Posts tagged digital marketing
The Terminator franchise has been one of the most successful entertainment series in history, ranking up with the Toy Story trilogy, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and even the original (and best) Star Wars trilogy. If you’ve been living under a rock, or are Amish, and haven’t seen the Terminator, it starts in the near-future where an artificial defense intelligence system becomes self-aware. After the scared military operators tried to pull the plug, the system (Skynet) decides that humans pose a threat, and summarily launches a nuclear assault on humanity. It’s just the type of stuff you want to talk about with your kids before bed. I’ll be back to the Terminator reference in just a bit.
As with last year, SXSW Interactive had some real face-melting presentations. Whether it was in the title or not, geolocation, virtual display of reality, speech recognition, gesture input, and artificial intelligence pervaded many of the sessions. What this means is that location-based services are about ready to go into overdrive. Although, I know a lot has been written regarding location-based services (LBS), including a recent piece by Joe Webb and DrivingSales’ Eric Miltsch, I got to hear about the future of these services from those who created them. I'm here to tell you, those services are not as simple as they seem.
At face value, these applications look like games, or a means to get hammered with your friends in Vegas. However, most of these tools have already moved beyond the game element, and are starting to drive value for retailers. The key thing you need to understand is that these platforms that we are using today are not permanent. The current technology still cannot support the true potential. Most of the LBS technology we are using today will be obsolete in a matter of months, and will be utterly antique within a decade. The millions of users who use LBS technology everyday will continue to jump from platform to platform because they find it valuable. So while I won’t get hung up on the platforms or the different services, I will tell you this: If you are not using LBS, you will be ignored.
Why would I make such a bold statement? The answer is simple: In just a matter of months, augmented reality hardware will be widely available. For those of you who have seen the Terminator, you will soon have the means to see like the Terminator. You will be able to scan objects by simply looking at them, with relevant data popping up in your vision to help you make decisions. Military jets have utilized this technology for a few decades, projecting critical data onto heads-up displays, and even a few cars have adopted this technology. Soon services such Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, Wolfram Alpha, and Foursquare, can, and likely will, supply their data directly onto your eyeball. People won’t just see a car lot anymore - they will see OEM information, vehicle data, pricing matrices, incentives, customer comments, and ratings - all without lifting a finger
Before you quit your job, realize that this technology can also be used to your advantage. Remember that CRM your manager has been bugging you about? What if that technology was leveraged in an augmented reality environment? Imagine if a customer’s name, current vehicle, time of last interaction, service visit frequency, website activity, family information, etc., appeared right next that customer as soon as you looked at them. How much easier would your job be? Would you start taking better notes if the information would automatically be recalled later? Would you terminate skating coworkers? I bet you would.
The good news for some, and the bad news for others, is that augmented reality will be available to the masses come Christmas time. Google will be offering glasses that will be connected to your Android device, and will project its Places and Latitude data into the users field vision at the end of the year. Other hardware and software is being evaluated, and will available next year. Contact lenses offering the same technology have already been tested, and will soon follow. Even without the glasses, there are already enough smartphones for nearly every man, woman, and child in the world, and the technology exists to automatically display alerts on those phones. The Internet age is just hitting its stride.
How do we prepare for this onslaught the future? By being better today. Claiming your dealership’s Foursquare/Places/Yelp/etc. location is the first step, and frankly it’s not enough. Understanding the users behavior is the next, and most crucial, step. Even without adding users as friends, you can still gather data about their destinations, achievements, tips, and how many friends they have. If you are able to “friend” them, you can uncover more useful information. Understanding how to navigate this information will allow you to see how your customers interact, what they may say about you, and find out how loyal they are to other businesses. All of this information needs to recorded. Right now people have to take the time to gather information about your dealership. YOU must begin capturing just as much data and developing just as much software before you get overrun as it will be the only thing to save you in the future. There is no avoiding it. Take advantage of today’s technology before customers can gather information automatically, tomorrow.
Ignoring technological advances does not make them go away. Consumers take advantage of new technologies every single day. They buy a car every three years. By not embracing these changes, you accelerate the way these changes impact your business. You have created several opportunities for other companies to exploit your desire to keeps things the same. Don’t let the machines beat you. Take every opportunity to learn about new technologies on your own. Use change to your advantage. As it is with the Terminator, technology will just keep on coming. You can’t stop it.
Initially, I intended on giving you all a day-by-day account of the sessions from the 2011 South by Southwest Interactive Conference. After going through four and a half days of notes, I realized one common thread linked all the presentations to together: to do. Not wait. Not over analyze. Not ask for permission. Just do. Nike was on to something.
Many of the panelists and presenters started with just an idea. Contrary to popular belief, they didn’t have access to tremendous amounts of capital. Not all of them were trust-funded super geniuses that went to Harvard or MIT. In fact, many acted, looked, and spoke just like you and me. The key difference is that they were willing to take an idea, and do what it took to get there. When they got there, they hired and inspired those around themselves to continue to take it to the next level.
Before those who embarked on their idea spent any money, they took the time to create a fundamental vision of what they were going to do. They made sure to think through every dimension of the space they were planning to enter. They reached out to others for mentorship. They wanted to understand how, and in what context, the end user was going to take advantage of the product or service. They weren’t worried about the technology or the mechanics because those would come along later. They focused on how the product or service would reach the customer, and how it would improve the customer’s life. For some, it took years. For others, it was a eureka! moment.
When that vision was crystallized, there was no hesitation to begin development. Prototypes were developed, tested, measured, and scrapped until the kinks were worked out. Failures do happen to even the very best. In fact, quick failures were considered a blessing. The results could be meticulously dissected so that the successes would be repeated, and mistakes would not be repeated. As development continued, testing left the developers, went to family and friends, then focus groups, and then the general public. The testing never stopped. The products and services continued to evolve to better serve the needs of the end user.
As many watched their ideas come to fruition, they never lost sight of who they were. They didn’t conform to the culture common in their line of work. They didn’t water down their personality, their ideas, or even their language. They were honest with their partners, coworkers, in their presentations, and in their writings. They were honest with themselves. That honesty reflects in their company’s brand, and what they do.
This is just a small piece of what I’ve taken away from the conference. Sharing more thoughts is some of what I am going to do. Giving my clients what they deserve is what I am going to do. Being a more effective teammate is something I am going to do. Making time for those important to me is something I am going to do. I’m going to act on a plan, and continue to move forward.
What are you going to do? Are you going to laugh this off as some feel-good excrement, or are you going to think about it? Are you going to push aside your ideas? Are you going to play it safe? Are you going to ignore that feeling in your gut? Are you going to go through the motions? Are you going to quit? Are you going to take the easy route? Are you going to keep lying to yourself and those around you? Or, are you going to do more?
Like many of you, I have sat through multiple presentations and webinars regarding social media. While some may touch on it, and others may focus on it, the term “brand building” comes up quite frequently. While on the phone with a dealer recently, it occurred to me that a good portion of our peers may not quite understand brand building, and hence, have a hard time applying it in the real world. For social media, this is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.
Simply put, a brand is the identity of a business, product, or service. What comes to mind when you think of Coca-Cola? How about Nike? Now maybe Apple? I’ll bet somewhere in your mental imagery, classic white script across a red background came up, along with a swoosh, and a glowing white apple with bite taken out of it. These companies have done an extraordinary job of marketing a consistent brand image, and have created a culture surrounding their businesses. If you need more examples, just walk into your showrooms. You will see brand imagery everywhere.
What comes to mind when you think of your own dealership? (Note: this works best when you think of the positives.) Is it a dedicated, veteran sales staff? Is it consistent OEM recognition? Is it community involvement? What makes your store different from the one down the road? Hopefully, multiple things come to mind. Take those thoughts and jot them down.
Now think about how you want your customers to perceive your dealership. When they think about your store, what images do you want them to conjure up? How are they perceiving your identity on your website’s homepage? If you are drawing a blank, then it’s time to start working on that. Ultimately, it’s up to your business to craft that identity.
I think we are all well aware that Coke, Nike, and Apple have millions of dollars to commit to advertising agencies, not to mention the top-notch marketing talent they have available to them in-house. They are global brands competing on a global scale. Should you aspire to have their type of brand awareness? Absolutely! Do you need their millions of dollars to reach your market of 30,000 people? Absolutely not!
You have the advantage over national advertisers. You understand your own market better than they do. You understand how your closest consumers talk, think, and dress. If you are using your CRM properly, you may even have notes on where people go to church, where their kids attend school, and how much their fifth-wheel weighs. This information is available to you for free!
Speaking of free, those commercials you normally fast forward through are full of free inspiration. Try actually watching some commercials. What messages are you taking away? What tag lines are you hearing? Tune-in the next time you see commercials from mega-brands like IBM, Microsoft, GE, Red Bull, Starbucks, and UPS. Pay extra attention to what your OEMs are advertising and the images they are reinforcing. Take note of the fact they are not advertising “the largest inventory,” “rock-bottom prices,” or “(region’s) number one (whatever)…”
When you are ready to start coming up with brand ideas, talk to others. Bounce ideas off your spouse. Ask your friends. The wider the variety of people, the better. Then, sit down with your coworkers over some pizza and start brainstorming. Try to come up with one sentence that best describes your dealership (or department).
When you feel good about what your network has to say, have the same conversations with your most loyal customers. In fact, take a walk down to the service department and have that conversation with customers while they are having their maintenance performed. Find out if your brand identity is in line with a perceived value (be prepared for the worst). Compare notes. If the messages are the same, fire up the marketing machine. If they are not, you need to dedicate yourself and your teammates to bringing the ideas closer together. This is when you employ brand-building efforts (like social media, video marketing, and dare I say, a TV ad) to distill your message down for consumption by the masses.
Sounds like hard work, right? It can be, but it’s well worth it. Your customers will know what separates you from the competition. You will attract customers who are looking for an alternative to their local dealer. You will create a value proposition beyond price. Best of all, you and your teammates always have a guiding principle to fall back on in times of question. Trust me, you’ll forget about the hard work when you immediately start reaping the benefits. It’s “time to change everything,” “have a Coke and a smile,” and “just do it.”
There have been several great books that have been published about brand building or indirectly touch on the subject of branding. One that immediately comes to mind is the Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for turning Ordinary into Extraordinary, by Joseph Michelli. While it wasn’t written specifically about branding, it caused me to evaluate my business practices and offered some great perspective. It’s a short and compelling study so you should have no trouble finding the time read it. (I read it in one plane trip). If you have some books that have been inspirational to you, please share. Now that the gift-giving holidays have begun, we can add some books to our wish lists.
On our DealerKnows’ Virtual Dealer Training program, we help dealerships maximize the technology, solutions, and opportunities already in place. With this comes a considerable amount of negotiating with vendors to improve their products on behalf of our dealer clients. No system is perfect, despite what vendors say, and often it takes a fresh set of eyes to show a dealership what they are missing with that provider. Product enhancement requests flow when we take on a new client and our Virtual Training platform can help evolve your use of a system/site and can help the vendors get better as well. And there lies the rub.
With advancements changing in the online marketplace daily, vendors must realize their products must change as well…just as quickly. Dealers won’t wait around forever as their vendor clients continue to sit on their hands. So here is my challenge to every vendor:
I want a Vendor Scorecard. I believe vendors should create a scoring system that allows all of their dealers to see, review, and vote on what advancements their teams should put into action. Not support issues (though a Vendor Scorecard could be beneficial for this as well), but an idea exchange where people on the ground can tell the people in the high rises what their system NEEDS to be able to do. It could be a small password-protected community within your software that allows ALL dealers to post their product enhancement requests so that ALL other dealer clients can see. Make it available to your own loyal public. Each product enhancement request should be time-dated and stamped so we know just how long it takes the vendor to react. Not respond… react. Fix. Change. Develop.
Then, take it to the next step, and allow every dealer client to VOTE on which product enhancements they most desire to see active sooner rather than later. You will create your own weighted scale as to which improvements to focus on completing. If you so desire, consider giving those few dealers that utilize your system to its fullest, are your oldest clients, or represent you in the online communities a heavier VOTE than others.
The automotive resource site, DrivingSales, has taken one step by bringing Vendor Ratings into the forefront and asking the automotive retail professionals that peruse this site to vote on who and why they recommend the companies they’ve chosen. This has been a good way to help vendors gain exposure and allow dealer personnel to give feedback to their peers. When a vendor’s reputation is questioned on these sites, it is amazing how quickly they respond. They either scurry to cover up the negativity or do their due diligence to correct it before it damages their business.
The end goal here is to let your own community of clients that USE your product to IMPROVE your product. I think there is a progressive way to do this without risking a vendor’s reputation.
If you are a vendor reading this, please don’t hate me for saying it, but your product/solution/sites CAN improve. Not “will”, but “can”. You can enhance your offerings to dealers if you just listen closely to your current clients. Above and beyond negotiating with vendors on behalf of our clients and suggesting new technological opportunities, we help them get the most out of their current solutions and websites. When we look to improve a vendor’s offerings for our dealership clients, though, we see far too many no-brainer enhancements that still are not being implemented. When I request a change from a vendor or give them (free) advice on how to better their offerings, I hear the same responses constantly. “We are working on it.” “I’ll pass it along.” “That is scheduled to be in our next release of enhancements 6 months from now.” What else do I hear? “I don’t understand.” THAT is the problem. You aren’t using the product the same way an Internet Sales Manager or Sales Manager uses it so you have your blinders up to the real needs of your software.
Dealers are asking themselves daily: “Where the heck do all of my product requests go?” “How many times do I have to suggest an improvement for it to go overlooked?” “When will this feature become available or active?” “Is anyone listening to what I want?”
I see no better way to get a vendor’s attention than making product enhancement requests a centerpiece to their customer service initiatives. Customers will finally be able to track their relationship with the vendors and hold them accountable if need be. Make them time-stamped suggestions with enough of your constituents voting for it and there will be no way a dealer can have a deaf ear. It is time more vendors listen to their clients first instead of listening to their own random ideas.
As I said, this is a CHALLENGE. The first vendor who decides to make the direction of their technology a democracy by creating a similar Vendor Scorecard available for all of their dealers wins my approval and another blog post dedicated to their innovative ways. Fair enough?