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Driving Home Your Dealership Message: Building A Brand Stretches Ad Budget

When Rob Mudd meets people in South Bend, Ind., he might put them to a little test. He’ll say, “Beep, beep.”

If they can finish the chorus line with, “It’s Gurley Leep,” the ad man knows his campaign is doing a good job of building that dealership’s brand.

After six years of consistently inserting that line into every ad the dealer has run, Mudd gives himself high marks on the results.

“If I said ‘beep, beep,’ eight out of 10 people would say ‘Gurley Leep,’” said Mudd confidently. “That line is consistent.” The tag line he devised is always linked to a reason to drive over to the dealership “today.”

“People want a deal,” said Mudd, who is president of the agency division of Mudd Advertising. “Why should I come and buy a car from you? That is the vertical message that dealers have to put out there every day of the month.” Consistently drilling home the ‘beep, beep’ part of the message is his horizontal theme for Gurley Leep Automotive.

A mix of experienced auto advertising executives say the best way for a dealer to brand his or her operation involves finding creative ways to blend that message with their day-in and day-out call to action. Put another way: every vertical message gets a horizontal tilt.

The only advertising strategy that makes sense, said Force Media Group President Jim Fitzpatrick, is to pursue both approaches at once. That may take some discipline, he added, but over time it pays off.

“Typically, dealers spend $350 to $600 per retail unit on advertising. With that kind of money, dealers want a direct response,” said Fitzpatrick. “If a dealer drops $20,000 on a direct mail campaign, they want to know they have sold ‘X’ number of cars. At $50,000 on an event, they want to know the results. They want a specific number. There should be that direct correlation of what you spent and what you took in, but dealers can spend less money on advertising if they have done a really good job of branding themselves.”

Dealers can build some branding equity into every call to action. For Mudd, that’s a jingle or tag phrase with consistent graphics. “That’s your brand, which you use with a buy-now message. You have to sell cars or you don’t have a brand. Always sell. Always sell. And use that tag as your brand. You get sales overnight and image over time,” said Mudd.

 The consumer benefit
“It’s a very me-too culture out there,” said Mike Chumney, who owns Chumney and Associates, particularly when it comes to moving cars. If one dealer uses his advertising megaphone to shout discount, usually every other dealer in his area is soon in full-throated pursuit of the same strategy.

That’s not very surprising, he added. Most of the general managers in the dealership world are wired to the vertical scale, with their barometer rigged to register monthly unit sales. “There isn’t a lot of thought that goes into horizontal positioning. They don’t think about building a brand. They sell urgency – vertical messaging. It’s that vertical messaging that overtakes everything and that’s why all car spots sound the same,” said Chumney.

The industry coined a word to describe a mix of retailing and branding. They call it brand-tailing. Take Fort Myers Toyota for example, said Chumney. “Everything we do for them has a similar look, style and feel.” It carries the same positioning statement: “Your family store.”

“I don’t have to have a price point to remember, but consumers should remember that I have a consumer benefit… For example take a national brand like Dove: Soaking hands, soft. Everybody has a benefit that they want to convey. A dealer wants savings, value and selection. If you can wrap that type of thing into the brand image, so much the better… Take the brand, put a retail benefit into it and make it mean something,” said Chumney.

Branding with a buy-now message is different and trickier, said Chumney. Do it the wrong way and it can sound like: “We’re nice guys and we’ll treat you right. Come in before Monday.”

“I don’t know that the public buys that call-to-action in today’s world,” said Chumney, “The Internet has reshaped everything. We have products geared to get people to raise their hands and then we follow up.”

“We do a lot of TV to send consumers to the Web site. We are doing Web sites that detail promotions that are a month long. The call to action is to get them to my Web site and get them into the mousetrap, said Chumney, “Then, the business development center calls them back.”

For Mudd, the right mix of vertical and horizontal messages works out at 90/10. “You use 90 percent to sell and 10 percent for the brand.” That is particularly effective on spot radio and cable TV, but don’t neglect the Internet either.

“Ninety percent of all consumers go to the virtual showroom first and then to the brick-and-mortar location. Whatever you do—direct mail, radio or TV—the virtual dealership needs to look and sound the same.” Sometimes, the mediums can share the same content. If you have a TV commercial, said Mudd, you need to have it on your site too.

The Fastest Way
 “Whatever we do on TV, we can do on the Internet,” agreed Fitzpatrick of Force Media Group. “That’s where people get news. That becomes their TV and we put a lot of that same material on the Internet.”

“For strong branding,” asserted Fitzpatrick, “the mediums are radio and TV. That’s the quickest way to get the brand out there—audio and visual. That represents the dealership in a great way and ties that into a strong jingle. Then, you take that and tie it into the Internet site, with the same music and jingle, as well as on-hold messages at the dealership. Those are the best elements to have.”

 “When we try to create a brand, we use TV,” said Chumney. “You’ve got the benefit of sight and sound. Think about the Kodak commercials. Have you ever cried over a Kodak radio commercial? Ninety percent of what we learn is what we see; ten percent is what we hear.”

“Also, in most markets TV is the biggest-reach medium,” he added. “We’re going to a store right now that has a bad reputation. A series of things took place and they got media attention. Now they’ve done a facelift on the store and a name change, and TV is the fastest, biggest way to get that out to the people.”

Daily Newspapers Are Dead
Daily newspapers, though, are seeing their final days as a mainstream advertising medium. According to the ad experts, newspapers aren’t very good at branding or retailing.

“Dealers are spending half as much on print as they did five years ago,” noted
Fitzpatrick, “That money went to the Internet.”

“Newspaper ads are almost dead,” eulogized Chumney. “Here’s my ideal newspaper ad: A quarter page, and it says, ‘Go to my Internet site for the lowest price.’”

“Go to any newspaper Web site,” said Mudd. “You’ll see streaming video. Now, if newspapers were convinced that people were interested in static pictures and print, why wouldn’t they leave their Web site at that? Consumers want entertainment value.”  It’s the same reason Michigan Avenue in Chicago is packed with people when they can buy goods online.  They liked to be entertained.

“We had a Lexus store in Chicago and the dealer was spending 80 percent of his ad budget in the Tribune, zoning the North Shore,” added Mudd. “That’s higher income. Once we started working with them, we said that you need to get out of the Tribune, go electronic, use frequency, tell the message multiple times, creating enthusiasm and excitement. And you can’t do that in print.”

The dealer resisted until Mudd’s ad tracking method showed him that only 12 percent of his customers read the newspaper. “Now he’s using TV and heavy cable and radio, and his sales increased. He didn’t spend more money,” added Mudd. “We found out which media his clients used.”

Beware the Overnight Switch
 “We are often brought in as a full-service agency to get branding going in a dealer’s market,” said Fitzpatrick. “They’ll say that they want to make more of a branding statement, let consumers know that they’re here for the long haul and that they will be treated right when they come in.”

“They get 60 days in, and they’ll say, ‘Yeah, this branding is great but we have to sell some cars.’ They’ll say, ‘Give me that Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! Last-chance blowout,’” said Fitzpatrick, “And my sermon back to them is that you wouldn’t need that huge weekend if you were top of mind in your marketplace when consumers set out to buy a car.” That sermon makes a regular appearance every time a new sales manager takes command.

“We see branding go by the wayside when a heavy hitter comes in and says, ‘Here is what I want to do,’” said Fitzpatrick. “We try to stabilize the budget and hold on to that through thick and thin. Don’t change it because you had a slow 10-day period.”
It’s also valuable to understand why a campaign isn’t delivering the expected results.

“Maybe calls are coming in, but no appointments are being set,” he added. “We’re often called to come in and make a sales audit, and find out what happens when that call comes in. We do it free of charge to determine how many calls came in. You’d be amazed at how little the calls are listened to. We go back and 10 percent of clients actually listen in to calls. They’ll take 100 calls but no one listened to see how salespeople took those calls.”

Fitzpatrick said, “It used to be that just the Cadillac and high-line stores like Lexus and BMW would talk branding, but no longer. Now branding can happen at a low cost provider with the biggest selection. Their branding statement can be just as effective or more so.”

By the time a thorough ad campaign is finished every survey should prove that customers can consistently finish that jingle.
 Beep, beep….

Vol 5, Issue 9


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