For years, visitors to McCafferty Auto Group’s website have been invited to “chat” online with a customer service rep. It wasn’t until this year that Todd Buch, the group’s president, discovered his smartphone-wielding customers weren’t taking advantage of the feature. That realization opened the doors to a new marketing channel, one that’s keeping car buyers connected to the 58-year-old operation. 

The new marketing opportunity was “TextChat,” a service offered by Automotive Mobile Solutions. The solution represented more than just a way for customers to get their questions answered, however; it was an entire platform offering various methods of mobile marketing using text messaging, or short message service (SMS). That got Buch’s wheels turning.

McCafferty’s first mobile-only campaign was called “McCafferty’s Mobile Savings (MMS).” The group invited customers to opt in to receive offers for discounts from its two Pennsylvania-based dealerships twice per month. After only three weeks, the stores had collected information from about 500 respondents, confirming Buch’s hunch about the mobile marketing channel

“We believe the texts of today are the e-mails of yesterday,” Buch says. “A long time ago, we really started focusing in on our e-mail marketing because I could see the value in it, and now we have a database of about 60,000 people that we e-mail about once a week. We want to do something similar with text because some people don’t read e-mails anymore.

“Plus, most things are moving mobile,” he adds. “I thought it was just my kids, but everybody says, ‘If you want to get ahold of a kid, you have to text them. Don’t e-mail them, don’t call them, text them.’ So we’re just trying to keep up with the technology and human nature.”
Recent research by Experian Marketing Services backs up Buch’s theory.

Todd Buch, president of McCafferty Auto Group, is using a new mobile marketing channel to reel in potential customers who use their smartphones to access the dealer group’s websites.

Todd Buch, president of McCafferty Auto Group, is using a new mobile marketing channel to reel in potential customers who use their smartphones to access the dealer group’s websites.

The research firm’s 2013 Digital Marketer report found that 18-to-24-year-old smartphone users send about 2,022 texts per month and receive another 1,831. About half of people age 18 to 34 even went so far as to say, “Texting is just as meaningful to me as an actual conversation on the phone.”

Connecting With Buyers
In September, Buch used the group’s latest TV commercial as a springboard for the operation’s first cross-channel mobile marketing campaign. In the TV spot, Buch invites viewers to “text ‘DUMMY’ to 45555” to compete for a chance to star in the next McCafferty commercial. The “dummy” in question is a computer-generated sidekick that appears with Buch in the group’s ads. He is also played by Buch. 

Customers who responded received a text message from the dealership thanking them for their interest and prompting them to text back their best idea for the group’s next commercial. At that point, customers had the option to finalize their entries and consent to receive the bi-monthly text messages from McCafferty. In just six weeks, the dealership received 612 ideas from customers who saw the commercials and texted the store.
“You can text to vote on ‘American Idol.’ … So I thought, ‘How can we use that here at the dealership?’” Buch recalls. 

It was no small compromise for Buch, who has appeared solo in the group’s commercials since 1991. “I constantly have people saying, ‘I want to be in your commercials,’” Buch says. “We do things that are memorable, not necessarily good, but memorable. People can say, ‘I hate your commercials,’ but at least they remembered it.

“Really, most people like the commercials, and I’ll be walking through the supermarket and people want to know what the next one’s going to be.”
After reading through hundreds of entries, the dealer and his staff selected one participant for each of the three dealerships to appear in the group’s November commercial. Buch’s team wrote the script and built a set to match the customer’s vision.

Later this month, Buch’s dummy is set to return for a Thanksgiving-themed commercial. Not only will he share how thankful he is to have his job back, he will proclaim: “These commercials have got to get better.” It’s a call to action for a second round of viewers to text in for a chance to appear in a new commercial in December. [PAGEBREAK]

Texting With Customers
McCafferty has also discovered a way to make its mobile marketing platform work for lot customers. Recently, Buch and his team rolled out a window-sticker texting campaign, in which lot customers at the group’s Ford-Kia-Hyundai store in Langhorne and Ford-Kia location in Mechanicsburg, Pa., can learn more about the vehicles they’re interested in by texting “CARS” and the last five digits of any VIN to a text number.

“This is really working for us and it required zero effort,” Buch says. “We already had the information for our inventory in a database, and it just automatically [extracts the data] and sends it straight to the customer’s phone.”

Salespeople on the show floors and staffers on the service drive are also inviting customers to opt in to receive text-message specials. They can even offer on-the-spot discounts if the customer sends a text message to enroll in the dealership’s mobile savings program. Buch got the idea after seeing a similar process at the local Famous Footwear store.

McCafferty’s staff is careful to let customers know what they are signing up for, though, especially since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s heightened SMS consent requirements took effect in mid-October. Businesses who violate the new statute risk fines of $500 to $1,500 per message, according to attorneys at ZwillGen, a website dedicated to Internet law.

Customers can opt out at any time, though, which Buch believes to be the very opposite of what e-mail marketing once was. “With e-mail, you can just send them an e-mail and they can opt out, but that means you can send as many as you want until they opt out,” Buch explains. “With texting, you can’t do that with this new regulation, so you have to give them a reason to opt in.”

Texting Advocates
The final component of the text marketing campaign is TextChat, which doesn’t technically operate off of SMS and requires setup so mobile shoppers can chat from the dealer’s webpage. Other than that, the feature works the same as the chat feature on a desktop computer. In fact, Buch is using the same staff manning his desktop version to respond and connect to the group’s mobile customers.

Buch hired one additional part-time worker when the dealership brought in the mobile marketing platform. That person works flexible hours from home and will respond to customers pitching ideas for the group’s TV ads. Those responses are already pre-written and only require that the part-timer copy and paste the messages into a text.

“Once you get it going in one store, it’s easy to use it in every location,” Buch says. “It is difficult to understand text marketing because there are so many facets to it. But it’s not hard to execute it once it’s figured out.”
Buch’s campaign was a team effort. He and his executive assistant, Suzy Buehler, joined forces with John Possumato, founder and CEO of Automotive Mobile Solutions. Possumato’s marketing firm provided the software for all of McCafferty’s mobile marketing efforts.

“We have 500 new customers’ information, and it cost us barely anything to do it,” Buch says. “We would have run the commercial anyway, but now we have something additional out of it that might not result in a sale today, but they certainly remember our name.”