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Gary May

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After the recent seminars and events in the Los Angeles area it seems more clear than ever: dealers want to do more, are mostly eager to address new opportunities (or old ones sold as new), are baffled by new technology including social media, are looking at the factories for direction and don't seem to have the right questions to ask the not-so-prepared, over-eager vendors.

In a number of panels that spanned these events, the tough questions either weren't asked or answered. This is not a knock on either the speakers or the crowds, most very qualified to talk about new media and marketing. It's just a fact. One panel on social media had some great experts. On data. Not one person doing it for an OEM or a dealer (or, judged from afar, likely even doing it themselves daily). Another panel had some great participants from very disparate areas of automotive talking about some specific activities they're doing. Truly great examples, results and actions were shared. The missing component was how the average dealer, yes including those in attendance, can implement a plan.

What is happening, as our world moves forward at a speed more reminiscent of the amazing La Mans cars running around Circuit De La Sarthe as this is being written, might be another dose of "ignorance is bliss". And that doesn't help anyone. Dealers asking their factories and reps for help (as was overheard quite frequently lately) are getting shrugged shoulders, "we're working on that right now" or "hire the right company or employee to handle that" responses. In other words, dealers are on their own.

So the dealers' sources for information are limited to their 20 group, industry events and magazines, word of mouth and the old fashion pitch by the vendor. Most dealership decision makers aren't reading the blogs and forums because if they were, they'd be asking questions and participating (yes, we regularly scan for them). So, as with the first "Vendoritis Or Dealeritis" post a while back, the question needs to asked again: how do dealers move forward?

Our industry is always in flux. Lately there has been a more interesting bend, however. Dealers and vendors, for example, fixated solely on SEO for the past year plus are now looking at poor conversion stats to fix.There will be the same issues with social media in a year: those that chose to hire crap automation and get to 5,000 Facebook fans and 10,000 Twitter followers will discover that it's not done anything for brand or business building since over 1/2 of their social media throng is over 500 miles away if not in another country.

When you take your eyes off the ball, you can't catch it. You likely won't even see it. Many today say "bullshit, I can do it all". Well, good luck to you. The best of the Fortune 100 acknowledge that they can't. Maybe automotive retailers can do it all: sell the cars they need to monthly and still talk up a great story online. Just like the vendors that do a mediocre job for you somewhere else in your store and tell you that they can add something to their plate. Yeah, and there's a bridge in the desert that I need to show you...

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results


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Dave Erickson
I really liked your foresight into a year from now when everyone will be asking how they are going to improve or have meaningful conversion stats on Social Media. In terms of SEO and (and perhaps the pending social media) conversions the burden in my opinion right now falls on the dealers (including my own) to put a lot more work and importance into creating more visually appealing and content useful sites. Vendors supply the tools to many dealers including different site templates but I see dealers not updating the text beyond what was supplied by their vendor, I see no personalized content, no use of video, no use of blogs, not even email links to the sales persons. Just a canned product not changed since it was implemented years ago. In a lot of ways I see that the vendors have handed the dealers a foundation for them to build on but the dealers haven’t really done any building so it’s almost funny to me that to think if they aren’t doing anything meaningful to their sites that they actually have intentions of getting more involved in social media (and now that I think about it it's no wonder the most viewed page is new car inventory. Nothing else is useful!) I'd like to see a dealer strive to provide such an impressive site that the most viewed page is their blog. I bet if they put a serious amount of working into updating their content they would see results entirely unexpected. The problem I see is they seem to want to assign these in-house responsibilities to the internet person for them to do in their spare time. Sure he or she may be qualified but they are more concerned about their next sales appointment because that’s how they’re paid and already over worked there is no spare time. So I’m thinking that one reason perhaps that there wasn’t anyone representing dealers in the social media panels is these people simply don’t really exist. No dealer seems willing to pay someone on the inside to put together video clips, write blogs, update text, and perhaps take on additional projects like work with their vendor or some new vendor to tightly integrate online service scheduling, etc.. and I think this person (or new department) would be the right place for a dealers social media to sprout from. Call it something like the Content Department and their mission through Content is to Convert.
Bart Wilson
I agree. What we need is less what and more how. I just don't believe the answer is going to come from the OEMs. You want your content to be about your community. Your face and your brand. OEMs can't provide that. They can help with content but shouldn't be the only source. I believe the solution is training and sharing of best practices, pioneers like Dave who are willing to share their sucesses.
Eric Miltsch
@Gary, I think your question - "How do dealers move forward?" is a great one. However, I think the question "Who wants to move forward?" still isn't being asked enough. What we're left with here is simply natural selection. Those that choose to move forward will indeed find the means to do so. @Dave - There has been a small shift with some dealer groups to move towards this "content department." I know of several & it appears to be working; we can be included among those to have made that decision as well. Keep in mind though, the best website vendors, SEO managers and product providers will only help a dealership move towards their tipping point - the internal leadership needs to be committed to taking them the rest of the way. And yes, unfortunately the right questions weren't being asked of high profile people from the likes of Facebook, Honda & Volvo. Those who took the time to talk one-on-one with them quickly found themselves with more info than they could ever execute. Keep in mind - I lobbed the challenge out to the OEM's, Honda & Toyota specifically, to be their guinea pig for any type of customer communication program that bridged that gap between OEM & dealer - especially the independent dealer. Nice post Gary...so many possibilities to think about here.
Gary May
All great responses here...and transparent! One point that has been made clear in the replies is exactly that I had intended to stir: it's not the OEMs responsibility to tell the dealers how to do any media. No more than they should be telling dealers what to do at retail (which is zero). The really frustrating part: how many dealers went back to their stores and did something new let alone started their social media/digital brand strategy? I'll guess zero. So I'll put it simply without a pitch (which has been increasingly frustrating as of late reading other vendors pitches growing in frequency): either the wrong people are up speaking at the majority of the events or the events are being promoted incorrectly. I've met two 'factory people' in the past three years that can actually explain and demonstrate how to set up an entire integrated media strategy for dealerships. Two. Data is great. The big events spill data over the brim. But data is not action. Your specific data, like analytics, is useful while you're actually doing something. Otherwise data, random data, means absolutely nothing to your business. Including someone else being 'successful' in social media. That brings up another couple points: Seth Godin puts it well in two quotes that I think are so relevant for our industry, which tends to follow rather than lead: - "By the time there is a case study in your specific industry, it's going to be way too late for you to catch up" - "Give up control and give it away, ... The more you give your idea away, the more your company is going to be worth" No matter what you do decide to do, be pure in social media. There are more missteps being made than giant leaps forward and many companies will have you believing automation is the way. And always do like you would with other important decisions: get a second opinion.

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