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Linda Pesonen

Linda Pesonen President

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OEM's, Dealer Associations, and Dealers Align in Go-to-Market Planning


When I introduced this column a few months ago, I deliberately started by taking an outside-in approach to OEM-dealer alignment. I focused first on the importance of independent research sites, followed by the power of enterprise solutions.  Today, I’m taking a different tack—one of alignment across OEM’s, dealer associations, and individual dealers themselves—alignment across Tiers 1, 2, and 3 in go-to-market efforts. 

Aligning media across brand-building to brand-selling tactics and multiple stakeholders can be challenging for any OEM. The greater the number of agencies, dealer associations, and individual dealers involved the more daunting the task. Yet, alignment can - and does - happen.

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Chris Leggio, co-owner of Mark Christopher Auto Center in Ontario, California, and Mike Cagey, General Sales Manager.  We talked about the importance of aligning a consistent message between dealers and OEM’s and the tangible results that can be achieved with a cohesive, coordinated go-to-market plan.

Linda:  In a general sense, describe your view of the current state of alignment between dealers and OEM’s as you plan your go-to-market efforts.

Chris:  Over the years, we’ve gotten better by leaps and bounds.  We piggy-back with the OEM’s; we pick up where the OEM leaves off.  We can do many other things when the OEM covers off on the basics for us.

Linda:  Can you give me an example of how piggy-backing and coordination plays out with the brands you represent?

Chris:  A typical example involves aligning around an event, such as a year-end event or truck month, or a new product launch.  Through meetings in advance, we align our plans with Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac.  We have a sense for the media plan, which is often supported by the manufacturer with television, digital, and our web site provider, which is Cobalt.  The LMA’s coordinate support, and we come in as dealers with newspaper, radio, and any supplemental digital that makes sense.  They key is planning in advance, everybody walking in lockstep, and aligning in messaging to better communicate with the consumer. 

Linda:  Customers today have access to more information than ever, especially as they research and shop online.  How does that impact you as a dealer in the context of your go-to-market planning?

Chris:  We welcome a well-educated customer.  The more educated the customer is, the more we can sell our dealership, how we do business, and how we take care of customers.  It all comes down to customer service.

Mike:  There is greater price transparency today than there’s even been.  That’s where reputation management comes into play and the “why buy here” message.  A customer will go to a dealership that has a strong reputation, and services and respects the community in which they serve.

Chris:  That’s the beauty of online content.  Not every customer attends our community events.  They don’t have to in order to know we’re actively involved.  Today, we can show people our community service through our web site content and reputation management efforts.  They see that when they learn about us online.  Our actions in the community reflect our core values, which are supported by our online content. 

Linda:  You run the play with your OEM while at the same time supporting a strong and consistent “why buy here” message.  If the overall alignment brings a more cohesive message to consumers, then how do you measure success overall?  What results have you seen?

Chris:  It shows in our sales.  We gain share, we deliver a consistent message, and we take care of customers.  And at the end of the day, the customer is the reason we’re in business.

The path customers take to research and shop for a new vehicle is often a complex one; a path that starts months in advance of a sale.  Along the way, they are exposed to a variety of messages, in a variety of channels. Messages come from OEM’s at a brand level, dealer associations, and individual dealers.  The customer doesn’t necessarily make the same distinction across “tiers” of advertising—they simply go about their business and make their way through the shopper journey.

Rather than planning this area of the business separately, we’ve seen here a deliberate effort to align and unite OEM’s, dealer groups, and dealers in a cohesive go-to-market strategy.  Advanced planning creates the coordinated messaging that drives real, tangible results. This careful effort enables an improved shopping experience for customers and can help OEM’s and dealers win in the market. 

Now it’s your turn. What is your experience with coordinated messaging? What are your thoughts on aligning all parties in a cohesive go-to-market strategy? Share your thoughts and let’s continue the conversation. 

Gary May
@Linda, Thank you for the post. What this demonstrates is a very cooperative, possibly very progressive as well, dealership. What it stops short of explaining is the complete integration of the Tier 1-3 assets into the customer experience on their website, CRM and other touch points. It does explain their internal process in pre- and launch-time assets. Why-buy may not align with go-to-market assets and, as pointed out in your interview, that is why a customer should buy at a specific dealership (unless a store has the only available inventory, etc.). This will take A LOT of work to move forward for an OEM and a person with the experience you have. Part of why the OEMs control the assets they do at the dealer level (banner, home page assets, graphics, etc.) is because there is such as disparity between digital knowledge and execution among thousand or retail points. Will you go way deeper on this, possibly making it a video interview series or the like, so we can dive deeper in to this realm? In our opinion what is lacking, especially if you consider regional, associations, dealers and OEM combined, is communication, website capabilities (some dealers can't admin their own sites) and goal setting. The OEMs spend significant amounts of money to have the experience fall apart at retail. That is one of the things IM@CS is passionate about in assisting dealers with their digital execution daily. Thank you, nice to see you here. Gary May disclaimer: have worked with Linda directly as a client at Edmunds and izmocars (possibly eVox as well?) and had pitched her and her department for clients of mine.
Linda Pesonen
Hi Gary! Thanks for your comments. You're right, the integration points are numerous, from assets, to CRM, to web, and more. And the example I described doesn't factor in the added complexity when dealer groups (publicly and privately held auto groups, that is), are considered. They add yet another layer of complexity having to manage across dozens of OEM's with varying levels of sophistication. I'm particularly interested in ad technologies that are fast paving the way for greater alignment and a more seamless customer experience, both offline, and online. Stay tuned for next month's post. I'll dive deeper into yet another example of OEM-dealer alignment--this time using ad technology as a key driver in digital alignment--which will take into consideration some of the key areas you mentioned. I look forward to your input, and keeping the conversation going.And thanks for the idea about a video series. I hadn't thought about it, but I certainly will! Great to connect through the DrivingSales community.
Jim Elliott
Food for thought -- does auto need Tier 2? Would it be easier to align Tier 1 and retail, with no Tier 2? Or is Tier 2 necessary to make the brand more unified locally, especially in the case volume brand dealers battling each other more than they battle other brands.
Mark Dubis
Gary, as usual you are dead on with the issue. We have to remember that the goals of the OEM are often not aligned with the goals of the local auto dealer. The dealers are the customers of the OEMs, not the public. Yes the OEM' run media buys to promote their products but they don't really care about the individual success or failure of any one dealership. We saw this clearly in 2008 with the big bankruptcies and from candid conversations we see it today. The OEMs often have a confrontational relationships with dealers and while they all talk about CSI scores most OEMs will ignore CSI if the dealer is "moving the metal." While dealers have to have a relationship with the OEMs, the smart dealers who focus on long term success work on building their own brand, invest in hiring and retaining the best people, and engage with consumers, customers and prospects in a meaningful and engaging way. They don't rely on inflatable gorillas, or "wavy guys", aren't putting balloons on every car on the front line, and they aren't saying to customers on the lot, "Hi I want to earn your business." They don't have to because they live it everyday. It's the difference between leadership and vision, and management of a mediocre process.
Mark Dubis
Jim Elliott- I believe Tier 2 (local dealer ad associations) are a good thing for consumers. Tier 1 ads tell he customer to buy their brand of vehicles, and Tier 2 highlights where consumers can buy that brand and can promote any regional special promotions. Tier 3 gives the local dealers an opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competitors to bring more people into their stores. Unfortunately most local dealer commercials miss that mark by a country mile. Most offer a good buying experience but fail to have a consistent and resonating marketing strategy.

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