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Digital Dealer 12 Review with Kevin Frye

Kevin Frye Shawn Petley Jeff Kershner Alex Jefferson at Digital Dealer 12Kevin Frye, Shawn Petley, Jeff Kershner and Alex Jefferson
at Digital Dealer 12

Kevin Frye reviews Digital Dealer 12

by Kevin Frye

Have you made your list? I started Digital Dealer 12 with what might be my favorite part, the Peer Networking roundtable discussions that kick-off the conference. I gathered with the Knights of my Roundtable, and we immediately got to business sharing our immediate concerns, including the rising costs of Search Engine Marketing in our respective markets, the rapid growth of mobile technology and how we as dealers can embrace it, as well as many other issues that face us day to day as dealers. It was also an opportunity to catch up with old friends, including Gordie Boucher, Shawn Petley, Kevin Gordon, Nick Williams, Alex Jefferson and more. One of my greatest suggestions when attending these conferences is to create your “list”, which is a list of email addresses of your peers in the industry that can help you as you seek to answer questions in your day to day work. Curious about a new vendor? Unsure how to handle a negative review? These and many more questions can be quickly sent to an email distribution list that you create in Microsoft Outlook to your peers to get their valuable input to make you a better eCommerce Director.

Digital Dealer 12 Roundtable at Digital Dealer 12
The Knights of the Peer Networking Roundtable at DD12

How low can you go? Let’s address one hot issue being discussed right out of the gate – was there low attendance? The attendance and energy did seem to be less than prior shows, though I have not seen any official numbers. Mike Roscoe shared some frustration that the conference faced an issue with availability of hotel rooms with another major conference going on at the same time in Orlando. Others speculated that having the conference at the beginning of the month removed a lot of people who had to close out their monthly reporting. And finally, with 2 shows a year, many people are choosing to wait for the excitement of Vegas in the fall and are either watching their budget with attending only one show a year, or perhaps going to Digital Dealer in the fall and attending another show as well. I did hear some frustration from folks expressing that there was “no new content” at the conference, but when I asked them what they were looking for, most did not have an answer. I believe there was new content, but I find it more often than not from other dealers that I am networking with while at the show.


Rich Lucy, Joe Berna and Lisa Jo Swain at Digital Dealer 12Rich Lucy, Joe Berna, and Lisa Jo Swain at “The Makings of a Great Internet Director”

Are you an “Old School Fool?” I attended “The Makings of a Great Internet Director” panel moderated by Joe Webb and featuring Joe Berna, eCommerce Director for the Hubler Automotive Group, Rich Lucy, the eMarketing Director for Tim Dahle Nissan, and Lisa Jo Swain, the eCommerce Director of Operations for the SunStar Network. Joe asked several questions from the panel, including what were some of their greatest challenges . “Old school car thinking gets in the way” shared Rich Lucy, and I agree, this is one of the greatest challenges that all of us face. Lisa Jo Swain had several memorable quotes, including “I am like a crying Hitler” and “I use the throw them under the bus approach” on how to keep her people in line. Wow, strong words, BUT – is this how you are leading your people? Unfortunately, many in our industry do this every day and find that it is what works best for them. Why do you think that is the case and what are your suggestions?

Chuck Olsen and Greg Coleman at Digital Dealer 12
Chuck Olsen and Greg Coleman after “50 Best Practices any Dealer can Implement”


Open mouth – insert fire hose. Many attendees are looking for a great list of “things to do” when they attend Digital Dealer. Greg Coleman of the Oxmoor Auto Group shared “50 Best Practices any Dealer Can Implement” in a fast-paced session, sharing a long list of helpful tips that can help improve your dealership with its online efforts. I liked the fact that Greg created a website,, where people could go after the session to see all of the tips, as trying to take notes on every item would be overwhelming. Nice job Greg!


Phil Sura Beth Van Story Shaun Kniffin Mike Groves at Digital Dealer 12Phil Sura, Beth Van Story, Shaun Kniffin and Mike Groves talk Video

If Video Killed the Radio Star, what will it do to automotive websites? Another panel was on my list with Phil Sura of UnityWorks Media moderating “Best of the Best Panel Discussion”, featuring Mike Groves, eCommerce Director of the Apple Auto Group, Beth Van Story from Thinkout Consulting, and Shaun Kniffin, Director of Internet Sales for Germain Motors. I am really watching video closely in 2012 as it appears that Google is again giving great significance to video with its latest Panda rollout. On the non-technical side, you should be placing emphasis on the use of video on your website – your virtual dealership, as video provides a rich user experience for your shoppers, and this panel represented several people who were using video to do just that. I believe Mike Groves is a rising star in our industry, with a significant knowledge of how to do things right with automotive eCommerce, but more important, having the passion to put it into place.


Jonika Hoomes with Google at Digital Dealer 12
Jonika Hoomes fields questions about Google

Pee Wee Herman says the “word of the day” is ZMOT. The 2 things I heard most at Digital Dealer 12 were “Zero Moment of Truth” and “What did you do to your arm?” If you are not on the ZMOT train, you might quickly be confused with a ZIMA drinker, aka someone who is behind the times. Jonika Hoomes shared Google’s findings that there is a 4th step in the marketing mental model, known as the “Zero Moment of Truth”. During the ZMOT, consumers do their research, get smart about alternatives, read reviews, comparison shop, and look for specials. Some key facts that Jonika shared included that consumers visit 18.2 website sources for auto research, compared to about 10 for researching for a vacation. Did you realize that your shoppers are completing this much research? Remember my previous paragraph discussing video? Google shared that 80% of auto shoppers LOVE video. Hmmm, with that knowledge in hand, do YOU think that Google will emphasize video in its search results? And finally, Google shared that 25% of car shoppers use mobile during their research efforts. My dad always said I had a strong back and a weak mind, but even I can see that video and mobile should be part of your eCommerce recipe for success in 2012.



JD Rucker Shawn Petley Alex Jefferson Jerry Thibeaux at Digital Dealer 12JD Rucker, Shawn Petley, Alex Jefferson and Jerry Thibeau catching up at the VIN Bash

Bottoms up! The exhibit hall opened with appetizers and cocktails, which is always a great recipe for making decisions on choosing new vendors! It is always fun to meet up with great friends in the industry, while meeting new folks as well. Which brings up one of the first items that were in several conversations – where was typically has a large presence at the conference as they have a large amount of attendees as customers, and of course are always looking to find more. Many people seemed genuinely annoyed that did not have a booth as they were looking to meet with them for assistance (current customers), and others interpreting the non-presence of as a message that “this conference is not important enough for us to have a booth at”. Would love to hear some input from as I certainly don’t have the answer, but I did hear the frustration.


Bryan Armstrong Kevin Frye Nikki Allen Shaun Raines at Digital Dealer 12
Bryan Armstrong, Kevin Frye, Nikki Allen and Shaun Raines

Did you ever know that you are my hero? (humming along to Bette Midler’s song…). It was great to see my good friend Shaun Raines. Sorry Shaun, but I have to share that you have been a leader for me since the early days of this conference, as someone driven to change our industry for the better from the inside out. I also had a great time visiting the DealerOn booth and meeting with Amir Amirrezvani and Jerry Pettoto. Amir and his team gave me what certainly would have been the leading photo of this review, but last minute editorial decisions ruled that out. You might be able to persuade Amir to send you a copy of this photo, which I promise was quite funny…


JD Rucker Shawn Petley Alex Jefferson Jerry Thibeaux at Digital Dealer 12Amir Amirrezvani and Jerry Pettoto with DealerOn

Sorry Mike, but Kim is much better looking… Kim DePalma was introducing Auto-Bio, with its first time appearance at the show sharing their custom “story book” and digital guide for each of your pre-owned vehicles. Every pre-owned vehicle has a story, if you can tell it, you can sell it, and Auto-Bio presents a solution that enables you to simply do that with your customer. Take a look at and watch the short video. I did have a chance to talk to Mike Roscoe about several things while at the exhibit hall. Mike shared some intriguing ideas they are looking to implement to build upon the success of the Peer Networking Roundtables in upcoming conferences. Maybe a “roundtable on steroids” this fall? Not sure, but something to look forward to.


Kevin Frye Kim DePalma Kevin Gordon at Digital Dealer 12
Kevin Frye with Kim DePalma and Kevin Gordon

Text “Are you ready” to 12345… Text Marketing – is it here? I have closely followed text marketing since its inception, and have found that most of the Fortune 500 companies have built their text databases extensively, but were unwilling to market to them due to legal concerns. It appears that the market is now maturing and if I understand this correctly, if you are not trying to directly sell something via your text broadcast, you can utilize text marketing to announce events and similar things. Do I have this correct? Please let me know if not. Two of the text marketing solutions I visited included and Shawn Petley, eCommerce Director of Quality Imports shared that this is working very well with his digital marketing efforts and I am curious as to how this will grow as mobile is so important to our market at this time.


Diamond Digital Solutions at Digital Dealer 12Dave Dumphy with Diamond Digital Solutions

The C-List? OK, here is my challenge for the exhibitors. Listen, I like the celebrities that you bring to the shows, but can we mix it up a bit? Certainly, I love “the Gunny” and Johnny Rodgers, but it’s always nice to meet some new faces. How about Henry Winkler – the Fonz? I know he worked the local Calvacade of Customs Show… Readers – who do you want to see? Let’s hear it!


VinSolutions Bash at Digital Dealer 12
VinBash Blue Man!

I’m so blue… Did the Blue Man Group come to Digital Dealer 12?
No, but close… One of the funnier moments of all of these conferences was attending the VinSolutions Bash on Tuesday night. The party was poolside and VIN decided to try and imitate their logo by having huge plastic balls in the pool with a “blue man” inside who would dance and flip along to the music while floating in the pool. I had to take one of Vin’s pics to share with you. Absolutely hysterical! I have a crisp one hundred dollar bill if VIN repeats this stunt with Sean Stapleton inside in the blue costume… Great time!


Sean Wolfington and Shawn Petley at Digital Dealer 12
Sean Wolfington and Shawn Petley – Great presentation Sean

Is the label on your 2 soup cans connected by string considered to be mobile marketing? Sean Wolfington kicked off Wednesday morning with “The Mobile Revolution is Here and Now”. Sean shared many useful facts about the relevance of mobile to our market, while inspiring attendees to continue to push themselves for their best performance. “Give the customer what they want and anticipate what they want” was one of the quotes that Sean shared that I agree with strongly. Anticipating what they want means providing alternate cars to look at, offering online trade-in and finance tools, and more. I have seen Sean several times before, but I felt this was one of his best presentations and I agree wholeheartedly that if you are not embracing mobile, you are behind the curve.


Kevin Frye AJ Maida Katie Richter at Digital Dealer 12Having fun with AJ Maida and Katie Richter at The Blue Martini

It’s not just about selling… My next session was spent in the exhibit hall where I met with current vendors to address pending issues for my group. While I apologize that I missed reviewing some more sessions for you, I would also share that this is one of the areas where I find great value at Digital Dealer. I will save major issues I need to address with vendors and bring them with me to the conference to sit down in person with my provider and work things out. I met with AutoTrader, KBB, VinSolutions, Blackbook, and more, learning about new products and seeking help with current solutions I have in place.


Alex Jefferson Mike Roscoe Igor Kalassa at Digital Dealer 12
Alex Jefferson, Mike Roscoe and Igor Kalassa having a great time at the Ice Bar

Caught between a rock and a hard place
… Shaun Raines moderated “Knowledge is Power” and did an exceptional job. Why? Let’s face it. When you have a panel, the conference must provide a large room to accommodate the stage, table, multiple panelists, and a moderator, as well as a large number of attendees. The problem is that a panel is supposed to be engaging, but it is very hard to do that when some of your audience is over 100 feet away. Shaun showed how to engage the crowd by leaving the stage and spending his time in the audience, a la “Oprah” style, and using unscripted questions posed by himself and the audience for the panelists. This was a great panel session. One of the key points people received was from Bryan Armstrong, who shared that he uses other dealers as his primary “consultants” when it comes to questions and issues he faces every day. Sounds like Bryan has one of those “lists” I was talking about…


Digital Dealer Presentation at Digital Dealer 12A roomful of smiling faces are waiting for my Buffoon stories…

Do you know the name of my cat? I presented “The 7 Highly Ineffective Habits of Internet Buffoons” after lunch and had a wonderful group of dealers to interact with. Before I present, I like to try and meet with some of the dealers who sit in my session and I was able to meet 2 young Internet Managers from Paul Sherry Chrysler Jeep Dodge RV, Luke Schenkel and Ryan Lashaway, who are trying to take their dealership to the next level in eCommerce. My answer was to take them upfront to meet 2 young eCommerce Directors I met 2 years ago that have been doing the same thing in Canada. Just like Alex Jefferson and I have been mentoring Kevin Gordon and Nick Williams, we are now encouraging them to mentor these 2 young dealers. Passing the baton – the relationships you make at these shows is what make them most valuable. And if you missed my session, you missed some great embarrassing pics of several of our industry leaders, including Jeff Kershner…


Jim Flint at Digital Dealer 12
Jim Flint gives my favorite presentation with Moneyball: Prioritizing your Digital Ad Spend

My favorite session
. Hands-down, it was Jim Flint’s “Moneyball: Prioritizing your Digital Ad Spend”. Jim did a great job utilizing the movie “Moneyball” as an analogy for putting together his batting lineup when determining where to spend his automotive advertising budget. Jim walked us step by step through his thinking on where to put his advertising money. His approach is to allocate the spend to where the sales are coming from – and I agree. Take a look at Jim’s eBook at I would strong recommend Local Search Group as Jim is one of the true superstars in the industry and he knows automotive marketing inside and out. My only complaint was that I did not have this same exact session last fall when I was putting together our 2012 advertising budgets!


Kevin Frye Andrew Difeo Stan Sher at Digital Dealer 12
Look who I found! Andrew Difeo and Stan Sher

I need me some social… Alexi Venneri moderated “Social Media Results Unveiled” where we learned about the social media efforts of several dealers, including Jim Flint, Brad Mugg, GM of Norm Reeves Honda Superstore, and Adam Simms, Managing Partner of Price-Simms Automotive Group. One of the things that stuck in my mind was that they found 70% of dealer Facebook pages do not have an inventory tab. If you are not supposed to sell in social media, is this a mistake? Share your thoughts! Alexi also shared that many dealers fail to post any of their dealership reviews, which I do believe is a mistake, as social to me is what other people have to say about you, and engaging with them.


Nick Williams and Kevin Gordon at Ice Bar at Digital Dealer 12
Nick Williams and Kevin Gordon of the Jim Pattison Group enjoying the 22 Degrees Ice Bar

Data Data Data.
.. Wow, we have so much customer data available to us now that it is overwhelming. David Winter and Max Steckler presented “Win Every Moment: Selling Across the Entire Digital Consumer Journey”, offering practical insights on online automotive shopper behavior. Did any of us think that we would have this much inside info on our customers shopping behavior 5 years ago? While there was a lot of data shared, perhaps the best nugget to walk away from at this session was that the best bang for your buck is retargeting. This is a must to get those “be-backs” for your virtual dealership.


Dealers United booth at Digital Dealer 12Want a massage with that message? Dealers United has the most unique booth

Who’s talking behind my back??? The buzz on the floor was Dealers United. First – congratulations to Dealers United on the most creative booth. Visitors could stop and get a relaxing massage while watching a short video on how Dealers United works for their benefit. By the time the show ended, my good friend Kevin Gordon had received about 15 massages and knew the video word by word… Dealers United was right next to the Homenet booth and I had to laugh about the positioning, but I would also share that the folks at Homenet had nothing but great things to say about Jesse Biter.


Kevin Frye and Jesse Biter at Digital Dealer 12
Kevin Frye and Jesse Biter – Jesse fields the tough questions

Straight from the source
… I was able to spend some time with Jesse and share some of the hard questions that were being discussed on the floor. From the vendors’ side, many vendors were complaining that the commission they would have to pay Dealers United to participate would equate to a deal for the dealers that would not be optimum. “Absolutely not” was the answer Jesse gave me. Dealers United is providing a guarantee that we as dealers get the absolute best deal, and Dealers United retains the right to audit their chosen vendor to ensure that no other dealer gets a better dealer than the one provided by Dealers United. The other issue from larger dealer groups was “what can Dealers United do for me that we don’t already for ourselves with the buying power of our group?” “You have nothing to lose” shared Jesse. Let’s say you already have a great deal with a current vendor, but Dealers United gets an even better deal from that same vendor. You can then accept that better deal and the agreement with Dealers United is that they are obligated to accept you at the better deal. Sounds like you have nothing to lose and everything to gain…


Joe and Vanessa Webb at Digital Dealer 12Vanessa and Joe Webb – now we know what makes Joe so great

Nothing new at this conference – really?
This might be the most exciting initiative in our market at this time. Jesse has certainly proven himself as providing a first class product for automotive with Homenet, and I am confident his goal is to do nothing less with his efforts with Dealers United. I know that many of the dealers I have spoken with want to sit on the sidelines and see how this works out, but I have to share that I am excited about where this is going.

The hardest working guy in automotive press… Dave Barkholz from The Automotive News is constantly roaming the floor and speaking with dealers, while also attending multiple presentations. Dave works hard to keep abreast of what is going on in our industry at a personal level and I am impressed. I would suggest that is why he is one of the best writers at Automotive News…


Mark Boyd and April Rain at Digital Dealer 12
Mark Boyd and April Rain at The Ice Bar event hosted by and DealerOn

I have heard about Purple Rain, but what about April Rain?
.. April Rain did a great job hosting the party at The Ice Bar, sponsored by DealerOn and If you have not been there, it is a unique club that features an “ice bar” that is 22 degrees inside and features a large variety of flavored vodkas served in solid ice glasses. I have to share that I was at a loss when I placed my solid ice glass onto the solid ice table to take a picture, and then turned around to find that my glass was frozen to the table… I was finally able to meet Joe Webb’s better half Vanessa while there and catch up with Joe’s great success in our industry (another one of my inspirations..).


Ice Bar Orlando at Digital Dealer 12Does vodka served in a solid ice glass in an ice cold room get any colder?

He drank an itsy bitsy, eenie weenie glass full of Blue Martini
… The Blue Martini was absolute chaos this year, packed to the absolute limit with both dealers and vendors. Sponsored by ActivEngageHookLogic and HayStak, it felt like “Walk of the Penguins” trying to walk from one end of the club to the other. Add to that my arm in a cast and getting a drink could be quite a challenge, UNLESS your friend is Joe Webb and he is taller than anyone around you. Thanks for taking care of me Joe! Speaking of AE and HookLogic, we are trying their product at our Cincinnati Chevrolet dealership and are quite pleased. Take a look at the inventory pages to see for yourself.


Blue Martini Party at Digital Dealer 12The Blue Martini event hosted by Activengage,  Hooklogic and Moore & Scarry is packed

Summing it Up
… Once again, I walked away with a large list of “things to do” when I return. I take that list and start inputting tasks into my Microsoft Outlook for follow-up after the conference, and I bring home a lot of great ideas. The ideas come from my roundtable, vendors, presenters, and others that I network with during the show, so I find value in many different areas. Most of all, these conferences inspire and motivate me to become better at what I do, as I meet so many people with excellent ideas and vision. Keep up the great work everyone, and I look forward to seeing you at Digital Dealer 13 in Vegas!

by Kevin Frye

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  • April 11, 2012
Thank you for the update.  I wish I was there!  Alex Jefferson is looking more handsome each year.  I hope that you can join us for the 2012 Automotive Boot Camp, May 15-17th, in Las Vegas.  I'll secure you a press pass so you can attend!!
  • J
    Jim Bell
  • April 11, 2012
Great summary Kevin. Wish I were there.
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    Joe Webb
  • April 11, 2012
I'll serve you drinks any time, Kevin.  Thanks so much for the shout-outs and for highlighting my panel.  Once again, reaching out to industry experts ahead of time is the sure-fire way to asking the right questions of the panelists.  
To clarify what Lisa Jo said on the panel, when running an outsourced BDC, the ISMs she serves can sometimes attempt to micromanage the BDC team while not fulfilling their own obligations to the customers.  Sometimes, even today, it requires getting executive management attention of the true problem rather than being drawn into a witch hunt.  If you know Lisa Jo, she is just about the most sensitive, caring, heart-on-her-sleeve Director in the game.  I just thought I'd help explain the couple of quotes for the sake of the outside reader :0) It is hilarious how you and I think alike by the way.  Just two days ago I was joking to Bill that if we ever had a booth at DD, I'd hire Henry Winkler.  When I read that you said the same thing, I laughed out loud and called him immediately.Your recap also made me regret missing a couple of great presentations (namely Jim Flint's who I hold a lot of respect for).  I've seen him speak before and he always delivers a cut-to-the-chase perspective.  I also missed out on yours (though if family wasn't in town to entertain, yours is always a must-see), but I missed out on the pic I was tagged in from FB.  If only I knew people as cool as that, I'd gladly lie and say it was me in the pic.Thanks for taking that pic of my wife and I at the Icebar.  It was the only pic that came out inside the cavern of cold.  Lastly, I must say that I'm honored for you to say that I am an inspiration to you as I have the utmost respect for you... someone who kills it in automotive retail day in and day out.  You should be the one celebrated.  Keep up the great work and the excellent recaps.  Next time we hang out, beer is on me.
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    Vicki ONeill
  • April 12, 2012
Impressive, write-up, Kevin! For anyone not able to attend #DD12, you provided great key take-aways that should be considered actionable - by researching or acting upon - by any dealer.  
From a marketer/ vendor/ consumer perspective - the best approach to any goal is, borrowing from Steven Covey, "keeping the end in mind". Know the dealership goals (leadership team), know your audience (data) then develop a strategy accordingly (prioritizing digital ad spend). Incorporate media and solutions to help accomplish the goals. Monitor and measure along the way. And keep your finger on the pulse on industry happenings/technologies (creating your own mentoring group to collaborate and brainstorm is THE best way to get insight to what works and what doesn't. Again, great summary, Kevin! 
Good summary, as always, Kevin... amazes me how thorough you are and how much information you gather.  As one of the "no new content" folks you are probably referring to, that was expressed to me rather by a few dealers.  I think there is always content - how can there not be when so many people who have so much automotive expertise in one place?  For me, it lacked a little "punch" maybe for all the reasons you mention in the outset about attendance but sometimes the industry has more announce and show off than at other times.  In any case it was a good show and looking forward to Vegas.  Thanks again for the detailed write-up... plus @Joe Webb  said the beer is on him... so that's something :) 
Good summary, as always, Kevin... amazes me how thorough you are and how much information you gather.  As one of the "no new content" folks you are probably referring to, that was expressed to me rather by a few dealers.  I think there is always content - how can there not be when so many people who have so much automotive expertise in one place?  For me, it lacked a little "punch" maybe for all the reasons you mention in the outset about attendance but sometimes the industry has more announce and show off than at other times.  In any case it was a good show and looking forward to Vegas.  Thanks again for the detailed write-up... plus @Joe Webb   said the beer is on him... so that's something :) 
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  • April 12, 2012
Great update, Kevin! Thank you - enlightening while also humorous. :)
Kevin, great update.  The amount of work you put into the articles is remarkable.  Thanks for everything!
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  • April 13, 2012
Kevin – nice talking to you this morning. As I said, we're glad you had a good show as did we albeit with a slightly different strategy this show! Please tell our customers to call to us if they have any questions!
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    Amy Semelhack
  • April 13, 2012
Great summary Kevin! Although i wasn't there, I know everyone from UnityWorks Media had a great time. Thanks for the panel highlight and talk to you soon!
Awesome write up once again Kevin!   Don't be so good thought...You are really making it easy for people to skip Digital Dealer all together.
@ Brian Pasch - See you at boot camp Amigo.
P should have been a journalist.  You do the best job of anyone with the photos and your overview.  Digital Dealer should pay you for your work.  Thanks for sitting in on my session.  I appreciate your efforts. 
Phil Sura
Thanks for the Auto-Bio shout out Kevin!!!
I believe that the post has perfect collection of words and a well research.
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  • April 28, 2012 can help you attract thousands of followers that you can keep informed about any of your product or service offerings instantly. By bringing you a targeted crowd of buyers all you need to do is give them an offer they can’t refuse! Branding is also another successful tool Twitter can provide for your business. As more and more people become followers of your page it builds trust in them and they are more likely to buy from you than your competitor, because they have been following the brand and it’s a brand they trust.