers had some strong words about the leadership at their dealership.
When asked about the awareness and general knowledge of how to use Internet Marketing strategies to help their dealership, Internet Sales Managers
(ISM) said that over 60% of their owners and over 50% of their General Managers fell into two categories: "no clue" or were "just starting to ask questions".
A comment from a dealership GM who attended the 7th Digital Dealer Conference in Nashville came to mind as I am writing this article: "As successful as 7th
Digital Dealer Conference in Nashville was for you, those in attendance represent a small fraction of active dealerships. Brian, many dealers have not taken the first steps to understand and engage in the digital world."
Our research confirmed that nearly half of car dealerships
surveyed allocate less than 20% of their marketing and advertising budgets for online activities such as websites, blogging, social media, lead generation, SEO and pay-per-click. Over 65% of respondents said that their local Internet Marketing search visibility was poor, weak or average
. None of these three self characterizations are a ringing endorsement for their current online marketing strategy.
Then a comment from an Internet Sales Manager that said, "My competition is asleep at the wheel. They have no Internet Marketing strategy in place and I hope it stays that way." Unfortunately for this one ISM, that will not be very long. Our survey data shows that dealers will be increasing their online spending in a wide range of activities. Dealers who once were not aggressively engaged in online marketing will be joining to game in 2010.
The Powerful Minority
The ISM survey responses indicate that only 30% of dealership owners and top executives have greater than an entry level understanding of Internet Marketing strategies. If we agree that the minority of car dealer executives understand how to leverage the Internet for sales, marketing and branding, then they are truly in a position of power. Reading this article in itself could place you in the minority.
Dealerships that are investing today in online data tracking, testing and analysis will surely be rewarded in 2010 as well as the future. They will know with detailed analytical tracking and reports, for the first time, the effectiveness of their marketing dollars. They will increase spending in areas that have the best ROI with confidence while their competitors waste money with trial and error; heavily weighted with error.
Dealers who have a knee jerk reaction and say, "I want what they are doing" will be setting themselves up for failure. Dealers truly need to first understanding what "they" are doing.
Executives who can leverage SEO, SEM, GPOM, Social Media, Internet Reputation Management
(IRM), Microsites, Banner Advertising, Video and Mobile Technology in a comprehensive marketing plan will emerge as the true leaders in automotive sales. The interesting phenomena about the Internet is that early adopters are often rewarded with better positioning is search results.
Dealers who keep their heads in the sand may wake up one day to find the barrier to entry very costly and some marketing opportunities closed. Dealers who have years of online content and reputation developed for their brand in their local markets will be able to dominate. I pity their competition that waits to see if Internet Marketing and Social Media will be effective for sales and marketing, because that day had already come.
Increasing The Engagement in Digital Marketing
If many automotive executives are not fully engaged in the revolutionary changes that Internet Marketing technologies can bring, I am not confident that vendors will invest their money creating a new ADF specification or reporting tools to allow dealers to have end to end ROI tracking for 30% of the market who might demand it.
Dealers who are not spending at least 60%
of their marketing budget online are going to get run over by a train with their competitors in the conductors' seat.
I hope that my articles will be part of the catalyst that challenges the automotive community to engage in real dialogue from which we can create a trusted document of best practices in Internet Marketing strategies, their related costs and ROI.
Bigger is Not Necessarily Better
The larger franchise groups by default are not necessarily in the 30% that peers say are leading the way in Digital Marketing strategies. In fact, their shear momentum, like a super luxury cruise ship, may be hard to turn in the time that is needed to keep pace with change. From my personal experience, some larger groups have one "prophet" who is trying to educate the entire executive team. At best, this is a difficult challenge and this task is too important to go alone.
On the flip side, aggressive multi-brand dealer groups have a strategic advantage of scale. The time to create a comprehensive Internet Marketing strategy will save their bottom line millions of dollars in the years to come. Larger groups can leverage their creative assets, content and relationship to lower costs of marketing when done properly.
Where and When Does The Education Occur
Our survey data reported that 30% of dealerships in the USA do not
send their employees to educational conferences to hone their Internet Marketing skills. If half of dealer employees don't get the benefit of attending NADA, Digital Dealer, JD Powers or a Driving Sales Executive Summit where will the education take place?
The PCG survey data suggests that there is a need for a better online school for Internet Marketing concepts and strategies. A new model is needed to provide continuing education for car dealers in this ever changing field of Internet Marketing. Budgets may restrict travel so the educational delivery mechanism must have both online elements and regional classroom training.
New educational models can react to fast changes in Internet Marketing strategies. Early in 2009 Twitter "tweets" and Facebook Pages were not showing up on Google Page One for searches on a dealership name. Today they are. This has a major impact on your brand message and how consumers portray your dealership. What is your dealership doing to establish Social Media best practices?
A new forum has to be created that offers assistance to dealers that are just getting started that does not
dismiss their years of experience and success with off-line marketing. A new model has to bring car dealers into the online marketing fold and help them drink from the "fire-hose" of opportunities on the Internet.
Looking to 2010
Automotive retailers must invest in their key executives to raise their understanding and awareness of Digital Marketing strategies. Dealerships cannot be lead astray by the "flavor of the month" Internet Marketing shiny objects that show up at their doorstep. They must create, implement and measure the results of a comprehensive Internet Marketing strategy.
Dealerships with a small percentage of their advertising budgets targeting online marketing will continue to lose market share and brand visibility.
Those that engage online marketing, social media and digital marketing strategies will be well rewarded when the year ends. Are you in the majority or minority? Are you ready to engage and dominate your local market online?
I'm ready to help anyone who wants to dominate!
Brian Pasch, CEO
Pasch Consulting Group