As we boldly run headlong into 2020 with digital more and more prevalent, whether wanted or not, there are some aspects of our business that seem to be getting less clear and one factor driving decisions more than ever. Digital marketing still is without a legal guardian. The babysitter has been receiving the calls and all of the “supervision” hour are spent face-first in mobile devices, kind of like most salespeople at any given moment when customer less.
While the babysitter shouldn’t truly receive all of the blame, those handsomely-rewarded middle-people, even as some of the companies and faces change (with rumors of sone OEMs switching hands of the ill-prepared caretakers of digital marketing programs), are happily rewarding themselves through the data-play environment as the dealers they claim to serve lose control of their customers, websites, tools and CRM data. Yet, when decisions come down to dollars, they claim “my hands are tied”, “we’ve been forced to go with approved vendors” and “my colleagues say their program is working well (cough)” along with a half-dozen similar-sounding reasons (excuses) for not taking ownership of their digital eco-system.
This week we were invited in to an import dealer accountability call with both their (mostly silent on the call) OEM and the marketing company responsible for a large-deployment campaign. The results they are claiming for over 400 dealers in the program simply didn’t happen at this one store. One. Yes, one. “All of the dealers had success with the heavy-up campaign” and “you’re the only dealer out of over 400 asking the performance questions” rang over and over on the hour-plus call. A simple check of only Google Trends both in the dealer’s AOR/DMA (as well as nationally) show that the search lift was (interestingly) roughly the same for organic search that the marketing company is claiming that the campaign delivered (OK, a good percentage of it when pressed harder). Nearly the same year over year lift as shows organically that they’re claiming from paid video campaigns!
Now this article isn’t about the one specific example this week of performance overhype and, since the largest traffic segment wasn’t properly tracked by the marketing company (or on the “large” social media platform that the videos were campaigned through – yes you read that properly: no tracking) so all claims can be called into serious question, the near-intentional lack of transparency No, this is about the industry’s saturation of vendors doing the same exact thing(s) to thousands of dealers each month with the OEMs and/or the dealer body buying in. It’s about hundreds of agencies that claim to be digital (even better, digital-first) and mostly reselling products for commissions that may also be handcuffed on real reporting and accountability.
This week we also experienced a website company “not knowing” why (or how) Direct traffic hits from two AWS servers (from OR and VA) representing 5% of monthly users/3-4% of sessions were happening to two different websites both hosted by them (the dealerships do not pay for any third-party data companies or “targeting/conquest solutions”) with vastly different performance issues represented by the two cross-country AWS locations (the VA location providing 0:00 T.O.S, 1 page/visit. and 100% bounce rate visits while the OR location provided 6:00+ T.O.S., 6+ pages/visit (up to near 20 pages) and sub-30% bounce rate however still non-human behavior). The dealerships are in the Midwest.
Add to the above, the even-present chant of “co-op program, co-op program” and “I’ll lose spiff money if we choose a non-approved vendor”. In 2018, we participated in assisting a domestic dealer pocket ~$450,000 with quite a bit of “non-approved vendor” expense (~20% of it in reduction in duplicative or unnecessary expenses). The dealer committed to it, counted on us and a very few other partners for measurement, and attacked all of their marketing, website performance, changed up their sales meetings (sales people had to take over the largest part of each morning’s sales meeting with a new idea or concept related to selling or use of the CRM), pushed a higher level of accountability and drove results, even changing how and what they bought for their used cars and the way they marketed and sold those cars (nearly doubled turns). Not once did the dealer or GSM complain about how their OEM co-op funds may not be available to them for part or even all of their marketing expense. As a matter of fact, they bragged with other dealers to the opposite.
Because it penciled!!!!! Results, especially with time, eclipse programs if you know what you’re doing and are committed to it. Agencies seemingly never want to cut their fee or commissions, even when the dealer’s results diminish over time. Why? Nobody can explain that to us (or anyone else). Aren’t you representing the dealer? Apparently not. Reselling and commissions (including Google Ads fees) have become too lucrative to focus on the dealer more than the agency bottom line. Once-a-month calls on your website and paid search efforts? Why didn’t you notice on the 15th of the month that your Google campaign on a model that you didn’t have in stock was spending 30% of your budget? No eyeballs, no accountability and no results. Keep sending the checks silly…
By and large nothing is going to change in 2020. The buzz at NADA suggested something definitely different, however the past two weeks alone have showed us that it may only be for a few adventurous dealers that have had enough of the “more of the same for me” digital programs. There may be a little more at hand, though. Especially if we face unprecedented, new threats to business (we’ll take “Worldwide Illnesses” for $1,000 Alex!) that may cover everything from supply chain to new car availability and sales to finance, funding and floor plans, to used car availability and pricing. Those who truly have their eyes on the real measurements of their business, all aspects, will weather impending storms.
And to do so, you have to invest time, effort, resources and money, yes some or all of the money that your OEM won’t repay you, however the dividends from doing business right will ALWAYS pay you back more. The R.O.I. from calling bullshit on improper marketing investments is huge. The R.O.I. from a cancelled investment and re-appropriation of those funds to well-run digital marketing that is fully-tracked and generates new sales is huge. Did you cut $15,000+ per month from your budget and sell MORE cars (including a record December) for four plus months? We know two import stores that did n the Midwest and the West Coast.
If you can’t measure it, stop spending it. If you don’t have more prospects, contacts and sales (or at least tracking to sales) from it, stop spending it. Best practices are called that for a reason. And no bad investment has ever been called a best practice. So keep going co-op and digital program. Until someone else completely owns your customers because those babysitters, middlemen and resellers have your data and monthly dates with your OEMs and/or your competitors. We don’t and never will.
Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results