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Digital Dealer 16 Review with Kevin Frye

Do not stop. Do not pass Go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. Go directly to Digital Dealer 16 in Atlantic City!

Kevin Frye, Mike Roscoe, and Alex Jefferson
Kevin Frye, Mike Roscoe, and Alex Jefferson

That’s right, many of us in the industry headed to the new location of the spring Digital Dealer conference to learn about new industry trends, to see great friends, and to gather with a lot of old people wearing Depends (ok – that is a dig at the common age of most of the folks gambling in Harrahs, but more about that later…).

A bit silly flying into Philly? Perhaps, but that was the closest airport to Atlantic City, and there were a lot of complaints that the new venue was not simple to reach. Once you landed in Philadelphia, it was another hour and fifteen minute drive to Atlantic City.

While many of us rented cars, Digital Dealer was running a shuttle bus (thank you!). There was a direct flight on Spirit airlines flying into Atlantic City airport, but some of my friends who took that cheap flight had a 4 hour delay and a none to pleasant flight. Now that’s the Spirit! Oh, wait, I don’t think that’s what they meant…

Ryan Leslie, Megan Barto, Jeff Glackin, AJ Maida, Subi Ghosh, and Tyson Madliger
Ryan Leslie, Megan Barto, Jeff Glackin, AJ Maida, Subi Ghosh, and Tyson Madliger

May I help you sir? Check in at Harrah’s was simple, and the folks were very friendly and polite. The room? The view was great (as seen in my video), but the room was outdated, and there were stains. Umm, how do I say this – there were STAINS of a genetic nature, a bathtub that would barely drain, and more.

I hate to open with this, but outside of the initial check-in, the service and facilities were lacking. We had a room service cart with bacon and eggs in the hall when we left in the morning, which was still there that night, which was still there the next morning. I was tempted to roll it into the elevator, but my wife discouraged me. Back to Harrahs later…

Pick up Community Chest card – you have won a Spa day! After recently racing a half-marathon in Nashville, a massage made a lot of sense, and the lovely wife and I used the spa facility at Harrahs to start the conference. Smart move, in fact I think I will start every future Digital Dealer conference that way. Speaking of which, are you allowed to expense a massage? I hope my dealer principal doesn’t read this.

Ultra cool 007 Agent Arnold Tijerina with my lovely wife, aka "Bond Girl", Julie Frye
Ultra cool 007 Agent Arnold Tijerina with my lovely wife, aka “Bond Girl”, Julie Frye

Where do the cool kids meet in Happy Days? At Arnold’s of course. IMPORTANT announcement here, major kudos to Arnold Tijerina who has turned himself into the social master at these conferences. Arnold became the primary person for me to follow at NADA this year with his relevant tweets throughout the conference – and into the afterhours, and he picked up where he left off with Digital Dealer 16. He is a must follow at @arnoldtijerina and I encourage you to follow him at DD17 and more.

Many folks came in on Monday, and thanks to Arnold’s heads up, I joined Larry Bruce and Showroom Magnet as they hosted dinner and a party at our hotel. Say what you want, the BEST folks work in automotive, and they know how to monkey around. Speaking of which, hotel security had to corral the Dynamite Monkey (and I thought Jerry Thibeau had knocked him out at the last conference) after some “inappropriate behavior”.

Something tells me that the same thing in Vegas would not even have batted an eye. Speaking of which, question for Larry Bruce – who in the hell did you hire to be the sock monkey? Is that Ron Jeremy behind that costume?

Wine? Candlelight?
Wine? Candlelight?

It’s gonna be a bright, bright, sunshiney day!!! Tuesday morning started bright and early with a shuttle bus ride to the convention center to pick up our registration badge and attend our first sessions. Yikes, little airport shuttle buses to haul a thousand folks to the convention center all at the same time. Lots of waiting time, and then when you got to the convention center, it was even more lines. Definitely need some more improvement here.

Larger sized buses like they use at NADA would have worked better during peak times, and being able to pick up registration packets the night before at the hotel would have helped make this much simpler. To be fair, after that first morning, the shuttle buses did well, though it still backed up at peak arrival and departure times. Some of those Jitney buses smelled like they did double time as Escort limos in the late hours, zowie…

Nice and easy folks… It was easy to get to and from rooms and the exhibit hall, and I started my day with “Is Social Media BS?”  Now didn’t I have that same title in Digital Dealer 10? Damn I am ahead of my time!

I was certainly curious to see what Brandon Mendelson had to share about the best use of Social Media for dealers. Brandon shared several good points, including some guidance that dealers should not worry about being active on twenty plus social media sites, and would do better to focus on working well with a few.

He encouraged dealers to follow adage and adweek online for some great info regarding social media and marketing. Overall I was a bit concerned and disappointed though. Several broad statements were made such as “social media is BS”, “SEO is BS”, and more without much supporting data. Several folks walked out, not a very impressive session unfortunately.

Megan Barto and Ryan Leslie
Megan Barto and Ryan Leslie

Joan Jett – Don’t give a damn ’bout my reputation…. Next up, “Motivation by Reputation” with Ryan Leslie of DealerRater and Megan Barto of Ciocca Honda (Megan is another must-follow for me on Twitter). Megan shared how she uses digital photo frames at her dealership to feature positive DealerRater reviews of each sales rep at their desk. GREAT IDEA!

The modern day sales rep should not only consider their smart phone an invaluable tool, but should also invest ~$40 to buy a digital photo frame to promote themselves with their customers. Ryan and Megan encouraged dealers to share and discuss their reviews at their daily meetings as a learning tool, as well as an opportunity to praise excellent service.

Another great tactic is where the GM of the dealership emails EVERYONE at the dealership with a copy of a recent great review to praise that sales rep. I always love an opportunity to praise awesome work by one of our sales reps, and this is a great opportunity. Congrats to Megan and Ryan on a session that was well done (unlike my steak at McCormick and Schmick steak house later…)

Puting on the Ritz…  The first keynote of the conference was Jennifer Blackmon with Ritz Carlton presenting “Creating a Service Culture”. Superior service is a key component of our culture at the Jeff Wyler Automotive Family, and we actually have Ritz Carlton present to our group each year and we have implemented several of their practices. With that said, superior service is a universal concept, and this was a phenomenal session with lots of great feedback on Twitter and more.

Oh mighty Isis – Crisis! Sadly I had to step out to deal with an immediate concern back home and I missed one of my favorite parts of the Digital Dealer conferences, which is the Peer Networking  Roundtables. The folks I spoke to enjoyed lunch and the following roundtables, which left me to do my catching up between sessions and in the evenings.

AJ Maida gets a front row seat for Alex Jefferson's presentation
AJ Maida gets a front row seat for Alex Jefferson’s presentation

A star is born…  Alex Jefferson spoke for the first time at Digital Dealer with “The Secret Facebook Recipe” to a standing room only audience. I cannot begin to share how impressed I was with the energy level Alex brought to the room. He kept everyone engaged with a combination of relevant material shared in a simple way that dealers could utilize when they return, while keeping everyone smiling with his positive personality. The only question was – WHY hasn’t Alex been speaking earlier?

I liked how Alex shared that with Facebook, you can create your own “TV channel”, with customized and targeted content for the people you are trying to reach. Even better, Alex shared how he tested several marketing approaches on Facebook to see what worked best for him as a dealer. Key findings shared included that he saw a ten to fifty times increase in performance in ads he ran in the newsfeed as compared to the right rail, as well as finding that putting a clear call to action IN the graphic significantly improved performance.

He also encouraged dealers to use the Google URL creator when marketing on Facebook to make it easy to measure performance in  Google Analytics. Congrats Alex, you not only shared the secret Facebook recipe, you also showed the secret presentation recipe, Educational, Engaging, and Entertaining.

Alex Jefferson, Tony Rhoades, Julie Frye, Anissa Collins and Arnold Tijerina at VIN Bash
Alex Jefferson, Tony Rhoades, Julie Frye, Anissa Collins and Arnold Tijerina at VIN Bash

Can you say BOOM!  Seth Godin presented “Invisible or Remarkable” as the ending keynote for Tuesday and he did not disappoint. First, do you have 30 seconds a day to become smarter? That’s how easy it is to read Seth’s blog, which is usually a paragraph each day – do it.

For me, the biggest takeaway from Seth was to LISTEN to our consumers, and then give them what they need. Become an invaluable resource for what they are looking for from a car dealer. Give each customer an experience so superior that your customers are selling for you. First class keynote speaker. The only downside is that one of my friends asked for an autograph and Seth refused because they did not have one of his books to sign. Really?

Um, walk the walk Seth, did you just impress the hell out of one of your customers? Sorry, some humility goes a long way as well.

Rick Chavoustie, Glen Garvin, and Jeff Glackin
Rick Chavoustie, Glen Garvin, and Jeff Glackin

Logical logistics! Ah, pretty impressed. The keynote room empties into the exhibit hall, so folks walk right from the keynote into the exhibit hall for our first cocktail hour. Both vendors and dealers were happy with this convenient arrangement, and an ice cold beer sounded pretty good after a long day of learning.

After making a quick round of the room to see which exhibits were there, I spent some time catching up with friends, including Rick Chavoustie whom I finally met in person. Speaking of which, am I the only person who has a lot of social media friends that I have not met in person? Many times the first time I see some of my great online friends is at these shows.

Look who I ran into - Tim Jackson
Look who I ran into – Tim Jackson

Wake up, you lazy head, and get your hiney out of bed!  I was up bright and early to have some breakfast at exhibit hall (no wait on the shuttle bus!) and start the day with “Outrank Your Competition” with Vipin Singh.

Vipin did a nice job clearly showing dealers how to use Google Webmaster tools to look at common search queries for their website, and then optimize for keywords that had high impressions, but low click and low average position. That’s right, sounds confusing. If there is a search query with high impressions, but you are showing up in a low position and getting few clicks, then that is an opportunity for a query to optimize for in your website to attract more traffic. Who said “SEO is BS”?  Another standing room only session – dealers like this.

Who remembers that show “Kids in the Hall“? Well, I was in the hall the following hour, though I am many years from being a “Kid”, lol. As a dealer, looking for new opportunities in the exhibit hall is an integral part of my conference visit. First up was a meeting with Tim Lage of RepairRep. Tim is a longtime friend and someone a dealer can trust. He has put together a great solution for dealers looking to simplify their brand presence online with directory listings to all of the major players. Having this done correctly and consistently is very important to your local SEO efforts. RepairRep combines several different areas into one solution for dealers – I recommend you take a look.

Igor Kalassa and Alvin Ortega
Igor Kalassa and Alvin Ortega

Speaking of which…  I sat down and spoke with Igor Kalassa from Brazil, and Alvin Ortega from the Dominican Republic. Remember when Digital Dealer started in Nashville?  Now it has expanded to include an international audience. Great discussion with Igor and Alvin, where I learned that they while they have a lot in common with US dealers with what they learn at these conferences, but they also face many other challenges selling cars online in their respective countries. I am impressed with each of them, as they are leaders in automotive overseas.

Love stinks! Yeah yeah…  How about “LotLinx“, yeah – yeah, which was my next visit. Let’s face it, there is a big uproar in the industry about whether dealers need to use third party leads, and if so, are there some alternatives to sending your inventory to one of the big aggregators for a very expensive cost. I’m here to tell you, LotLinx is a solution you need to look at. Why not aggregate your inventory to over 130 sites, and when the customer click on the vehicle, it goes DIRECTLY to your OWN website’s vehicle detail page (VDP), and at a cost of less than $4 for a unique shopper. Compared to a VDP cost of a major aggregator that is often $15 plus per VDP? Love me or hate me, and think I know which…

Kim Depalma and Julie Frye
Kim Depalma and Julie Frye

Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto…  Biggest thing that caught my attention at Digital Dealer? Bot fraud – did you know that perhaps up to one third of the traffic on your website is fake? Why would that be? Let me do my best to explain it simply…

If the primary way you make money hosting a website it to have ads displayed on your site, what if you setup hundreds of bogus websites that you host, and then you setup fake “bots” that visit multiple automotive websites, including yours. Your website “cookies” that bot as you think it is a real customer, and then you follow that “customer” around the web with your retargeting ads. Hmmm, where do you think that bot goes? Perhaps back to the hundreds of bogus websites hosted by the person who is fraudulently trying to make money by having you post retargeting ads chasing the bot back to their sites.

I spoke to Jeffery Tognetti with DealerX  for some time about this and look to revisit this in the upcoming weeks. DealerX claims to help dealers identify these bots so that you can block that fake traffic, and to help dealers better target shoppers by using their digital marketing technology. Did I find it interesting? Absolutely, I will be doing my homework and get back to you with a future post.

Chris Fousek, Mike Schultheis, and Subi Ghosh win the best prizes at my session
Chris Fousek, Mike Schultheis, and Subi Ghosh win the best prizes at my session

Have you kept your privates private? I took on the challenge of taking perhaps the driest of subjects – privacy, and used that as the subject of my presentation “Keeping Your Privates Private – Protecting Your Dealership and Yourself”. Simply put, there is no subject that has had my attention more now than this. Suffice it to say, privacy laws are rapidly changing overseas, and even here in California, that will continue to spread and will affect EVERY dealer in the US, and will radically change many of our digital marketing practices and website tactics.

One of the useful tools I shared with attendees is some free shareware called disconnect.me which allows you to see every site your info is being shared with when you visit a website. Go ahead, install it, and then put YOUR dealership website in your browser. I think you will be incredibly surprised as to where you are sharing your shoppers’ data.

I also scared quite a few people when I showed them how much Big Brother is watching them with their everyday behavior online, AND offline.

Did you miss my presentation? No problem, I am giving an encore presentation care at the weekly DealerOn webinars on May 22nd at noon, register here, and also get a chance to win one of 3 great prizes (disclaimer, the word “great” is per my unique interpretation…).

Caption contest? The three stooges?
Caption contest? The three stooges?

Tattle tattle tattle! AJ Maida pulled the fire alarm! Perhaps the lasting memory of Digital Dealer 16 will be the fire evacuation during the conference (there was an actual fire – microwave…). No problems for AJ Maida who just continued his session “Socially Acceptable” outside. AJ shared something that certainly caught my attention. He found that when he manually posted items on Facebook rather than using a scheduling tool, he saw better perfomance. Hmmm, so it sounds like Facebook is watching HOW you post as well. Nice tip AJ!

Ladies and gentlemen - April Rain!
Ladies and gentlemen – April Rain!

Time to Party Hearty! Or is that hardy? Hell, I don’t know, let’s have a drink friends! The night life was rather subdued in my humble opinion. Very few parties to attend, not a lot of excitement, just kinda quiet compared to previous shows.

As always, I enjoyed the VIN bash which was held poolside at Harrahs, and featured some wonderful food and drinks. The following night I had dinner with the VinSolutions crew at McCormack and Schmicks that unfortunately will go down in Vin Dinner history for some incredibly poor service. I am actually laughing as I write this and remember getting my steak about 20 minutes after everyone else (along with Shawn Morse) and it could have been confused with sushi as it was so rare. No worries, we had plenty of wine and my friends that were there made it a fun time. Hell we could have had some Kentucky roundsteak (that would be fried bologna for my Yankee friends) and Kool Aid and we could make it a great time  😛

I have a new "wingman" for Alex
I have a new “wingman” for Alex

Hasta la Vista baby… Several folks were already leaving on Thursday morning to catch flights out of Philadelphia. My flight was later and I caught a nice panel session in the morning sharing a data review regarding inventory photos and more. Have the first picture of your vehicle photos point to the right – that would be toward your ad – per Glen Garvin of Dominion Inventory Solutions. Simple advice that reminds me to keep on top of our folks to do the same thing.

I went back to exhibit hall to speak to some more vendors, and then wrapped up the conference with “How New & Improved Analytics will Help you Sell Cars”. First – it was another standing room session, but several of us were a bit disappointed in the content. If you are going to tell people to do stuff, take the time to clearly show them HOW to do it. Dealers want to be shown where exactly you are going in Google Analytics, and then how you implement your strategy step by step so that they can use that same skill when they return. I guess you could say I am a fan of the KISS concept…

Barry Hilllier, Brent Wees, Kevin Frye, and Cecil Bolling
Barry Hilllier, Brent Wees, Kevin Frye, and Cecil Bolling

Hurrah for Harrahs! Well, maybe not. As I wrap up the recap for DD16, many folks want to know how Atlantic City was as a venue. First and foremost, the PEOPLE were great as always. I thoroughly enjoyed networking and learning from the awesome folks in automotive, and I found the content of the show to be very good. The convention center was convenient and worked fine for me, though some of the rooms could have been a bit larger for sessions.

Wah, wahh, wahhhhhh…  As per the hotel, I don’t think I spoke to anyone who was very impressed. I saw one negative Yelp review, and multiple negative comments on Twitter, FB, and more. I think this Facebook post pretty much sums it up (name protected…)  “Atlantic City is easy to get to, the average age of casino patrons there is under 60, and the service at McCormick and Schmicks is awesome. What percentage of this statement is true?”

That about sums it up. Atlantic City is a pain to get to compared to alternative places, Harrahs is an outdated hotel with an older clientele, and the service was fair to poor in many cases. We did venture down to the infamous Boardwalk on the final day, which was pretty, but whoa! I would not walk through a lot of the neighborhoods leading up to the Boardwalk, most everywhere looked like Baltic and Mediterranean if you know what I mean.

I know how much work goes into planning something this book and I sincerely appreciate it, but my honest opinion is that Atlantic City is not necessarily a venue I would like to return to – and I think that is the consensus of most folks I spoke to and the comments I read online.

Atlantic City Boardwalk
Atlantic City Boardwalk

Opinions are like a$$holes, everyone has one…  I am a firm believer that if you are going to criticize, you should have some positive alternatives. The great news with this forum on  DealerRefresh is that each of YOU can share your insight. Where is a great venue located in the eastern half of the US that you think would be great for Digital Dealer? What would you suggest for improvement?

Please share your comments below, and I look forward to seeing you at Digital Dealer 17 in Las Vegas on September 23-25th. (and if you can brave my sarcasm, give me a follow @kevinfrye1 on Twitter, cheers!)