Selling cars is one of the biggest businesses around and it has to be said, advertising is a fundamental part of this. There have been some wonderful TV campaigns over the years promoting some very famous brands: Honda’s quirky ads particularly stand out in recent times. Their almost esoteric content suggests more about the brand and its image than any substantial details about the vehicle. Local car dealers and their press and radio advertisements, on the other hand, can be a very different beast altogether.

Some of the more common things you will find when local dealerships advertise is a tendency to go for the familiar, or to be more precise, their wholly unembarrassed use lots of clichés. Pushing large sales campaigns during holiday periods isn’t necessarily an uncommon thing – indeed, it makes sense – but how many more Halloween themed advertisements can you stomach that feature a picture of a brand new Vauxhall Astra surrounded by a rather randomly placed pumpkin or ghost (or both)? The headline no doubt says something like “No tricks, simply treats!” and has run in various guises every October for the last ten years.

This kind of lazy advertising could no doubt be blamed upon the advertising agency producing the artwork. But as someone who has worked for an agency such as this for many years, I believe the responsibility is steadfastly the fault of the car dealers themselves.

Having little imagination for what makes a good advertisement work, they revert to type and go with what they know. Placing a lot of cars on a page or listing endless amounts of used deals for a reader to peruse is certainly a useful way of letting the potential customer know what you’ve got to offer. But there lies the rub. A car dealer wants the customer to know what stock they’ve got – and they’re definitely not interested in any kind of clever or intellectual campaign.

This practical approach certainly works, though. The success of the Autotrader magazines proves that quantity, not quality, sells cars in a practical sense. The arty, cleverly branded advertisements work to place the car in your consciousness, generating a feeling of who should drive the vehicle, of what it stands for. But, when it comes to actually buying a car, it’s the cheap and cheerful that seems to sell. And in a way, as much as they’re easy to mock, advertising clichés such as “The Big Easter Egg-stravaganza” certainly raise a smile.

So the next time your attention is caught by an advertisement for one of your local car dealers, and maybe you see a used Honda at a reasonable price, ask yourself a question: what really attracted me to this advertisement? Was it the brand, the car or this cheesy advert? Maybe, it’s simply all three.


The role of the automotive advertising agency in today’s consolidating auto industry must change to accommodate the needs of the auto dealers that they serve. Reduced sales volume and profits have forced auto dealers to reduce their automotive advertising budgets and sales staff. As a direct result, automotive advertising agencies are being challenged to deliver more for less and reduced budgets and floor traffic suggest that they must increase their areas of responsibility to justify their agency fees or risk losing accounts. More importantly, they must learn the auto industry from the auto dealer’s perspective if they expect to be able to contribute in any meaningful manner.

Assuming that we all work our pay plans to maximize our own ROI in our chosen careers in the automotive advertising industry, I thought I would share some best practices regarding an auto dealership’s Internet sales processes with my fellow automotive advertising professionals to help them better serve their auto dealer clients. Not all of the situations I discuss will apply to every auto dealership so take note of ones that do and save the others for future reference in case they surface in some other form. I will cover common issues that are part of human nature. After all, the key to success in the car business is in the people – not in the franchise or facility – so most problems start and finish with people.

The Internet Department — From The Dealer’s Perspective

As a former new car dealer and current consultant on dealer operations and marketing I am constantly amazed by the disconnect between dealers and their key personnel. I liken the miscommunication of their common goals — to sell more cars/service and make more money — to that of a long marriage. Courting equates to the interview and the first few months are like an extended honeymoon. Once the excitement wears off it is a lot of work to remember why you got married in the first place; but worth the effort!

Dealers are people too! They often indulge their emotions in the hiring process based on the fact that they need help more than the applicants need the job! Great interviews get an applicant the job with the dealer’s hope and desire to solve a problem – not make a friend. Their business needs eventually outweigh their emotions and words like bottom line profits, accountability and the latest buzz words — verifiable R.O.I. — take over. Dealers should always have job descriptions and areas of responsibility along with supported compensation plans based on individual and department guidelines and objectives. Unfortunately, not many auto dealers have those today and few automotive advertising agencies are prepared to provide them.

Today’s market losses have forced dealers to make difficult decisions that should have been made before a position was even considered. The survival of the fittest must apply! It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it and the Dealer must base his decisions on performance and individually contributed profits or we will all suffer the consequences! That observed deficiency is a perfect opportunity for a forward thinking and prepared automotive advertising agency to earn their fees when direct sales won’t support them by passing on the observed need to their auto dealer clients while providing them proven processes to satisfy them.

Re-defining the role of the Internet Sales Manager, (ISM), at the Dealership – Customer Communication Center, (C.C.C.) vs. Business Development Center, (B.D.C.)

The A, B, C’s of the car business — Always Be Closing — go beyond the showroom floor and apply to the ISM as well as their staff. The key to the close, however, is to know the answer before you ask the question, or at least provide a limited response that you can control!

Based on your new found knowledge and understanding of the dealer’s requirements of their ISM, I suggest that you ask the hard questions before your dealer client does! The more you and the ISM are involved in the selling process in both vehicle sales and fixed operations the more productive and profitable you will be. The more accountable and verifiable your R.O.I. to the dealer the more secure your income and the account. Sell yourself and the added value that you bring to his Internet department to your dealer with the leverage of verifiable performance in a clearly defined position on the team beyond what most dealers envisioned from their automotive advertising agency and be paid accordingly.

I propose that you literally have the tail wag the dog, so to speak, by suggesting that the Internet Department become more than a lead generator with limited selling responsibilities. All communications, before, during and after the sale can, should and soon will be handled over the internet and/or on the dealership’s website which should now be part of your shared area of responsibility with the ISM.

Currently, Business Development Centers, or B.D.C’s., coordinate selling opportunities developed on the telephone, showroom floor, service drive, data base marketing and in many cases the Internet. They rely on linked technology like telephony systems, vendors, such as Whos Calling, and onsite data base management systems, (DMS), such as ADP or Reynolds and Reynolds and customer retention management systems, (CRM), like Higher Gear or DealerUps, that are all now available on the internet.

Who is better prepared to coordinate communications and even transactions on the Internet than the Internet Manager supported by an involved and educated advertising agency? Who has the best understanding of computers, software and integrated links to access and apply information directed to the contacts sourced from the auto dealer’s automotive advertising investments? It better be you!

Customer Communication Centers, or C.C.C’s. provide a more integrated and accessible central point of contact at the dealership for their customers in both their brick and mortar dealership and their online virtual showroom. All customer contacts for sales, service/parts and office should be channeled to one location from all sources including telephone, email, mail, internal DMS and CRM, Internet — you name it! The cross-sell opportunities between sales and service/parts by having one contact person suggesting shared opportunities is obvious but unlikely if they are handled by two different people or departments! Less obvious opportunities like customer complaints and key vendor communications provide the ability to turn a problem into a solution but only if channeled properly.

The Internet is hosting telephone, DMS and communications through webinars and emails so take charge and credit with the dealer. Re-define your role at the dealership by increasing your areas of responsibility!

Integrating the Internet into the selling process — Sales and Fixed Operations

Most dealers have been traumatized by software solutions they are still paying for and never used. Usually they require secondary input, are redundant with other more integrated systems to the selling process or just lack real world applications to their deal flow — which is driven by human nature on all levels. Inspect what you expect coupled with standards like you can’t manage what you can’t measure can be applied to support your close for enhanced opportunities for you, his staff and your dealer.

Place the Internet C.C.C. squarely in the middle of all selling processes. Of course be careful what you ask for since an astute dealer will, and should, hold you accountable. No pain, no gain — so go for it!

As admitted, the devil is in the details, and there is no standard application to apply to all situations. Deciding what to do and what to delegate, and how to best integrate with the auto dealer’s current systems to minimize disruption, is the key. Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water but expecting different results from the same action is a good definition of insanity.

The auto dealer’s sales staff and service writers hate you — join the team!

The automotive advertising agency has always been perceived by the auto dealer’s staff as an outsider and the ISM has only recently earned the respect that he deserves by the old car guys who may still be fighting the shift to the World Wide Web. The Internet Geek of the old days has matured into a key manager in most dealerships and the trend is growing! You can’t possibly expect to cross train on all aspects of operations — but you should try! Evaluate the current communications, customer and deal flow and create a business pro forma in concert with the ISM and the other department managers to develop a profit and increased R.O.I. for all involved and you will earn your position on the team.

Inter-department squabbles in the car business will always exist but your new position on the team — if introduced correctly — will transcend individual motives to resist your efforts to improve everyone’s bottom line. Taking on the burden of helping the ISM and his team to make appointments and providing centralized communications — both internally and externally to the dealership — will free everyone else up to sell more cars, service and parts!

Real time paperless reports available online — or in the DMS/CRM — will provide the department managers with the information and tools they need to do their jobs. Your complimentary secretarial services, automated and managed follow up systems to recapture lost sales opportunities coupled with your shared goal to increase appointments, sales and customer satisfaction is not a threat but a blessing!

Establishing goals, accountability — getting paid on the bottom line

Most automotive advertising agencies and ISMs are involved in search engine optimization plans, (S.E.O.), and search engine marketing plans, (SEM), with applications on their website that track leads, conversions and R.O.I. — or they should be! Your goal should start with continuing your efforts to increase traffic to your auto dealer’s website rather than the telephone. It represents the most sophisticated tracking software available; now and for the foreseeable future. Your ability to track results is where your accountability part gets covered!

Sales goals theoretically start with the dealer’s market share responsibility for the manufacturer, (M.S.R.), but fixed and semi-variable expenses quickly establish more pressing goals. Covering the Nut is a street level goal which must be met or none of the others matter. Have the dealer provide you with what he expects — or needs — and that should become your common goal!

An example of a realistic goal for an auto dealership should be 4-5 generated appointments per day per person; selling one. This represents 120 + appointments each month, 80 +/- that show up and an additional 20 units per person per month based on a 25% closing ratio.

Include areas that you and the ISM can directly impact and monitor like new and used vehicle sales — units and gross profit, sales and service appointments, customer satisfaction scores and all monthly sales or performance goals. Define the areas of responsibility that you will handle and decide on which ones you will delegate. Compute the budget, staff and facility you will need, online and in concert with your conventional advertising and community networking proposals, to develop the traffic required to achieve the sales and performance goals the dealer has established.

Use industry guidelines as far as closing ratios and conversion ratios specific to the auto dealer’s franchise, size of market, staff, inventory and facility to “back into” your sales vs. traffic needs. Resource local media statistics, like cost per point, C.P.P., to determine the most cost effective media to dominate within your budget focused on the Internet customer and then dominate it.

On broadcast, for example, a 5 plus frequency and a 50% reach coupled with consistent and coordinated dealer specific brand-tail messages, (branding and retail), over a ninety day period with creative directed to your dealer’s web site as well as a monitored 800 number will absolutely drive traffic.

Of course expenses must be considered based on line item percentage guidelines vs. other expenses to preserve profits. Another common budget tool is to establish a per unit cap based on experienced expenses per unit which range from $250-$500 per car but it can double in certain markets. Pick a basis for your budget, any basis, and stick with it!

Monitor shifts within budget based on results and R.O.I. per investment but never increase the budget without a proper risk to reward consideration and an acceptable projected R.O.I. The days of guessing are over; so be right!

Do all of the above, design an agency fee tied to specific performance under your control and you will have deserved a bonus tied to the total dealership bottom line because you have contributed to it. More importantly, as a valued member of the team your agency relationship with your auto dealer clients and their staff will survive today’s downturn in the economy and the auto industry with its reduced conventional advertising budgets.


Automotive advertising agencies who expect to be here tomorrow must apply tomorrow’s technology today or they will follow their shuttered auto dealer clients into the ranks of the unemployed. The consolidation of the auto industry is a necessary reaction to a shrinking economy and the proof of two basic rules of business — supply must follow demand and survival of the fittest insures that it will. The secret to survival for automotive advertising agencies and their auto dealer clients in a challenging market is to offer more for less and the technology being designed to improve sales processes on the Internet provide efficiencies that will determine the winners and the losers.

Integrating proven real world automotive advertising best practices with maturing virtual world selling processes that rely on developing technology on the Internet allows forward thinking automotive advertising agencies to blur the line between the real world of brick and mortar auto dealerships and the new virtual showrooms being built on the Internet Super Highway. Automotive advertising 101 teaches that you must go where your customers are if you want to reach them and with 93% of car shoppers confirming that they start their car buying process on the Internet that part of the marketing and sales process is easy. The hard part that automotive advertising agencies must recognize is that the one constant that has survived on the World Wide Web is human nature. Customers empowered by the easy access of information on the Internet are no longer dependent on auto dealerships — real or virtual — to determine what vehicle they will purchase and who they will buy it from. Online shoppers are looking for a new or used vehicle, not an auto dealership, and automotive advertising agencies need to convert from push/pull advertising methods to pull/push techniques preferred by an educated consumer.

Of course there is no need to throw the baby out with the bath water! Automotive advertising agencies must use conventional wisdoms built on the stable foundation of human nature supported by the efficiencies offered by new automotive advertising applications designed to crash through the glass wall of the Internet to preserve both market share and profits for their auto dealer clients. The easiest way to satisfy the customer and the auto dealer — in that order — is to give the customers what they want, when they want it — which is immediately — and to do it in such a way that the customers feel that they are buying a vehicle vs. being sold one. That is where the use of new automotive advertising technology and the related improved selling processes come in.

Giving the customers what they want — which is a vehicle not an auto dealership — suggests that automotive advertising agencies must promote individual vehicles on the Internet, not their auto dealer clients. While this may seem counter intuitive to old school car guys who presume that they must sell themselves before they can sell their vehicles, it is in keeping with equally established wisdom that suggest that automotive advertising doesn’t sell cars it just attracts customers who want to buy one. Simply put, the best advertising message in the world has no value if no one sees it and since customers are searching the web for individual vehicles that is the bait that will have them bite the hook that has the auto dealer on the other end of the line.

It is an accepted fact that cars sell cars and brick and mortar auto dealerships have gravitated to car rows or auto malls to take advantage of the attraction of having as many vehicles as possible in one location to draw real world car shoppers to their individual facilities. The leveraged advertising of multiple competing dealerships and the added value and convenience of one stop shopping for comparable makes and models at one central location is a value for consumers that has survived on the Internet Super Highway. Established third party inventory based websites have a proven place in today’s online automotive advertising plans. Most auto dealerships already rely on the leverage of their collected inventories of literally millions of vehicles from thousands of auto dealerships to attract online new and used vehicle shoppers. The search engine optimization, S.E.O., realized by these third party sites coupled with their localized search engine marketing, S.E.M., investments drawn from the collected revenues of the auto dealer clients that participate in these communal sites provide a competitive advantage that no individual dealer or even a large dealer group can compete with. New technologies being applied to this established business model promise an even better return on investment, R.O.I., for the auto dealers that participate.

ronsmap is a game changing online car buying/selling site for both consumers and dealers that exemplifies the value of improving technologies in existing Internet based marketing platforms. It makes car buying fast, comprehensive, transparent and live. What makes it unique is their new technology that gives consumers unparalleled buying and negotiating power over the car buying/selling processes including the opportunity to accommodate For Sale By Owner listings. Their unique value for dealers is that it provides them with an unprecedented level of sales intelligence on consumer leads, and it enables automotive advertising agencies to promote and engage consumers via social networks.

With existing search engine filters and third party websites online shoppers have to scroll through lists of hundreds of vehicles while clicking and drilling down on each site since not all vehicles for sale are aggregated on any one exit on the Internet Super Highway. Auto dealers that pay the most are typically promoted in the top listings limiting honest competitive comparisons and auto dealers are often non-responsive to general inquiry leads sourced from these lead resellers. Auto Dealers are equally challenged by existing marketing platforms that do not provide visibility or insights into consumer’s other vehicles of interest discovered during their online shopping trips and their communications are often mid sales cycle starting long after the initial research by the consumer has been completed. The R.O.I. for auto dealers for leads purchased from multiple third party providers are reduced by duplications and smaller dealers not willing or able to pay for a premium position can’t compete equally with the larger advertisers on these sites.

ronsmap is a new technology driven Internet solution scheduled to launch at the 2010 NADA Convention in Orlando, Florida. They provide the leverage of multiple inventories posted on a unique map-like internal search engine driven by consumer preferences on a local level that places all vehicles that fit the consumer’s search criteria on the same page with no prejudice to premium positions purchased by the dealers. Their proprietary application provides a level playing field for auto dealers while offering consumers one stop shopping across multiple brands, models and dealerships with the added value of comparisons to For Sale By Owner listings.

ronsmap also accommodates today’s consumer preference for pull/push marketing by integrating a unique social networking application into their platform. Marketing to consumers in social networks requires resources, tools and skill sets to compliment and supplement auto dealer’s existing online selling efforts. ronsmap provides all of these elements in a cost effective, scalable manner while delivering consolidated market intelligence not currently offered through other resources.

Their vBack application enables auto dealers to multiply leads by leveraging the word of mouth, W.O.M., phenomenon associated with viral messages distributed through social networking. This proprietary process embeds a social media engine directly within the vehicles posted on their community site as well as on the auto dealers individual websites. It extends the auto dealers reach, promotes confidence for consumers through their solicited comments from their online friends in response to their request for feedback on their intended purchase and it drives more consumers to the auto dealers websites.

Another unique value added feature provided by the new technologies implemented by ronsmap is exemplified by their SellersVantage application. It allows auto dealers to communicate with online consumers in real time early in the decision cycle. It offers auto dealers a comparative view of what other vehicles and feature/benefits the consumer is looking for, market availability to determine if they have the only vehicle that fits the consumer’s stated needs and comparative pricing analytics to know how they rank in the market before they start negotiations to improve closing ratios and preserve profit.

The Intelli-Leads offered by their applications are very robust leads that go way beyond the typical customer name, email address, contact information and questions about the vehicle that they are interested in. They include market intelligence, comparative intelligence, social demographic and social profile intelligence that define the prospect and that allows the dealer to insure that their first offer in the online negotiation process is competitive while preserving gross profit.

Technology as applied to enhanced marketing platforms like ronsmap addresses the new opportunities for auto dealers to improve their R.O.I. from third party lead providers and inventory based websites but it doesn’t reflect the equally valued benefits being offered to improve their R.O.I. from their individual S.E.O. efforts and improved conversion rates from their own websites. Once again, conventional wisdoms must be applied by automotive advertising agencies to provide more for less for their auto dealer clients by recognizing the need to establish brand identity and top of the mind awareness for long term dealer recognition in the market tempered with the need to increase sales and profits today so the auto dealer — and their automotive advertising agency — can survive until tomorrow.

Since consumers are looking for vehicles on the Internet vs. auto dealers it is only logical that the auto dealers should post their vehicles online individually. The trick is to get a single vehicle to stand out from the traffic on the Internet Super Highway. Once again, technology has provided the solution.

Video has surfaced as the media of choice for today’s consumers who grew up watching T.V. and who have applied their preference for Video to their attraction to Internet channels like You Tube and all things video. The search engines role on the newly emerging World Wide Web is to facilitate the consumer’s online search by giving them what they want and since consumers have selected video as their media of choice search engines like Google have decided to give it to them.

The algorithms that drive Google have been adjusted to provide a weighted value to video, a fact that has not escaped automotive advertising agencies responsible for improving the S.E.O. for their auto dealer clients. Video presentations have shown up on auto dealers websites with file names that integrate key word phrases to match the auto dealers websites chosen online identity along with similar embedded meta tags and they are even being pushed onto the search engines through You Tube with their own URL’s to extend the SEO of the auto dealers virtual showrooms. The value of this enhanced S.E.O. solution is that all of these postings are sourced back to the auto dealers websites which supports the automotive advertising agencies desire to build dealer branding and top of the mind awareness. The ability to take this exposure to the next level is realized by applying the same philosophy of extending the dealers online exposure to their individual vehicles since, after all, that is what the online customer is searching for.

SiSTeR Technologies is an automotive advertising vendor using proprietary cutting edge technologies that has introduced an automated video production platform called VideoCarLot with associated applications including vShock and VidBrid. They are able to convert the still pictures already posted on the dealers websites into professionally produced videos using human voice and existing video footage with integrated search words, meta tags and individual URLs. These finished productions are then placed onto the auto dealers own websites to increase their highly prized and search engine favored video content plus they are individually pushed through their dedicated API with You Tube to post each vehicle to all linked third party advertisers and to the search engines directly onto the You Tube channel. Since You Tube is a growing search engine second only to their parent company Google the enhanced S.E.O. to the dealer is obvious. More importantly, it allows the auto dealer to present their vehicles to online consumers vs. their auto dealerships while anchoring the associated lead back to the sourcing dealer. Once again, technology has provided a win-win scenario placing the consumer’s interests ahead of the auto dealer’s while satisfying the needs of both.

The automotive advertising agencies of today that apply the cutting edge automotive advertising technologies of tomorrow are guaranteed a seat at the table in the future. Today’s justified consolidation in the auto industry has opened problems for many and solutions for the few that are determined to survive. Just as the forest fire burns the trees to allow for new growth, the key for automotive advertising agencies to survive to grow another day lies in the automotive advertising technologies and applications that they use today.