In politics, just as in life, the devil is in the details.
When it comes to winning elections, the difference between victory and failure can come down to a figurative – and sometimes literal – handful of votes. Advertising strategies usually revolve around big spending on attack ads through traditional media, with local TV blanketed throughout the weeks and months before Election Day. We all count the days until the election is over; when things return to normal!
TV advertising can influence elections, but big spending doesn’t always equal a big win: See, last month’s North Carolina senate race, where both sides shelled out historic amounts, but the incumbent lost despite outspending her opponent.
Car dealers approach their local markets no differently, except that, unlike in politics where elections only happen periodically, dealers live in a world where de facto elections occur every 30 days! Every month brings different nuances in a dealer’s local market: New goals, new incentives, new inventory, new competitive tactics, requiring constant reaction and adjustment. While it’s a comfortable, go-to tactic, blanket spending on ads to drive sales often quickly reach a point of diminishing ROI.
Ultimately, winning elections in politics, and winning the month in automotive, comes down to capturing the attention of voters and shoppers who are undecided, and who will sway the outcome to one side or another. For that, you need a good, focused, and dedicated ground game.
The Ground Game
You’ve probably heard the term “ground game” during the last few elections. It’s the opposite of carpet-bombing markets with TV advertising; instead of blasting an area with one message, you hone in on focused pockets of people who have the “right” characteristics to favor your point of view. The Democrats applied data science to their ground game to great effect in past elections, including during 2012’s presidential election. Of course, after 2014’s midterms, it looks like the Republicans’ work honing their ground game paid off. Reince Priebus, Chairman of the RNC, even stated, “We made a commitment to mechanics and data and digital operations first and foremost.”
A tightly focused strategy applied to pockets of voters or, in automotive terms, “in-market shoppers”, will help you convert those who aren’t yet swayed to one vehicle/dealership or another. The executive team of a large dealer group I recently visited hit the nail right on the head: “It’s not our loyal customers we need to win over, since they’re already in the our corner. It’s the people in the middle that are the key.”
So, how do you begin drawing up a blueprint for a strategy to win the ground game? You start with a few key data-driven inputs: Product, target, and message.
If you want to win, you need a good product that people will relate and respond to. Political candidates need to reflect what the electorate wants, and cars need to be designed around what consumers need and priced in a range they can tolerate.
You may not have control over how cars are designed and built, and in many cases you can’t dictate what new inventory you’ll get on the lot. But you can control what models to market, to which people, rather than wasting time and money trying to fit a square peg into a round hole with a one-size-fits-all strategy.
We all know that every market has different characteristics. Sure, some models are great sellers nationwide, but when you get down to a local level, the picture can change dramatically. Looking at proactive shopper demand data and even recent registration data on a market-by-market and even zip-by-zip basis will give you great insight into what models people in your area are interested in, both on the demand side and on the sales side of the equation.
When you have a handle on your inventory and the areas you’re selling into, it’s time to get surgical. Whether you’re in a crowded metro, a more rural market, or somewhere in between, it’s critical to understand your geography, your competition, and your customers to understand where, who and how to target.
When looking at geography, we find that it’s best to look at a map with competitors plotted on it. This is a simple exercise, and a visual that most every dealer has in their head, but mapping the data can lead to some interesting insights, especially when working with vendors who may not know your local market nearly as well as you do. Three on-brand competitors between you and the north side of the city? Why are you conquesting there, if you’re only going to take a bath on margins? No easy route for people to get across town to see you? Chances are you probably shouldn’t be putting too much emphasis on those areas, unless you have a really good reason to.
Layering on sales data, market share, registration data, and so forth, adds critical depth to a geographic overview. Maybe you’re missing a lot of opportunity in a few key zips; maybe you’re going about your marketing strategy all wrong!
Now that you’ve identified the “persuadable voters” in your market – i.e., people interested in the models you have in inventory who are willing to consider your dealership — crafting the message is critical to helping seal the deal and to capture someone’s attention. Engaging customers on a deeper, emotional level is an art as much as a science, but data can be essential to segmenting those voters, determining what’s important to them, and contacting them in a way that will make them receptive to what you’re saying.
Having rich demographic information at our disposal from companies like Experian, Nielsen and, even, Google [https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/2799357?hl=en] makes our job as marketers easier, providing better insights about “who” our prospects and customers are and what they care about. Armed with what to say, and to whom, we can work with our partners to come up with messaging that cuts through the noise in an increasingly loud space. Just knowing that Fusion buyers in your market tend to be young families who are receptive to digital advertising, value financing options and new technology, and prefer being contacted by email can put you that much closer to crafting a cost-effective microcampaign that helps get out the voite.
Rolling up your product, demographics and messaging together is the fun part, because now you have a go-to-market strategy you can feel confident about, and one that’s a heck of a lot more defensible than saying “it feels like this will work.”
There is simply too much at stake with our advertising and marketing dollars and strategy to not have a solid, focused plan to reach the right people with the right message through the right channel.
So, save “feels like” for the tables at Vegas…not for a $100,000 advertising plan, the results of which can make or break your month. There’s obviously a lot more to success by way of in-store process and execution, but make sure your dealership – your political candidate in the monthly race – puts its best foot forward and gives your team the best possible chance of winning the ground game.