Best PracticesDealership Communication ToolsDealership Marketing

An Argument for Personalization in 2015

Okay, we get it. 2015 is the year of Customer Experience. But what is the first tangible step that a dealership can take toward not just better customer experience, but the sort of award winning, mind blowing, shareworthy, life changing customer experience that will convert your prospects into loyalists?

The answer is so simple it is simply overlooked:


For this discussion, I’ll define personalization like this: Personalization is the art of addressing a group of customers who have seemingly common wants and needs and treating each one as if they were infinitely unique.

Easier said than done.

Big brands are trying, though. As one of the 48 million members of Marriott Rewards, I received a video in my email box with the subject line “We Made This Video Just For You,” and it contained my name and specific details about how many nights in 2014 (two, in my case) I stayed at a Marriott property.

personalization for Aaron Wirtz

I get it—Marriott has a huge marketing budget and was able to automate the insertion of my details into that video, which doesn’t make it truly personal. Sure. However, what’s more important to note from this example is the expectations being set by content like this. In other words, if Marriott sends me my own video after spending $250 with them, why can’t a dealership send me a personalized response email when I’m preparing to spend $15,000 or more with them? Fair question.

How about this handwritten thank you note I got from Buddy at Complete Nutrition, which mentions specifics from our conversation:

Thank You Note to Aaron Wirtz

He sent this after I bought a $60 tub of protein powder.

As part of its turnaround efforts, McDonald’s is testing a concept called “Create Your Taste,” which, according to Fortune Magazine,  allows customers to “personalize their burger, a key part of fixing McDonald’s image problem.” Are we seeing a trend her?

In a previous DealerRefresh article, I introduced the TCBM (That Could Be Me) Principle, which argues that the age of the spectator is over, and that instead of sitting back and watching a narrative unfold, consumers demand the raw materials to participate in advertising, culture, music, and art. We’re tired of messages geared toward people like us—we want to be spoken to directly and given a platform through which to respond.

On a massive scale, savvy marketers in many industries are leveraging the TCBM Principle to create the illusion of personalization. Perhaps you’ve seen the Taylor Swift Christmas gift video, the Bud Light “Up For Whatever” campaign, or the new Maroon 5 video in which the band drives around crashing weddings.  This “reality” media looks like advertising, advertising looks like reality media, and its effectiveness lies in the unspoken idea that that could be me.  After all, if Taylor loves those fans enough to buy them Christmas presents, maybe she loves me that much, too.

         At the dealership level, we can do better. We don’t have to create an illusion of personalization—we can actually be personal. It starts with understanding how technology fools us into thinking we can connect with more customers than we actually can, which is when our marketing funnel starts to look and feel something like this (graphic courtesy of Tom Fishburne’s Marketoonist blog):

Funnel Vision

Like “customer experience,” personalization is nothing new–It just used to be simpler. With so many options for automation, we’re easily irritated by how much time connecting with people takes, so we falsely equate reach with connection.

Auto Dealer Monthly’s 2014 Sales Professional of the Year, Greg Rietz of Lujack Honda, sells 60 units/month on average by keeping track of his customers with notes on index cards, writing as many as 100 letters per day, and making 800 to 1,000 phone calls every month. “When I call, I don’t bring up ‘How is your car doing?’ or ask for referrals,” Rietz says of his phone process. “I don’t grill people; people hate that. I call to say ‘How are you doing?’…Build relationships and the sales will come.” Contrast this approach with the BDC agent who hesitates to ask a personal question because it might lead to an irrelevant conversation that their task load won’t permit.

A relationship isn’t just the R in CRM. Personalization takes time and work, which is probably why your competitors aren’t doing it. Perhaps 2015 should be about reclaiming where we think our time is going and giving our teams the permission to connect, enrich, and delight. Out on the digital edge of the industry, it’s easy to forget how much we can learn from the past, but our futures just might depend on a history lesson—People respond best when they’re addressed like, well, people.

Whaddya know? Everything old is new again.

Aaron Wirtz is the Media & Marketing Manager for Subaru of Wichita (formerly Suzuki of Wichita) and Super Car Guys, where his innovative social me...