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Welcome To 2018…Here’s Your 2002 Co-Op Program

It comes as no surprise to those of us who’ve been around the automotive digital space for a long time that the OEMs want dealer data and the pervasive third parties that run large-scale digital programs aren’t around for the dealers’ sake nor benefit. There’s a deeper level, though… how fraught these digital programs are themselves, even when you consider how fraudulent the mark-ups and hiding of unbiased metrics are.

What’s wrong is the reaping of the dealerships, rather simply saying “you have three website companies to choose from rather than anyone you choose”. And the crazy thing, again, is that the OEMs are none the smarter or have general wherewithal on the programs, data, analytics, organic, tier 3 paid search, leads (and hand-raisers, jeez) or social media. With regard to the last one, have you seen how many dealers’ social streams are basically hijacked, duplicate content with disgusting returns?

For those who don’t recall (or prefer to remember), automotive online started en-masse in 2005 with a few OEM-mandated programs happening in the early following years. How is it, then, that dealers are still waking up to the idea of digital investments? In 2009 we had a difficult time educating one of the largest import-brand dealers in the Southwestern US  that a $2,000+/month investment in their website was more than acceptable, compared to their $699/month required website. It’s 2018, we won’t even have that discussion today and stopped asking many program-heavy dealers what their investments are since nearly all are under-vested in their most important asset: their websites (yeah, that thing that gets more traffic than any other part of your business).

There are more properly-built and updated website providers out there, however it doesn’t mean that you have to choose one of them because of co-op dollars. No dealer (or general manager) can make an effective argument about $10,000-20,000 given up per month in co-op when they can end of selling 20-50 more cars per month with a better platform. Even the factory wakes up after hard-balling a dealer who’s “not playing in the approved digital sandbox” because they can’t ignore numbers (newsflash: OEMs care more about units than which website platform you’re on -or your dealership-…really!).

Alas, it seems that more and more dealers (we’ve seen this before…about 10 years ago) are willing to give up digital results to make the factory happy and/or more willing to give up any possible advantage they can have over data sharing (which the 3rd party consulting first have consistently used to level the paying field).

It all comes down to this: If we remember correctly, wasn’t it Ronald Reagan who once said, “The most terrifying words in the English language are: We’re from your OEM’s digital department and we’ve here to help”…

 

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

NADA Prep: What Is Your Breaking Point?

It’s the annual ritual that continues to educate, perplex/confuse (many) and intoxicate, especially with this year’s New Orleans destination. The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) convention starts next Thursday so let the flash and sizzle begin, and maybe (just maybe) a reception or two to get the monthly receivables up…

We are in the twenty-second year of the Automotive Internet. Yeah, don’t blink! And with some of the major moves around the industry, you’d wonder if it weren’t the first. So do you book up on appointments with your current static providers or do you go outside? Do you take some mindshare and brave some proven-yet-unused platform/technology?At IM@CS, we have been wowed by little over the past year and lulled to sleep by most…

While you might fall for the loud person calling this the “Year Of The (fill with ostentatious call name)”, here are some hard and fast rules dominating what will likely guide you (and your vendors) to the breaking point in 2017:

  • Google AMP Project (Accelerated Mobile ages)
  • SEM/Paid Search one-to-one relevancy/Google ad updates
  • Move from last-click attribution (Google Analytics) to multi-touch “varied attribution”
  • Search Engine Optimization/marketing SPAM (next generation black-hat SEO)
  • Embracing of equity mining/process/CRM/showroom integration
  • Live video use for marketing, prospect and lifecycle engagement

Any more and your head will swim, if it’s not already. There will be few leaders, especially the largest companies, in the spaces mentioned above, signaling dealers to branch out and do more. More investigation. More education. More questions. And more time understanding that the homogenization of retailers is real.

Some of our picks for NADA visits are AutoAlert, Calldrip, DealerInspire, DealerSocket, Dealer Teamwork, eAutoAppraise, Nextup, Sensible Driver and Time Highway. We will be sitting with vendor companies and seeing the latest updates to bring them to our clients as well as the general dealer body.

We hope that everyone has a great convention this year, see you on the show floor!

2017 New Trends: What You Are Missing Is Sales

Let’s face it. The more you hear about new trends, the more you are likely to invest. The more new trends, the more investment. At what point does a new trend matter as much or more to your business than what works consistently? One constant in Automotive over the past nine plus years of IM@CS’ existence is that trends have never given a bigger yield over strong fundamentals. As a matter of fact, we have never guided a client to any significant investment with new trends, however we have with defined trends.

Do you hop on the new trends?

Trend. Merriam-Webster defines a trend as either to “extend in a general direction” (which we call a define trend) or “to veer in a new direction” (which we call a new trend).

It is a significant new trend, and worth while, to leverage text massaging for sales and service. It won’t, however, replace email in the immediate future. We have heard speakers, trainers and consultants recommending dealerships drop email in favor of text and other messaging forms. Does text/messaging tend to receive higher open rates? Yes. Have we seen the same for sales responses? Some lift, in general, yet nowhere close to pervasive. Have we seen those eclipse results from responding to emails and communicating properly, measured in dealership CRM systems? Not yet.

It was a hot new trend to jump into Display Advertising a few years ago, which we have never recommended or had a client spend more than 5% of their budget on. Results? Negligible, at best. Dealership return on investment, reviewed by those NOT taking a commission or fee, was poor at best. Lots of explanations erupted, including the “branding” argument, however the new trend diminished and many dealerships got sensible on their spends, relying more on effective search advertising, better CRM follow up on unsold customers and educating themselves on Google Analytics and other tools.

New, hot trends have shown, year after year, that too much or misappropriated attention causes lapses in core business values, efficiencies and results. We do discuss all types of trends with our clients, and at the same time keep them focused on what drives more efficient spend, while recommending small investments in new tools and technology.

Dealerships need to focus on better digital operation, more efficient showrooms, streamlined and engaging delivery, consumer feedback and top-down management with consistent measurement and accountability.

Hottest new trend for 2017: More dealerships getting real on human capital, education, accountability and customer engagement. We hope…

 

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

No Surprise: Pied Piper PSI® Internet Lead Effectiveness Report

Yet another wake up call to OEMs and dealers was quietly released today, showing no improvement in regard to Internet lead responses. While there were a few that made steps and improved their overall performance (Porsche, BMW and Mini), the industry average dropped a point to 56 (21 of 36 brands dropped). The report sites lack of transparency to senior management on the handling and performance of online sales leads.

According to Fran O’Hagan, Pied Piper CEO, the Prospect Satisfaction Index® Report showed that 50% of leads were responded to within 30 minutes, while 1 out of 11 were not responded to at all. Matched with a still-under-ten-percent closing rate for all leads in the automotive industry and those who understand the impact this creates look at how the OEMs and dealers deploy lead management tactics. In short, the OEM-mandated programs are not assisting dealers to better performance; they lead to standardization, lack of true engagement with and sales to consumers considering vehicle purchases, aggregation of data manufacturers don’t find useful, increases to paid marketing campaigns (mostly via retargeting and display with very poor results) and more revenue for unqualified consulting companies.

Not to mention that, while the industry sold more units in 2015, most dealers in the country didn’t increase market share last year (most of our clients did, though). That stems mostly from the inability of dealers to close more leads and execute on more effective SEO and SEM strategies for their markets. However, most dealers hear their vendors scream “we did a great job got for you last month” every month. Bullshit.

OEMs must wake up and realize that many companies selling consulting, lead management and other online services to them and the dealer body have no interest in anything besides adding top line revenue to their balance sheets, showing misleading reports of how “effective” their conversion rates are as well as how websites “convert” as more vendors count SRPs, VDPs and basic requests as sales leads. Data manipulation by many vendors in the industry hurts dealers and decision-making around and for dealerships.

While more speakers at conferences yell about “this one template kills it” and companies produce studies and white papers created to sell more duplicated templates and follow up processes, lead response effectiveness will continue to drop. And more importantly, the three areas that are the only ones that matter: lead-to-contact, contact0-to-appointment and appointment-to-show rates. And don’t even get us started on outsourcing lead management completely as some vendors pitch and a few have built their entire businesses off of, unless you have a death wish.

So with record unit sales, more dealers spending in traditional marketing again, very few dealers investing in digital education and true sales coaching especially around Internet leads and the homogenization of dealerships, don’t be surprised by the next Pied Piper report showing a further decline in results.

 

Want to discover how your leads are being handled without bothersome mystery shops? Contact IM@CS and improve your results with our lead scoring!

 

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

 

Transparency, Marketing and Dashboards (But, But, But It Sells Cars!!!!)

There has been more attention to accountability of dealership marketing recently, which is a good thing, however it’s always been important and something we here at IM@CS have been doing for eight years. Simply put, you need all of your digital reporting to come down to your own review, independent of vendors and their dashboards.

History proves (and vendors demonstrate) that anything will be said to a dealer or general manager in order to sell a service, especially first-in-market, fear or competitive factors. Most dealers are unwilling to be  leaders, choosing rather to follow especially when it comes to technology. And the largest factor is lack of time and commitment. If you are paying for something, you must be able to measure it yourself. Yes, YOU must be able to do that, not simply trust a report.

Google Analytics is the best way to measure everything that touches your website, alongside ancillary technologies including heat maps, third party SEO and SEM software, as well as independent measuring tools. We use a fair amount of software monthly to ensure the work we do is correct, viable and effective.

We continue to see (the majority of) dealers that are having the wool pulled over their eyes because of not drilling down a little in reporting, rather relying on a smattering of PDF reports and sales rep visits with alligator smiles talking about how great their performance is all the way to 20 Group comparisons with mediocre benchmarking.

As a senior-level executive (not your Internet or marketing director), if you can’t open Google Analytics and have a basic conversation about performance, you are losing awareness and accountability on a monthly basis. There is no other place, including the sales board in your dealership, where more relevant data comes in, not even CRM (especially considering how underutilized that software is!).

So whether you take some company’s challenge, education course, class, or simply task yourself to learn directly within Google’s own treasure trove of resources, commit to a few hours a month and get serious about all of your marketing.

Recently we’ve seen:

  • Significant drops in effectiveness of Display Advertising, with mobile being a factor as well as incredibly poor content/call-to-action in the advertising (incorrectly bucketed spends = lower R.O.I., fewer sales)
  • More rogue/bot  traffic coming from target cities that have server farms, including Ashburn, VA, Dallas and Austin, TX, and Rome and New York, NY as well as Boston, MA. (click traffic from areas that don’t make sense = non-human clicks)
  • Seeing poorly managed paid Social Media ads/dark posts and resulting traffic/leads due to a complete lack of understanding how to deploy the ads/content (running ads on Facebook and not generating leads = wrong vendor)
  • Huge increases in incorrectly managed/sourced paid advertising campaigns, lacking all of the proper data, including conversions, tied to meaningless text/ads. Part of the is an increase in dealers finally spending on SEM and the greater problem is more companies (including many OEM-approved vendors) managing ad spends that don’t understand what they’re doing. This does not counting vendors that don’t marge AdWords accounts to dealers’ Analytics accounts

All of this staring dealers in the face with no challenge to the vendors selling the services and marketing. When you receive that monthly PDF in your inbox, don’t file it. Instead, print it out, call the vendor(s) to review and have someone in your office that can independently verify that data until you understand it yourself.

Stop buying from vendors, even reliable ones, who sell you a service off of how many more cars will be sold. You don’t need that! Most dealers can sell 20-50 more cars a month out of their own CRM. Your marketing can’t be segmented or in silos anymore so quit buying that way!

 

Do this before any factors present market issues or downward pressure on sales. With more dealers spending money, there are incremental increases in sales with a lot of companies are simply getting fat and happy, laughing all the way to the bank with you money. Call us to find out quickly and easily what you’re paying for and not receiving.

 

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Volume, Fiasco, Titles, Consolidation, Arrogance and Big Decisions

We are at the next crossroads, for now let’s call it the end of 2015 and the beginning of a new year. There’s more road crossing later. Wow, the past year had a lot of ups (and ups) and downs. And in the end, more cars were sold with fewer showroom visits and more hours spent online. If you agree with that statement, you can stop reading now…

First, let’s hit volume. At the time of posting this, we’re on pace to possibly topple record sales in automotive, if not get extremely close to doing so. There are some surprise winners and some more surprise losers. All in all, the increase was predicted and, with some exceptions, most everyone will be keeping their lofty jobs at our glorified manufacturers (why do most people on automotive blog spell that darn word -and many others- wrong?).

Fiasco. Well, we didn’t see that BIG one coming, huh? It’s too early to say what will come of the Volkswagen TDI (as well as Audi and Porsche) debacle, so it’s suffice to say that the “ouch” outcome is due to come in 2016. The key is that people will still buy their vehicles, it’s a combination of consumer perception and how the retailers handle the opportunities.

Titles, the least favorite of ours being “millennials”, do nothing other than distract car dealers, enable marketing companies (and some barely-average people to become experts in the field) to take advantage of ploys and create enough hysteria to take people’s attention off of what matters: taking care of the customer, stupid.

Consolidation, especially the big one in 2015, serves the car dealer, right?!?!  Holy crap piles of nothing Batman, more dealers on a single-serving platform!! That’s got to be serving the shareholder more than the client, but don’t tell anyone Boy Wonder! Sure, you can see the episode with Adam West and Burt Ward roll out in your mind now, with the “BOOM”, “CRACK” and “UGG” blasts behind every customer service call now…  It’s a great idea when you want your business to be on cruise control, unless you take a good look at the while picture and realize that we’re not well-served until a point that all of the technology is integrated and the data is utilized across enterprises. Until then, it’s called dropping the amount of checks you issue and nothing else. Yeah, and the website will be fully responsive in 2016 (bwahahahaha!!!)

Arrogance showed its beautiful face again in ways we hadn’t since 2004-2007, when dealers were nearly printing money. Near-record profits with slightly more optimized operations after the shit hit the fan in 2008 and 2009 showed our dealer body to some very-needed net profits this year. Along with that came the thoughts that showed as an ongoing lack of understanding what the public wants with an automotive experience, still underutilized digital marketing (yes, please hand your capabilities to the OEM vendor. That’s smart) and a continued focus on increasing spends in unmeasured media or supporting digital vendors that should have died five plus years ago (you know who you are).

All that’s left is the big decision: are you going to wait longer or finally commit the right resources and people power to the proper partners, building your results, true bottom line efficiencies and leading in your market? More dealers have decided, or are deciding right now, to follow (i.e. relent to OEM control of their digital marketing) the herd to irrelevance. It can’t be said more easily or with more conviction, if you’re going to be led by the same company that works with everyone else in your market, or trust the advisor that works with your competitor, you lose. Done properly, most dealers can increase their digital spends at half of what they drop in traditional, increase their sales and service, put the rest into resources for their staff (including adding staff) and come out thousands of dollars ahead each month, net. They don’t because…….because…..because…they didn’t do it that way before.

For those who do it right, 2016 already started over a month ago. If you need to focus on the last 25 days of the year more than anything else, how well did you plan for and execute during 2015?  Or maybe, you simply have the wrong partner(s) in the first place…

 

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Broken Is As Broken Does…We’re So Frickin Broken!

Broken is the new status quo. Status quo is a Latin phrase meaning the existing state of affairs, particularly with regards to social or political issues. In the sociological sense, it generally applies to maintain or change existing social structure and values. The way things are done at dealerships has gone near-completely political and, oh my, are we broken!

Thoughts are always swirling is our minds here at IM@CS, and the current state of affairs something that we poke at a lot. It came around again last evening, looking at a page that someone had liked on Facebook. Going to the info tab on the FB page, we noticed that the company was “founded in October”. Excellent! Like us in September of 2007, a startup! Click the link to the website and the domain is not even registered, it’s available for sale. facepalm. Don’t know whether to laugh or cry…

Whether it’s many marketing or website or “digital consulting” companies now evergreen inside the OEMs, the state of broken that exists is staggering. Stupid is as stupid does, we know that from Forest Gump’s momma, so broken must be as broken does. And the industry accepts broken.  Enterprise website providers that aren’t completely responsive (or adaptive for that matter) fit hand-in-glove with marketing companies managing PPC campaigns that don’t perform while taking a management 20% fee (or higher)… Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

Dealership executives have choices when it comes to what takes their time. We call it priority management. Many people at fly-by-night SEO and social media companies call it time management (that tickles us so much, we pee). Yes, there are many “subjects du jour” right now including customer experience and whether to go BDC or Internet department especially on the heels of the recent conferences. But one thing is clear, even considering how many are yelling about “owning the basics” and “doing what we’ve always done”: we are broken while many scream we’re great.

And it”s easy to blame the consultants and trainers who, quite frankly, spout off about expertise they don’t have and subjects they can’t actually tackle live in a business, but let’s hit on the responsibility that business owners and executives have. Are you in business or are you hoping to catch up still? Can’t wrestle that extra “marketing expense” out each month when it doesn’t get covered by the factory via co-op, so you decide instead to make the payment on speed boat number two?

We’re broken because we have dealerships that don’t own and manage their local citations, don’t expect everyone to use CRM and trust vendor promises over actual results.

Don’t be the company listing a website that’s not in existence. Don’t be the blind following the blind because it’s the path of least resistance. Don’t be broken and happy because you’re better off than 7 other broken dealerships in your market area report. It’s not easy and it takes more resources that you’ll likely be comfortable with. Don’t settle. No business that has ever been successful did.

 

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

The State of Automotive Digital Advising: More Vanilla, Please!

Anyone who regularly reads our blog knows a few things. One, we tell it like it is. Two, we educate from fact and passion, not from the heart of from the pocketbook. Three, we do and cover what nobody else does across the entire scope of services. Four, we affect a sliver of the industry through the automotive social sphere. While none of these aspects alone are uniquely significant, it becomes more so when you consider what dealers are receiving from “advisors” today.

Recently we had a high-line dealer visit that also included a regional sales director from the OEM, which is a rare pleasure. They wanted to review the new digital assessment package from their third-party partner. While we were extremely happy that the digital marketing consulting company that had previously provided in-field services for the OEM and their dealers was no longer doing so, and there was clearly an improvement in the standard deliverables, frustration quickly set in.

In reviewing the report, it was clear that it took into account items that didn’t properly set up dealer expectations, or take into account how search algorithms have changed, especially mobile, contained improper SEO evaluation components (named search, for example) and wasn’t thorough (had both scoring and consistency issues).

So while the report was an improvement over the third-party and OEM agenda-only approach previously employed to advising the dealers, it showed that we are still significant;y off the mark when it comes to assisting a dealer in doing a better job online. While we’ll assume that the vendor’s intentions are completely altruistic, we once again see the misguided and completely subjective plight we’re in considering there are no “digital standards”, no “consulting certifications” and certainly no “results-based comparisons”.

What we do have is more vanilla. Yes, the OEMs to a large extent need the data; yes, there’s a much better way to go about it. And the challenge is how can you do that, counting on one or two companies, without true A-B testing, in a cost-effective manner? You can’t and all that happens is the dealers can operate off slightly better input rather than consultants taking ideas and bringing them back to the third party and OEM. Everyone loses in that scenario.

Yes, more money is being spent. And with that, more errors are being made. Stupid, unseen errors. How do you tell a dealer that 25-50% of their SEM spend is for terms they shouldn’t be buying, cities that are 500-1,500 miles away, with action-killing text and that 47% of their traffic is on mobile but 70% of their budget is going to desktop? Or that their website’s key pages have the same content as 100 other sites and incorrectly link to non-existent pages on their site? Or that their social media is a complete disaster that is not being seen, read or acted upon? OK, “tell them” you say. And then they bury their heads again or plead the “have to use what my OEM says to” line of garbage. No you don’t.

Stop getting vanilla. When the market drops again, and it WILL, there will be a larger dividing line digitally between dealerships. You can’t take an OEM digital assessment report, unfortunately still, and build better value, own more spots in SERP, turn your social media and social marketing around or answer your leads any better. You actually need to spend money doing that, using different vendors than everyone is using and learn how to understand this our evolving, digital world.

 

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

 

 

Websites: Why Your Smallest Investment Still Pisses You Off

We’ll let you in on a little secret. For years, decades really, you’ve been able to throw some words and photos onto recycled trees, shoot a check out for $5,000 a week and create a line so long out your front door you were laughing. And now you have a virtual ad up every day for one quarter that price (or less for most dealers) and bang your head against a wall.

You might even think that your last print ad actually did better than any other source in recent memory.

The only rules that changed when you relied on print was if your rep would “take care of you”, a competitor would drop out of the paper for a week, you had a better lost leader than the closest same-brand store or if you included dealer cash or bought down rate and nobody else did that weekend.

Nowadays how you show up, where you show up, when you show up doesn’t make sense to you and don’t have anyone even get you started on pricing as gross erodes, software tells you how to optimize your lot and competitors you’ve never heard of are showing up in your pump-in, pump-out report.

You would gladly spend $30,000 a month to see your latest promotion, however if another rep or consultant walks in with a haphazardly assembled SEO report telling you that their services are needed immediately for $2,000 a month you’ll give them the Axel Foley treatment in Beverly Hills Cop.

And now you’re told that your current website provider platform isn’t up to snuff (what is a subdomain or a second “site”??), your paid ads don’t convert, leads are down and your cost per sale is up. You’re pissed. And mostly because you don’t understand what to do and how to do it or how to get your vendor(s) to do it, not because your most important advertising source can’t work.

It’s your smallest investment (you’ll spend more in coffee services, porters and trips to 7-11 for Red Bull for your staff to start logging their ups and follows ups in CRM).

Studies don’t matter. Analytics don’t matter. Lead ROI doesn’t matter. Not until all of the basics are covered. Not until you have an understanding of your $700-$3,000 per month spend. It’s never been a pay-for-it-and-leave-it even though every vendor tells you it is.

Websites are one of your three greatest investments and the least expensive (the other two are your staff and your CRM). Don’t ignore it and them blame anyone else. You shouldn’t spend money for anything you don’t understand. Don’t be the one who knows more about what clubs Jordan was using last weekend, yet nothing about the platform your website runs on or that you need to deliver four sizes of your latest ads instead of one. Don’t get pissed off at one of your smallest line items, get smart and get results.

 

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

What The Watch Will Have You Watching as You’re not Watching What You Need To Watch

Not paying attention to mobile, tech and search is about to get more annoying…and costly!

What time is it? Really, what time is it? It’s not hammer time or time to get ill, although you may after reading this. It is time to consider where you SEE what time it is. For a lot of people in automotive (read: dealer principals, general managers, general sales managers), it’s usually a nice watch. And guess what? Within months, a lot of those people will be migrating to “smart” watches. Lots and lots of people will.

What does this mean for you? Well, truth is we don’t exactly know yet however know this…you’re about to get more annoyed from a cost and tech perspective. And to think, you were finally getting comfortable with spending money on SEO for your antiquated website 5 years after you should have been spending the money to DOMINATE your market and you just felt like looking into geo-fencing, although you still don’t get it.

Tech, and smart watches specifically, is going to continue the drumbeat of change and focus. Not to say everyone is going to buy a $10,000+ gold-plated Apple watch,. No. More people will be buying the Android watch that’s $499 at Costco right now!

Very few of you are going to think “great! A service app on someone’s wrist with integrated push notifications…I’m in!” Most of you are going to ask “what person would even want their smart phone that close to them?” or “Why do I need to pay attention now, until it’s more common?” or, the worst, “what spend any money on that?”

This is the real question you need to ask yourself, “will my platform, apps and communication be ready for this switch and what is a reasonable cost to be ready?” and for most of you, the answer is no. Look at your email templates and ask yourself are they mobile-ready today. (hint: most dealers have large/wide headers with links, some kind of framing, large/heavy graphics, video and other assets as part of your (non-relevant) emails you send to customers. Newsflash, you’re killing yourself and, if you have an OEM-pushed consultant coming in to your dealership, you’re even more in trouble. You’re not ready.

Tech, search and communication are changing at the speed of the consumer, and you have yet another wrinkle in your plan to do the same thing you were doing before you read this, so keep doing what you’re doing. Yes, car sales are up so dealers can make a lot of mistakes and still make money. The about-to-happen explosion of smart watches represent another example of how overwhelmingly wrong automotive retail marketing is. Now go put your Fitbit on your wrist that tracks you via GPS and uploads to your Strava account and do that run you were planning,. Nothing to see here, everything is fine …

 

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results