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Drew Delaware

Drew Delaware Head of Marketing

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Messaging in Challenging Times: Communication Strategies for Dealers

The last few weeks have been some of the most unusual any of us have seen in our lifetime, as our industry navigates rapid change amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Social distancing, work from home, cancelled events and conventions, and other disruptions have resulted in quick pivots and big changes within our dealerships.

At a time like this, you may be wondering how to move forward. What do you communicate to customers? Should you speak to the situation we are facing? Do you continue marketing?

It’s a lot to think about, and most dealerships and groups don’t have team members who are trained in crisis communications. That’s why we’ve assembled this guide.

At Gubagoo, we talk a lot about humanizing digital experiences. Bringing humanity to our experiences online means bringing warmth, empathy, and connection.

As you think about how you connect with your customers over the coming period, consider some of our thoughts below on how to bring a helpful, warm, and appropriate tone to your communications. Doing this effectively will build trust and strengthen your brand during a critical time.

If you'd like to dive deeper into this content, you can view the recorded webinar on this topic, here.

Striking the Right Tone

Our industry tends to use strong sales language, and aggressively moves people through the sales funnel. The current environment demands a rethink on this:

Start with Empathy. Everyone wants warmer, kinder experiences right now. It demands a softer approach – uncommon in our industry. An empathetic approach will land more effectively in this environment.

Authenticity for the Win. A good friend of empathy, it’s okay to be authentic and transparent about how your operations are unfolding. Being real builds trust.

What You Call It, Matters. We need to refer to the situation we are facing, but the words we choose have a big impact. Follow the lead of big brands and use softer references like “unprecedented times.”  The words you use will create images in people’s heads. “Unprecedented times” doesn’t really drum up negative imagery, while words like “challenging” or “disruptive” can put your customer in a negative headspace, less receptive to the helpful message that follows.

Don’t be Tone Deaf. Messaging that completely ignores the situation we are all facing will fall flat and damage your brand. Messaging that pokes fun at it is even more dangerous for your reputation. COVID discount codes or sale names aren’t okay right now. Neither is saying “this deal is going viral!” Take a more conscientious approach. Focus on the message of being available and helpful.

Lifeguard. “Never swim alone.” It’s more important than ever to get a second, or even a third, opinion on key communications. We all have our blind spots – make sure yours are covered.

One-on-One Communications & Lead Responses

People are shopping from home even more now. Here are the skills and strategies that will help you excel in this environment, whether you are communicating by voice, video, chat, or email.

Listen Deeply. Listening is a more important skill now than ever before. Summarizing and reflecting on sentiment before continuing is especially relevant; people will feel truly heard, and have an opportunity to correct your summary if something was missed. Authentic, heartfelt use of “what I heard you say was…” and “did I get that right?” is very powerful, and builds trust.

That Said… Avoid the Spiral. It’s natural for people to want to talk about the current situation. Your customers may even use big, scary, crazy, pandemic words as they look to bond over shared experience. This is not helpful for anyone. Use softer ways of describing what is happening, and transition them quickly to how you can help. For example, “yes, it sure is an unusual time. How can we best help you right now?”

Adjust Your Templates. Your current templates are probably out the window – but templates are important, they help us stay on script, particularly when wording is more difficult to navigate. Take a fresh look at your templates to ensure they are accurate and appropriate, and schedule to update regularly as things evolve.

Audit Your Email Automation. Do you have leads in a 90 day sales funnel? Do those emails reflect the current environment? What about auto-responders – do they direct people in-store or have outdated hours? Audit any system that send emails and make adjustments as needed.

Keep Your Chat Team Updated. That’s Us! Remember that our chat agents are an extension of your team – and in fact, chats have increased globally over the past couple of weeks, as digital contacts are prioritized. Arm us with the latest information about how your store is operating. We’ll change greeters, scripts, and ensure our team is handling chats in a way that is aligned with your operations.

Handling Broadcast Communications

Communication is more important now than ever. We also need to be conscious of communications that pre-date this environment and make adjustments as needed.

Be Considerate About Dealership Updates. It is very likely you will need to send out updated information about your operations. With inboxes flooded right now, limit the amount of email you are sending. Think carefully about what information is truly important – major operational changes are important, for instance; sharing that your team members are washing their hands is not.

Build Trust. A well written communication that addresses the situation with care and empathy can build trust. Show yourself to be a strong community leader. If changing your operations, be authentic by communicating the “why.”

If There is a Positive, Include It. Dealers may or may not be able to extensively support their employees through furloughs or other changes. If you are in a position to do so, share this – the message will resonate deeply with your customers. Likewise, making related donations or taking other supportive actions within your community is worth mentioning.

Drive Digital Engagement. If you are set up with the tools, people, and ability to provide remote or contact-less sales or service, promote this on your website and in your emails. Train your staff on best practices for primary digital contact channels, such as jumping into incoming chats, to provide the most personalized experience for your customers. Gubagoo has increased our webinar frequency to help with the high demand for training – check our upcoming schedule, here.

Updating Your Website

Your website text and offers may pre-date this environment, and it can be surprising where inappropriate text and graphics may lurk.

Update Your Home Page. Your home page is a great place to highlight any adjustments to how you are doing business: if you are doing at-home test drives and deliveries, virtual retailing, and otherwise indicating that you are open digitally. Scrub your home page for any strong sales messaging that isn’t aligned with your store’s current tone, Look out for text that tells people to come in to the store if that is no longer a possibility.

Add an Announcement. Ideally, have a special notice about COVID-19; we quickly deployed an “Announcement Bar” feature for this purpose – ask your Client Success Manager to install this for you, if needed.

VLPs and VDPs. Our Vehicle Listing Pages and Vehicle Display Pages are full of messaging. Review each carefully, and make adjustments as needed.

Vehicle Description Text. The text describing all of your vehicles may have templated components that require adjustment or are out of date. But here lies an opportunity – since this is syndicated to all of your platforms, it’s also an opportunity to let people know that you are able to serve them. Craft text that matches your current operations, and release as needed.

Service, Parts, and other Departments. Don’t forget fixed operations pages on your website; these too require a careful eye and some adjustments. Look for specials that are no longer relevant, and adjust text to match the current situation. If you have Sub-Prime pages, a Collision Center, F&I, etc – these need your eyeballs as well. It’s remarkable what you will find when you carefully audit all aspects of your site.

Keep the Old, Place the New. Making changes to core text on your website? Save the original text so you can go back to it when this is all over. Web technology does not typically make it easy to reverse changes, so your backup will be helpful.

Marketing When the Market Changes

Marketing is another area that requires adjustment – and the savvy dealerships do more than just “shut ‘er down.” Here are some thoughts on marketing in the current environment.

Gain Market Share. It’s well known that the most significant increases in market share happen during recessions and down periods. If your competitors are suddenly absent, you have an opportunity to build your reputation. Carefully consider your marketing budgets, adjust bids, and reflect on how you’ll effectively handle incoming traffic.

Planned Initiatives. Moving forward with planned initiatives can still be okay – as long as your messaging is conscious of the environment we are in, and you have the ability to properly handle any resulting interest. This could be the launch of a vehicle line, an anniversary, or a major sales event you do each year. Adjust and continue in a way that is mindful of tone.

Authenticity Matters. Ensure your advertising message strikes a helpful, calm presence. Pivot from loud graphics and strong sales language to trust-building messages. If you have offers, state them in an informative tone with language that addresses the current environment. For example, “We’re here to help. We’ve dropped our financing rates to 0%.”

Navigating a Changing Environment

Just because other dealers are doing things a certain way doesn’t mean you have to do the same. As you adjust your strategies, stay true to your brand, and come back to your values as a dealership. Be empathetic and transparent, so you can continue to nurture the relationships you’ve worked hard to build, and grow new opportunities through authenticity and trust.

Seth Godin, one of America’s best recognized marketing leaders, shared this thought in a recent email about the current marketing environment:

When things are uncertain, it’s easy to react.
But now, right now, is the single best time to initiate.
Make things better by making better things.

We think that’s a great message to end on – and wish you successful navigation.
Team Gubagoo

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