Industry Events

5th Digital Dealer Conference Review by Kevin Frye

“Sorry about how my hair looks this morning – I combed it with a porkchop”

Could this be anyone else but Shaun Raines opening up his session on Video SEO?

Since Jeff was in Vegas with the J.D. Power Automotive Internet Roundtable this week, he asked if I would fill in with a review of the 5th Digital Dealer Conference and Exposition.  Located at the Gaylord Hotel in Dallas, we once again had a great venue where everything one could need was easily accessible.  My goals were to attend many of the sessions where “new and cool” issues were being addressed, as well as to network and meet some key people within our industry.

Kevin at Digital Dealer Conference

One of the highly anticipated sessions was lead by Shaun Raines, and was the first that I attended.  Shaun had a full house and a rapt audience for his presentation on “What You Should Know About Video and VSEO”.  It is readily apparent that video has caught the attention of many dealers now and with a slowing market and less dollars, many are looking to learn how to do their video “in-house”.  Shaun shared many of the inside “secrets” of how to do this on your own, and how to position your work at the top of the results for the search engines.  Several other sessions dealt with this same topic, with all showing good attendance and reinforcing that our market is moving in this direction.

Another great session was lead by Ralph Paglia and dealt with social networking and blogging.  Many of us already feel overwhelmed with the great amount of work we need to do to keep our dealerships in front of our customers.  Ralph asked “Why not let your customers do the work for you?”.  His session shared how to utilize social networking and blogging websites and allow your customers to generate positive content for you.  Many dealers are afraid to get into this online arena, as they are afraid that folks might leave negative reviews about them.  We need to get over this fear and work to encourage our satisfied customers to leave positive reviews for us, and to honestly deal with those who were not happy and work to solve any problems.

Speaking of reviews, I met several times with the folks from  Chip Grueter (President), Matt Lamoureux, and Heather were working the floor of the exhibit hall and attending the sessions to network with the folks who are working on the front line.  I always look to find 1-2 new people that I can meet and work with in this fast-moving market that really understand where this market is going.  Chip Grueter really understands where the consumer side of our market is moving, and the Dealer Rater site is a great example of that.  Great job to the entire team at Dealer Rater!

Also presenting at the conference was Rafi Hamid, who is now working with vAuto.  When I asked what Rafi was doing with vAuto, he shared that he is now a “Value-added benefit” to vAuto’s current customers.  When I pressed him further on this, he shared that vAuto sends him out to current customers where he shares his expertise (learned by actual experience!) with working our internet market and helps each store to refine their process to become much better.  This impressed me that a vendor would bring someone like Rafi on to “complement” their service and truly offer a value-added benefit that all of us could use.

Ruanne Varden and Rafi Hamid if vAuto with Alex Jefferson

While I attended multiple sessions, the other key issue that stood out for me was Text Messaging.  When we consider the ramifications of the FTC CanSpam Act and the ongoing difficulties with email spam filters, etc, a solution is needed to optimally reach our customers.  I learned in more than one session some key statistics that showed that cell phone users of all age groups are now sending out more text messages than making actual cell calls.  If you are with a group of friends and you receive a call on your cell phone, do you always answer it?  If you get a text message, do you take a moment to look at it?  Receiving the call requires that you “engage” with the caller and interrupt your busy schedule.  Text is becoming more and more preferred with folks as a primary source of communication that fits their lifestyle, and we need to address that.  My prediction is that this subject will continue to gain more interest in the upcoming conferences.

I am always impressed with the approach to the exhibit hall at these conferences, as folks are always returning to the hall before, between, and after sessions to network and meet with the vendors.  Why?  Whether it is breakfast, refreshments, or drinks, there are always sponsors providing items to encourage folks to return to the exhibit hall – smart thinking, and it works!  (kudos to Mike Roscoe!).  Most of what I look forward to goes on the floor in the exhibit hall.  Alex Jefferson with Proctor Honda/Acura made the rounds with me as we met with multiple vendors and learned about new products and services available.  One of the event sponsors was
ClickMotive, who has built on their success with search engine marketing and entered the website hosting market with some cutting-edge, search-friendly sites.  SEM needs were another hot item this year, with several exhibitors.  Video services were also well represented by AutoMotion, Phil Sura and UnityWorks Media and more.

The best “give-away” was a close call. I came to the Reply!com booth where some of the Dallas Maverick dance team was present and signing photos.  Alex and I were surprised to find 4 of the dance team members huddled around the latest issue of Digital Dealer, where they were admiring the “hot” dealer on the cover – Alex Snyder of Checkered Flag.  Please take time to see the photo we took of the girls with Alex!  Great job to Kevin Stellbrink with Reply!com who helped us set this up, lol.

Flying Monkey - Todd from activEngage

The highly coveted best give-away went to the folks at activeEngage where they were giving away a “flying-screaming monkey”.  Hard to describe, so I included a short video to try and show what this does.  You take the monkey, pull its body back (like you are shooting a rubber band), and let it fly (cape is included), at which point it begins to scream and holler.  I was asked if I would like to take some of these back to our dealership.  I had to immediately decline, could you imagine a floor full of car sales reps playing with these all day???  Great fun, creative give-away, and an enticing reason to see the new instant message services offered by ActivEngage (where their folks staff your instant messaging 24/7 to ensure prompt and professional response to your online customers’ inquiries.

As for the “word on the streets”, everyone was talking about our current market, and the slowdown we are seeing.  Many are currently in a spending freeze, and several are cutting back in their internet marketing efforts.  More than ever, it is important that our vendors can show measurable results (ROI…) to earn our dealers’ hard-earned dollars.  This market is also a great time to use creativity to keep your presence online extensively without spending massive amounts of money.  If you are going to spend money on something new in this market, you are going to have to cut back somewhere else.  Attending events like this allow each of us to get the information we need to succeed in difficult markets like the one we are now in…

Alex Snyder on the Cover of Digital Dealer Magazine

Big Congrat to Mr. Alex Snyder for his cover shot and story in the latest issue of Digital Dealer Magazine.

Compared to the spring conference, attendance appeared to be down.  I would attribute much of this to the competing conference with J.D. Power in Vegas, as well as the recent slowdown in our market which means dealers are tightening up their budgets.  Overall I found the conference to be another great success, and I look forward to attending the next one in 2009.  Please share your comments and stories, and I apologize for not being able to mention everyone that I enjoyed meeting with in this quick review. Cheers!

As a former Naval officer I am driven to produce results & to lead people to reach their full abilit Aviation, outdoors, tennis, running, weighli...
  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • October 10, 2008
Kevin, thank you so much for your review on the 5th Digital Dealer Conference. Lots of great information, insights and of course the photos!! Very very much appreciated.

Your opening statement quoting the one and only Shaun Raines was priceless.

Nice bit on the text messaging. It's so true, unless I need to have an actual conversation, you'll get me through a text message before actually calling me.

Video was a huge topic of conversation at the J.D. Power Roundtable along with dealer reputation and customer ratings.

The Flying Monkeys are the shit. Leave it to Todd to have something like that as a giveaway.

Thanks again Kevin.


  • C
  • October 11, 2008
Kevin, I think you captured the 3 days perfectly - and it was great to get to hang out with you and Alex Jefferson. The Wyler Group is a true testament for inhouse video creation and marketing (Shaun Raines showcased them in his presentation).

Speaking of Shaun Raines, he definitely put on a very interactive seminar; he is quite funny. The only other seminar I made it to was Ralph's and I'm glad I did, I picked up a really good SEO tip there in his UGC/Social Networking talk.

Alex Jefferson, you owe me $.40 for those 2 text messages you sent me.

I think if a company like TomTom was selling GPS devices there, they'd have sold out from all the lost people I saw walking around the resort. It was gigantic.

Awesome write-up Kevin! Now I feel like I was there.
Kevin, nice write-up on the conference. It was great hanging and sharing ideas once again.
Chip it was nice meeting you Matt and Heather as well.
Bill me for the .40 cents...LOL.

Frye makes high quality, great looking boots for the road, for the street or for the office.
Absolutely the best part of the excellent coverage:

"Many dealers are afraid to get into this online arena, as they are afraid that folks might leave negative reviews about them. We need to get over this fear and work to encourage our satisfied customers to leave positive reviews for us, and to honestly deal with those who were not happy and work to solve any problems."

'Nuff said...
  • P
  • October 13, 2008
Great post and would like to comment on "Text is becoming more and more preferred with folks as a primary source of communication".

There is no way that I can see that this will ever be a useful line extension in communicating with customer's with regard to the selling process.

Service? A ++++ on keeping customer's informed on a vehicles status. That is a great fit.

Who out there wants to be the first in playing text tag with customer's in price quoting?

The selling model is so diluted as it is with automated e-mail inquiry reply responses and what happened to relationship building?

Customer's are not "managed", only the the information is.

That's all my ramble and hang in there because there will always be a retail automotive industry.

Dealers who still don't "get it" and make the commitment to innovate and spend the majority of their ad budgets online and stay with the "look at me I am acting crazy on tv and discounting everything $$$'s of dollars" will be gone soon...good riddens!

I am a little salty because I was talking to a dealer that just spent $50,000 on such and ad and 8 out of 11 of his salespeople made minimum wage last month and could care less and told me "no problem" he's running a job and better if they quit so no comp claims.


Thanks for the kudos!

To all that attended my presentation... thanks for a fun interactive session. The response has been truly unbelievable. Three dealers called me today just to say thanks and tell me that they already have videos landing on page one of Google. For those that would like a copy of the presentation, go to: and sign up. Then look in the forum where you will find a post including the ppt. Shameless plug? Maybe but, it's actually just the thing that the dealers in the DR community need.

Mission accomplished! I came to deliver something of great value for dealers that need some results oriented cool stuff with a tiny price tag. It's always great to see so many friends and hang out with folks that are focused on pushing our industry forward.

I was able to hang with Jeff out in Vegas a bit too and he will probably kill me if I don't write some DR posts soon.

With encouragement,