Normally when this subject comes up, amongst dealers, a lot of not-so-nice things are said. I want to take a different approach in this article. No, I’m not planning to completely side with our manufacturers, but to hopefully create a compelling argument that gets some to rethink their policies (and I’m counting on your comments as well).
I think we all can acknowledge that it is impossible for a national (or even global) corporation to understand every local market. Some places are a little behind the technology curve and others are deeply into it. Whether a dealer’s market is in the center of the tech universe or in the middle of ho-dum-hickory-ville there are differing marketing strategies for every type.
I think we can all also acknowledge that there are some dealerships who would never invest a dime in a showroom improvement or even a website unless they were forced to. But I think there are just as many of those as there are the complete opposite, so the majority has to be somewhere in the middle.
As we move deeper into stronger digital marketing mixes we are all finding that the game changes faster and more drastically as newer technologies are engineered. We have all watched the bigger DMS companies fall behind the curve, and it just shows that the bigger you are the harder it is to turn the ship. Compared to manufacturers, dealers are more nimble and capable of implementing new things.
Many manufacturers task dealers with specific Internet policies that are outdated by the time dealers start to follow the policies. Things are moving too quickly.
Branding is a very important element. Our manufacturers have invested tons of money in building and protecting brand recognitions that we all capitalize on. With so many websites it is tough for them to police everything, and a simple one for them to enforce is a dealership website’s look and feel. Some manufacturers like MINI, VW, and GM have partnered with CoBalt to enforce that all dealership websites are virtually equal. Others like Honda, BMW (soon to join with CoBalt too), and Toyota have taken the approach of advertising guidelines toward dealer websites. They either envelop the website inside DMA money requirements or give compliant dealers perks off the OEM’s main website (leads, links, etc). From the 10,000-foot view either of these approaches are viable. But consumers don’t care about that.
Communication between the manufacturer and dealer is still too much of a one-way street in a lot of cases. Because the automotive industry was so slow to embrace digital marketing both dealers and OEM’s originally staffed these positions with people who may not have been the best for such an important job, while the people who had the power were still conducting business as usual. I hear about eCommerce meetings between a group of dealers and OEM’s from time to time, but it still sounds like OEM’s prefer to converse with General Managers and Dealer Principles instead of talking to the people who actually handle these things. Is this just a path of least resistance thing? At the end of the day we all want to make more money. Yeah, we might have some difficult things to say, but that’s healthy.
OEM’s should talk to dealership eCommerce people more often.
Technology is advancing by the minute (I would say daily, but that’s too slow), so hand-cuffing people to something does not allow growth. Google changed some of its algorithms recently and now we’re starting to see some strategies become obsolete. Customers are empowered and want choice on a website – this must be acknowledged, and embraced. Third Party Leads and Inventory Aggregate sites are not as effective as they used to be, so why are these still the main focus of Internet co-op for some manufacturers? Banner ads? SEM is a much stronger medium than both. Why isn’t this part of the co-op programs? What about SEO training or SEO development for dealership websites? And if these things become obsolete, let’s be nimble and switch co-op to the next big thing. Help us help you make more money by being smarter!
Dealer Websites that are dictated by manufacturers brand the manufacturer. But customers interact with the dealer.
The dealer’s name might not be as important to an OEM, but it is very important to the customer. Almost all customer interaction is with the dealer, and it is very important that the dealer have the ability to brand him/herself. The most eCommerce-conscious dealers end-up have to spend double on websites because the OEM-dictated one is too limiting (how many VW dealers have 2 websites out there?).
Online Strategy can be worked out together for virtually no cost. OEM’s do not have to fly 20 dealers to a special retreat spot for meetings – we can hammer things out via teleconference or instant messenger conferences. A forum could be built for posting ideas at any hour of the day. I’m sure there are quite a few people on Dealer Refresh who would happily volunteer time to work with an OEM as long as the OEM truly listened and acted. There is a middle ground and I don’t think it is that far away!
OEM’s – please, start talking to the dealership eCommerce people. Please start talking to US!
Dealer Refresh would like to take these costs of communication on. We will host the forum for each manufacturer that wants to participate. Just let us know.