Industry News & Trends

Kevin Frye’s Annual Digital Dealer Conference Review

Digital Dealer Conference Review with Kevin Frye

What is the difference between networking and partying?

One is a business expense that can be written off… Wow, just returned from the most successful Digital Dealer conference yet, and all of that “networking” has worn me out. I cannot complain, as my lead photo for this review is of the final day of the conference when I ran into Cliff Banks with Dealer Communications as I was getting ready to leave for the airport.

Who looks more tired?

Myself with the dark circles under my eyes? Or Cliff, who was working 24 hours a day during the conference? Congrats Cliff, Digital Dealer 9 was the largest and most successful conference yet!

Cliff Banks and Kevin Frye at close of Digital Dealer Conference

I met The Great One! No, I’m not talking about Jeff Kershner, but Wayne Gretzky. I arrived Sunday morning to participate in the VinSolutions Dealer Advisory Board, and several of us decided to watch the NFL games at Lagasse’s Stadium at The Palazzo. While sitting there, Shaun Raines pokes me in the side to show me who sat next to us – Wayne Gretzky! Too cool. There were actual multiple celebrity sightings with DD9 attendees, including Kobe Bryant and the entire Lakers team staying at the Mirage, as well as Eva Longoria, the Kardashian sisters, and more. Who knew Digital Dealer would attract such famous celebrities???

Most Exciting Announcement belongs to VinSolutions and their introduction of VinLens. I was blown away by the powerful information available to a dealer using a Vin website that is integrated with their CRM tool. VinLens combines real time website analytics with their CRM which allows a user to see where a visitor came from to their website. I will likely fall short sharing the benefits of this, but think of it this way. When your lead comes into your CRM tool, you will now see the history of how a visitor came to your website (eg. Google), what search term they used, and what sites and pages they visited before they submitted a lead. It gets better. All of us fight to get our sales reps to ask customers why they came in, but time and time again they just write in “drive-by”, “billboard”, or whatever is convenient. What if the sales rep upped the customer and after they leave the showroom, we send them an email, and they reply. Now we have their ip address and it can match up with the VinLens analytics and show us that they actually visited our website the day before visiting our dealership, and we can identify the real reason they came in. Now that is powerful information. Suffice it to say, the Vin booth was hopping during the conference.

Brian Pasch Announces 1 of 2 Website Awards for VinSolutions

And the award goes to… Speaking of which, VinSolutions won two website awards from the Pasch Consulting Group. I forgot my tux, but Brian Pasch kindly still let me attend the Automotive Website Awards ceremony. Kudos to Brian for studying the major website providers out there and providing awards in several different areas. Many websites that were considered “dead” have re-invented themselves and are coming back strong. A bigger kudos goes to Brian who went skydiving (with Arnold Tijerina and others) the morning before. Now that is going all the way!

You are naked without it… Josh Muller emphasized how the average American today carries their cell phone constantly; in fact most pick up their phone in the morning before they even enjoy their coffee. Have mobile devices become important to our average car shopper? You bet they have.

Josh Muller with Reynolds talks Text at DD9

Google, Apple, and Facebook are spending Billions (yes, that is with a “B”) on mobile marketing. Where do we fit in? Simply put – we have a long way to figure this out, but don’t feel too bad, the Fortune 500’s are still trying to get on top of this as well. I’m certain there will be more on this in the upcoming conferences.

Google has 98% of the mobile market already tied up. Pat Ryan shared this and more during his “Secrets of Silicon Valley” presentation. I really like how Pat showed us several sites that are being customized for consumer relevance. Have you ever noticed on AutoTrader or that the description on the gallery page only shows ~150 – 200 words? And this is usually the vehicle specs in alphabetic order? Pat gave great examples of how vehicle descriptions can be optimized in the first 150-200 words with the most sought after items consumers are looking for. That’s called taking the available real estate you have on the inventory aggregator gallery pages, and optimizing your listings for the highest possible conversion. Smart stuff!

Learning Silicon Valley’s Secrets from Pat Ryan

Just do it! That’s right, Nike has had a tremendous influence on Jim Flint who presented “Do it Yourself Strategies”. I have found most of my valuable information in sessions with actual dealers who share what is working for them. Jim showed actual examples of what he is doing with his dealer group to keep them running efficiently and at peak performance. Chris Fousek also did a phenomenal job with his presentation “Use Data to Sell More Cars Tomorrow”, where he showed actual analytics and reports that enable him to be the best Cadillac dealer in his region (he also shared one of his secrets – look at the iPerceptions survey tool which is available free online). Jim and Chris are rock stars and I was thrilled to hear them speak.

“Statistics are like bikinis, they show a lot but not everything… Lou Pinella”. The video story of an Internet Manager’s life was presented by Joe Webb and Bill Playford during their “Creation vs Evolution” presentation. All I have to say was that I was roaring with laughter, nodding in agreement, but also deeply disturbed by their video interpretation of how an Internet Manager’s daily life has changed over the last 10 years. There is a great scene of Bill behind a huge pile of empty Red Bull cans which I could strongly relate to, but that was not as disturbing as seeing how Shaun Raines’ ego has got out of control. I almost jumped out of my shoes when I walked by this cardboard cutout… love it!

Shaun Raines and his Evil Twin Brother

“Social media is bad for society” – as Andrew Difeo of Hyudai of St Augustine shared during his presentation. Sorry Andrew, you know I love strong statements like that, and in Andrew’s benefit, he said he would likely eat his words later, but he has my greatest respect for sharing an opinion that might not agree with everyone else. I LOVED Andrew’s presentation “The Party’s Over” where he shared how he has opened a brand new Hyundai dealership and built it from the ground up using his expert knowledge of the modern day car buyer’s behavior. How about pay plans for your managers that tie into actual online dealership ratings rather than OEM CSI scores? Or transparent one price selling? Or a new media mix where SEO is number 1, SEM is number 2, and third party leads are #3? Andrew is using a one price strategy that also builds efficiency into the dealership buying experience, meaning less time to negotiate the deal, and less time at the dealership for the customer. Better for the consumer, better for the dealer, better for all of us to learn!

Andrew, you are the wind beneath my wings (tear in corner of my eye right now).

Andrew Difeo Gets Social with Jeff Kershner

It’s all about world domination! Working the floor with Alex Jefferson is always fun. We try and visit as many vendors as we can, and find what folks are excited about. Dealers were visiting the Pasch Consulting Group to learn more about their “POD Score”. I guess at this point I need to bring Difeo down a bit, he was bragging about his POD score of 93, take a look at this baby, now this is world domination!

Simply put, the POD score measures how much real estate you own on Google page 1 for a search of your dealership name. If you are not dominating here, others are taking away your business.

One message across all marketing platforms – Alex and I liked what we heard from Tier 10 Marketing and I believe this is the future of how truly efficient and high converting dealerships will work. Tier 10 helps dealers to coordinate their marketing efforts across all traditional and digital marketing platforms to provide a consistent and enticing message to our shoppers. I also loved how they have their QR code for Tier 10’s website on the back of their business cards.

Scott Fletcher and Ron Morrison with Tier 10 Marketing

Microsites for micro-money… Perhaps that is an unfair statement, but after speaking with DealerHD and their strength with WordPress sites, why not use website providers like themselves to build your microsite and host them at minimal cost? DealerHD had some impressive, easy to navigate website layouts that are user-friendly and strong with inventory presentation. They are also priced very reasonably – and any dealer watching their money likes that.

Robert Morrison, Alex Jefferson and Justin Duff

Woo, there it is, woo there it is… Car buyers who are short on time and who don’t want to have to negotiate their car deal can pay a low flat fee to carwoo!. Carwoo! will then work with local dealers to setup the deal, and once a deal has been framed, they will then introduce the buyer to the dealer. Cost to dealer is ZERO. Go to carwoo!’s website to register for free so that you can receive these free introductions.

Tony Rhoades with Gunn Auto talks with Myril Shaw of carwoo!

And they were Kung Fu fighting… Wow, there is a fine line between class and, well, just remove the first 2 letters of class. While attending Larry Bruce’s presentation, one of the attendees had a question. Well, perhaps I should say he had a chip on his shoulder and decided that this would be the perfect time for a debate. Larry was polite and firm in his presentation, but this guy would not back down. Listen folks that is disrespectful of the speaker as well as all of the other attendees who came to hear the presentation, not an impromptu debate that would take up the entire session. Let’s leave that to the forums. And btw, I love Larry Bruce because he is brave enough to be incredibly controversial and also backs up his opinions.

I’m… gonna rock and roll all night… and party network every day! Can you go to Vegas and not have fun? There was lots of fun to be had, and I am certain that there were lots that “stayed in Vegas!” Many thanks to ALL of the vendors who sponsored suites, drinks, fine meals, drinks, clubs, drinks, and did I mention drinks? My apologies for lying low one night. I had my first opportunity to speak at Digital Dealer (thanks for the invitation Cliff) and wanted to make sure I was in optimal shape. Many thanks to all who attended and supported me. I will admit I was nervous as a first-timer, and I sincerely appreciated all of the support. Oh, I forgot to mention in the “Celebrity Sightings” section that I ran into Motley Crue, as pictured below… I think Matt is seeing if Chris has been using “Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific” shampoo…

Chris Fousek blushes as Matt Lamoreaux gets a sniff of his Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific Shampoo, joined by Chip Grueter, Alex Jefferson, Jeff Kershner and Jerry Thibeau

Preach on brother! I would review this as the best Digital Dealer conference yet. Why? I met lots of new dealers and learned lots of new ideas that can help me sell more cars and service as a result. I also found several more ways to become more efficient, and learned about the incredible power of integrating your website directly into your CRM. I am getting a bit tired of reading these blog articles about “which conference should I go to” and folks labeling Digital Dealer as “great for newbies”. (Waving the bullshi! Flag right now…). Don’t forget where it started folks. Yes, Digital Dealer is great for folks who are starting from scratch, but it is also invaluable for those who are very progressive. I learn from the presentations, from the vendors, and mostly from other dealers, and I am happy with how each conference has progressed and become even better. We are still seeing lots of new dealers attend; as the digital market is maturing and even old-school dealers are realizing they must get onboard.

Digital Dealer 10 will be in Orlando, and I am already looking for more info on issues such as the continued exploration into mobile, as well as how we can best manage our Internet Managers. Specifically, what is the fairest pay-plan for someone who is tasked to photograph inventory, write comments for each vehicle, manage the dealership pay per click campaign, write a daily blog, update all of the social media accounts, and oh, by the way, sell some cars – which is the only thing they get paid on. You laugh, but it is true. Dealerships are failing because the key person they have in place to manage their eCommerce efforts is not being compensated correctly for all of their efforts. Great to see everyone at DD9, cheers to all!


(Note: With so many great presentations, Alex and I broke off for several sessions this year and Alex’s write-up is below. Great insight Alex!!!):

Digital Dealer 9 Review – by Alex Jefferson

When I attended my first Digital Dealer a few years ago, I sat amongst the brightest most progressive dealers in our industry. We learned about “cutting-edge” strategies like Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing, Dynamic Video Search, enhancing lead conversion, refining internet processes etc. As I get ready to leave Digital Dealer 10, I realize there is a culture shift in automotive industry. Along with the most progressive dealers, there were more first timers and a THIRST for knowledge unseen at any of the previous conferences. The workshops were overflowing, the networking was on steroids, and the enthusiasm for EDUCATION was at an all-time high. Dealers are intent on educating themselves and building strong cross country networks to help each other combat the “smoke and mirrors” that go on in the automotive industry.

What’s Hot
One of the hottest topics at Digital Dealer 9 was mobile devices. There was a study that showed mobile internet use will pass PC use in 2013. Laptops are becoming the old desktops and mobile phones are becoming what laptops have represented for the last few years. There were unique ideas presented but looking at case study results there still doesn’t seem to be anyone who has “figured it out” yet. One of the more progressive dealers in the nation, The Jeff Wyler Group in Cincinnati presented a very innovative example of a text campaign that was creative and fun but still didn’t deliver the results they expected. Name harvesting for mobile devices seems to be a solid bet while testing campaigns as we all learn this new medium of advertising.

Social media has been a huge topic for the last year as its popularity continues to grow. The most interesting thing I saw on this was when Ralph from Automotive Digital Marketing displayed a unique model to measure the effect of Social media. He challenged the traditional ROI model and used a reverse model that is based off determining what you would have paid, had you tried to “purchase” this presence online. This is done by using the traffic you generate along with average market Cost per Click and CPM rates. This is a unique model that can be tweaked and modified to fit any dealer across different digital advertising mediums.

Closing Thoughts
I can sum Digital Dealer up in three words…Education, Networking, and Analytics. Dealerships are starting to “wake up” from being sleep at the wheel by spending more time and resources educating themselves. They are developing stronger networks to be armed with the knowledge they need to choose the right partners and technology to fit their objectives. Dealers now realize the importance of developing strong measurement models that they can that continue to refine as automotive advertising evolves.


Kevin, thanks for writing the review. You always do an awesome job with it. Entertaining to say the least. It was great seeing you and everyone else.

Congrats on the POD Score of 100%. Very nice.

Alex Jefferson - you crack me up!!

I would have to agree that this was the best Digital Dealer yet. If obvious Cliff is on board and taking the conference to the next level.

Great review and great to see you and the rest of the group as always! Looking forward to Orlando...where I will be sure to blurt out another one of my controversial opinions :)
Great job Kevin and congratulations on a perfect POD Score.
Alex - I would like to say thank you for the positive mention, and that it is encouraging to see that you understood the message about making adjustments in each dealer's ROI model. It was a lesson learned while working for over 300 dealerships around the country... The fact is that different market areas have different costs for "Purchased Media", and that this plays a factor when considering the Return from Investing into "Owned Media" (your websites) and when evaluating the relative value of "Earned Media" (Social Media). Also, I have the Excel spreadsheets and the PPT available from the ROI Workshop, if anyone would like a copy.

Thank you for this recap, I enjoyed reading all of it!
Kevin, Alex,

Thank you for the great recap of the conference -- and for the kind words. However, it's not me taking the conference to the next level. Rather, the entire team at Dealer Communications deserves the credit.

Michael Roscoe's vision and leadership, Greg Noonan and his team's ability to bring in vendor partners, Susan Tyson's marketing prowess -- and everyone else that works behind the scenes.

Most importantly, though, are the dealers. Folks like Kevin, Alex, Chris, Andrew, Joe Orr, Shaun Kniffin, Broderick Alley, Larry Barditch, Jim Flint, Todd Crossley, Brian Benstock, Angela Martin and all the others who worked hard putting together great presentations and content for the attendees. Not only that, but your willingness to share your secrets make all of you true leaders in our industry.

You're the folks that have helped us take this conference to the next level.

Looking forward to the Spring conference!
  • J
    Joe Webb
  • October 22, 2010
Hey Kevin,

Once again thanks for the kind words about our session. When I watched you speak, I got all weepy-eyed reminiscing about what it was like to speak to the masses as a dealer myself. You delivered an engaging, fun, and most importantly REFRESHING outlook from an Internet Director and for that I commend you.

See you soon, brother.

Joe Webb
Kevin, Thank you for the shout out. As a long time attendee it was great to get up there and to share with other dealers and industry members.

Kudos to Cliff Banks and Mike Roscoe for having so many practitioners speak at this event and I hope they continue with this emphasis at DD10.

Not to blow smoke, but I think your presentation was one of the highlights. Thank you for sharing your insights on Google Places, your experience with text campaigns and your success with video. All great stuff that we can all bring back to our dealerships and you delivered it all in a straight forward style.

In fact maybe there should be a Google Places workshop next time. Keep up the good work and where can we find those flying videos?

All the best,


Thank you for your thoughts as well. I love your enthusiasm and energy and that is exactly what the Digital Dealer conference can inspire. You are absolutely right about the mobile topic and it will be interesting to see what role that will play six months from now.

I am glad we were able to connect and look forward to keeping in touch.

All the best,

Kevin (not Alex),

I always look forward to your recap of Digital Dealer events. However, I did want to say that the custom Fathead of ME was NOT my idea. Watching football with you and having a Canadian football conversation with Wayne Gretzky was pretty cool. Glad to know people like you in the biz and very pleased that you've entered the "speaking" realm for DD as well.

All the best,

  • A
  • October 24, 2010
Kevin - Great write up as always on the conference. I also want to congratulate you on content and delivery of your presentation.

Ralph - Your presentations are always full of great content and new ideas.

Chris - Great meeting you and look forward to sharing more ideas in the future.

Cliff - I agree with Kevin...Best executed conference to date! Being in Vegas didn't hurt either.