Dealership Marketing

Why OEM Marketing Mandates are a Great Thing for Dealers (at least those who do it right)

Stop the presses! The cow just jumped over the moon. Pigs are flying. Hell froze over. Who kidnapped me and replaced me with an OEM shill?

The answer isn’t that I’ve gone insane. It’s that I looked deeper into the subject and realized it can be easily turned around from being a negative thing for franchise dealers to being something that helps savvy dealers tilt the playing field in their direction.

There have been plenty of posts on these forums, throughout LinkedIn, and on the general automotive blogosphere that call out the obtuse OEM mandates to use accepted vendors (often deemed acceptable because of relationships and deal-making rather than quality) for things like websites, PPC, chat, social media, and most other marketing components. Not all OEMs are doing it, but the trends point to this being the case universally at some point in the future. Most dealers complain and rightfully so. Heck, I’ve complained about it myself.

Something has been brewing in me lately. It started as a subtle seed and was emphasized when I started looking at the numbers. What I found so interesting was this: you can tell the difference between the dealers who are succeeding and the ones who are not based upon the amount of effort they put into enhancing their OEM-mandated marketing elements. While most dealers begrudgingly accept the OEM mandated products and services and leave it at that, others are taking what they’re given and making them better.

Think of it like racing stock cars. If everyone is given the same cars with the same engines, it comes down to driving skill and a bit of luck to determine who wins in a race. If one of the drivers takes their stock car and modifies it within the limits that still keep them compliant, they now have an advantage. This is the same with OEM-mandated marketing. Just because you have to use the same website provider as your competitors doesn’t mean that you are forced to keep everything equal. In nearly all cases, dealers can do something about it that can give them the edge.

The wonderful part about this is that they can often make these enhancements and see increases in sales without the competition having a clue about what they’re doing. On the surface, the difference between an incredibly search optimized OEM website and one that doesn’t know how to spell “SEO” can go completely unnoticed. In fact, there might be no visible difference between the sites, but through proper content creation, landing page optimization, and offsite signals, two competing websites that look nearly identical can show performance numbers on opposite ends of the spectrum.

I saw a real-world example of how enhancements can work by looking at what DealerRefresh columnist Daniel Mondello has done. Three websites. Same brands. Same market. The one that he has enhanced is dramatically outperforming the competition based upon enhancements he’s done to the OEM websites and the PPC strategy. The most beautiful part of it is that he’s been able to do this without increasing the budget. He has taken what he was given and put in the effort and strategic fortitude to make it perform incredibly better.

Keep in mind that I’m not promoting the concept of breaking the rules. There are boundaries and I strongly recommend that dealers stay within those boundaries. Some will try to push those boundaries for SEO, for example, by adding content to their website that’s not approved. In those situations, a dealership might believe that their hands are tied because they can’t do anything for an organic search bump, but this isn’t the case. There are no compliance issues with offsite content and link earning, and despite the cries of many who are calling links or even SEO itself dead, the experts over at Moz have recently been singing a different tune. Dealers can optimize their sites while staying completely compliant.

In the first episode of Mad Men, Don Draper had to build a smoking campaign while the government was limiting what they could say about cigarettes. He was faced with an industry that had 6 companies who “couldn’t say anything that sold cigarettes.” His solution was to differentiate his brand from the others by playing by the rules while enhancing the results. I would never suggest that dealers follow the lead of 1960s tobacco companies or listen to advice from a television show, but moral of the story is similar. If everyone is given the same rules, the successful companies will find a way to make those rules work for them. Dealers can do the same thing with their OEM mandates.

At the end of the day, this is not an endorsement of OEM mandates. Call it an effort to see the glass half full. Mark it down as a decision to make the best of a situation that I find to be obtuse. There are OEM mandated programs and websites that are great, but most of them are mediocre at best. Individual dealers who are savvy and aggressive enough have an opportunity to use this to their advantage, but as a supporter of the industry as a whole I find a good portion of the OEM mandates to be damaging to their dealers.

In short, I’m not a supporter of the programs, but we’re all just men and women who don’t have the power to change it. Our opinions will fall on deaf ears so we might as well take advantage of the sliver of a positive that the situation can yield.

What are some of the things that you have done with your required marketing components to give your dealership an edge over your competitors?

Do you believe that the OEMs are going to get more restrictive or less restrictive in the future?

Are message consolidation, cost-savings, and consistency really worth it for OEMs to mandate how their dealers handle their marketing?

Chime in with the poll question in the forums: Are OEM-Mandated Marketing Programs Good or Bad?

JD Rucker is the Founder of Dealer Authority, an automotive digital marketing agency specializing in social media, search, and content marketing. A ve...