It's the conference time of the year for the automotive biz and this last week didn't disappoint. Having attended both the first-ever DrivingSales Executive Summit and the venerable JD Power Internet Roundtable it was clear, to some degree, as to what the leaders are looking for, discussing and sharing. My first observation? Not enough dealers were present.
Nobody is trying to hold one group more accountable than the other and while budgets and money are tight, our industry moves at retail not at the supplier, vendor, media or marketing levels. Yes we need to have product that is appealing, ways to communicate effectively about it, means to get people buying the product (hello banks…), staying up with the breakneck speed of technology and keeping the general public excited. All those things aside, it's your good 'ol neighborhood retailer that gets the metal to move.
So, the DSES at the Hard Rock had two days to get the dealers that want to be in front in the best possible position with data, technology, new capabilities and compelling roundtable conversations. For a first-time event, it seemed to have hit its mark. With an agenda that covered current market data, SEO and relevant trends, new technologies and vendor offerings, analytics and social media, what was really impressive was the 'how to' part of the summit. Real conversations with real people answering the tough questions.
Networking is great and does has its immense value (including to this author) but the in-the-trenches, getting your hands dirty stuff is what moves the needle for any business. When someone is interested in doing something, they usually want to know the how, why, when and where. It was refreshing to be a part of the event put together by Charlie Vogelheim and Jared Hamilton.
DSES' range of speakers was atypical and that was a breath of fresh air. Compete's Skip Streets couldn't handle the glaring lights beaming down on him but the content prevailed. It was wonderful to get to hear BlueKai's new approach to media buying and consumer targeting from Dave Armitage. The presentation given by Driverside and R.L. Polk was very different considering it dealt with the back end of the retail business: service. Chris Brogan (New Marketing Labs) and Aaron Strout (Powered) quite frankly gave the road map to the industry without strings: customers, social media, branding, listening, content and value.
Switch gears to an event that I've been participating in since the first one back five plus years ago: JD Power's Internet Roundtable at Red Rock. Well attended by the OEMs, agencies, service providers, portals and dealers. The IRT has changed some over the past few years but it has lacked the 'punch' that it had a couple ago with the breakout roundtable discussions. One undisputed aspect: Everyone's socks were knocked off by Jim Farley's session Thursday morning, period. I've never heard more compliments and conversation after a speaker, ever. And if you haven't taken note of Ford's digital efforts over the past year, maybe you should.
In attending (and participating via Twitter) in a number of other sessions,the content seems to have drifted from subject at times but the speakers knew the craft from the social media, to the leads presentation to the media integration panel. Bar none, the crowd needed to be involved during or, at a minimum, after the sessions. The 'juice' comes from squeezing the *&$%!)#$% out of people and the occasional challenge to their stance.
Where JD Power's event always drives immense dividends for our industry is the lunches, dinners and hallway banter. I've always enjoyed taking part especially considering their influence and reach and, whether or not they are liked and appreciated at any given time, the company's heritage: focus on the customer. Hopefully our industry continues to listen considering consumers control everything today.
The IRT organizing team deserves props for getting social media on the agenda again but it still doesn't get the representation it deserves considering it makes up (along with online marketing and websites) the majority of automotive traffic now and for the future.
What both events need: more dealer participation, more dealer participation and maybe some more dealer participation. The media pays attention to SAAR, manufacturers, balance sheets, production, trends, bailouts and a whole lot of other things that have nothing to do with saving an industry. if you'd like to argue whether the magic number is 11.5M units or 13.1M, that's fine. Just as long as we're helping those that sell the cars in the first place.
The progressive dealers need to be up on stage talking about how they've changed their business and what ways they're moving forward. There may be a day in the near future in where the retailer is just as important as the company paying $20,000+ to speak or that changing up the agenda to showcase an undiscovered nugget is more relevant than some OEM's marketing exec giving the same presentation about their (somewhat) radical approach to marketing for the 20th time. (disclaimer: not talking about Mr. Farley here).
So this latest round of automotive Vegas-ness goes in the record books. Thank you DrivingSales Executive Summit and JD Power Internet Roundtable for having platforms that brought hundreds of thousand of dollars into Sin City. Now the question is: who has the guns to not make it a year until the next time the industry can learn?
Who can drive the education and engagement in the next 90 days without the trip, hotel, expense account and wad of one dollar bills (ooops, did I say that?).
Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results