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A Tale of Two Economies: How Smart Marketing Can Help your Dealership Thrive, Not Just Survive, During Difficult Times

What a difference a year can make. In February of 2007, consumer confidence had jumped to its highest level in five-and-a-half years, according to the Consumer Research Center for The Conference Board, which produces an ongoing index of such measurements. This increase was largely based on a robust housing market and strong employment picture. Now, a year later, with the country facing a mortgage crisis, an increase in retail bankruptcies, tighter credit regulations, job losses and higher-than-ever fuel prices, consumer confidence is suddenly down. And as goes consumer confidence, so goes consumer spending, which accounts for approximately two-thirds of all U.S. economic activity.

Clearly, it’s no longer business as usual.

But don’t panic.  Here are several tips spread across three marketing areas that could make a huge difference in dealership profitability, especially in hard times.

Fine tune your marketing budget
Take a closer look at where you are spending your marketing dollars. Review your marketing key performance indicators for each lead source, such as lead-to-sales conversion rate and cost per sale.

Continually measure and refine, and be willing to cut loose your non-performing channels. Alternatively, don’t be afraid to increase the budget for channels that consistently perform well. For example, if the return on investment of a pay-per-click (PPC) sale is greater than a sale based on a third-party lead provider, then gradually increase your PPC budget to get optimum return.

Again, the only way you’ll know for sure is to constantly test and measure your campaigns. So if you’re not already tracking and analyzing your KPIs, consider working with a vendor that offers tools to help interpret the numbers for you.

Be creative in your marketing
If the goal of my first tip is to identify where you shouldn’t invest, my second tip is: consider new places to invest. Be creative and diversify. For example, although you may be listing with one of the larger online classifieds sites, it may be just as effective—and a lot cheaper (cost per sale)—to advertise on Craigslist or

Create your own dealer group portal. This will enable you to showcase your entire inventory on one site, and share the expense with all stores in the group. Consider eliminating poorly-performing third-party consumer sites where you compete for leads. Instead, capture and keep the leads generated by your inventory on your own portal. Marketing one site is more cost effective than marketing many individual sites, as long as you pick the right site. But if you still want to give your inventory wide exposure, stick to an industry standard, such as eBay Motors, or try more unusual channels such as YouTube or MySpace.

Another creative yet inexpensive way to market is through positive PR. Sending out a press release or placing a story in the local paper is a great and inexpensive way to stay top of mind with customers and prospects in your community. You can post your press releases or stories—as well as individual vehicles for sale—on Google Base, a free service that helps you publish virtually any kind of information. The beauty is, Google’s own spiders pick up the Google Base content.

Finally, don’t forget to pitch to your existing customer base. Industry studies tell us that it takes five times more resources to sell to a new customer than it does to sell to a current customer. And in a slow economy, those are resources you can’t afford to spend. Consider e-mail campaigns to your client base and start a customer loyalty program, if you don’t already have one.

Promote vehicles that meet current consumer needs
With tighter budgets, consumers are bound to be more cautious; they may even expect their dollar to go farther. However, for the right dealership, a slow economy presents a huge opportunity. A popular national consumer-driven Web site, for example, reported a dramatic increase over the past several months in searches for information on used cars.

If you sell pre-owned or certified pre-owned vehicles, emphasize these products in your advertising. A certified pre-owned vehicle is attractive to buyers looking for maximum value because it offers new-car dependability at a used-car price. Ford, for example, recently announced enhancements to its certified used vehicle program to help meet this anticipated consumer need. Don’t expect any low-hanging fruit in a down economy; however, to mix the metaphor, you can put your best foot forward by showcasing vehicles that are still in demand.

This, too, shall pass
It may not look like the best of times, but it’s certainly not the worst of times. The automotive retail industry has survived similar downturns in the economy before. And as a dealer, there’s plenty you can do to ride it out. The smartest dealerships, however, will also discover creative ways to move their business forward and emerge stronger.  

Vol 5, Issue 6



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