Article

Build An Electronic Brand On The Web

May 2007, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Rob Anderson - Also by this author

Everyone realizes the Internet holds the keys to our marketing future as auto retailers. The question is how best to harness it, in the here and now. It took radio 28 years to get to 50 million listeners. It took television 13 years to reach 50 million viewers. In the last five years alone, the Internet has reached 50 million users. That explosive growth makes for a very attractive playing field. Today, marketers must answer the most puzzling question that any marketer has had to answer in the past 25 years.  How do you best measure the effectiveness of Internet marketing?  When you funnel it down to the local advertising level, the question becomes even more complex.

With the unparalleled growth of the Internet, brand building is an even playing field for everyone. You have the ability to become the No. 1 Internet dealer in your market right now because the medium is still fresh. In 1992, 1-800-FLOWERS went on line as the first AOL merchant. A few years later in 1995, 1-800-FLOWERS created its own Web site and changed its name to 1-800-FLOWERS.COM. The stated goal was to generate half of its revenue from the Web by the end of that year. That goal was exceeded. This is a true transformation story and one of the best examples of harnessing the Web.

This strategy can be applied to the local level in terms of auto sales as well. However, like any other successful marketing initiative, it takes a serious commitment. Should every dealer change their name to joesmithford.com? Maybe not literally like 1-800-FLOWERS did back in 1995, but certainly from a marketing stand point Joe Smith Ford should have this attitude. Every spot, mail piece, newspaper ad and billboard should be branded with a dot-com.

Twenty-five percent of prospects would never pick up a phone to give us information, but they’ll gladly get online and provide whatever information we ask for. This is proof positive that the Internet is a powerful tool for gathering information. If you create top-of-mind awareness for your dot-com dealership brand, you will reap the rewards.   

The second part of brand recognition on the Web is content creation. Content driven marketing is what will build the brand on the Web. A unique selling proposition and offer will drive traffic. Last year, Pontiac ran ads that read, “Don’t take our word for it, Google Pontiac and see for yourself.” A unique co-branded Web effort with Google and a great vertically integrated marketing concept created an open door for dealers to run paid ads on Google touting their local Pontiac brand. But did any? It’s hard to say conclusively, but these are the types of opportunities dealers need to be on the lookout for.

These are content driven Web applications with firm unique selling propositions. This is rarely seen from upstream manufacturers, but in this case it happened and should have been capitalized upon. This is where Tier 1 meets Tier 3 in the local Web space. There is content creation by the manufacturer driving people to a specific brand, and local dealers need to capitalize on these marketing campaigns.     

The blog format is absolute magic because it’s regularly updated and extremely easy for search engines to consume. Blogging is 100 percent content driven and can enhance that dot-com name you’ve branded so well. Someone at your dealership will have to be dedicated to surfing the local auto enthusiast and consumer blogs.  You’ll be amazed at how many people are exchanging ideas about everything from street racing to the best mini-van to take the kids to soccer practice in. Google has an outstanding blog search and this is a great way to enrich your brand at the grassroots level. I encourage everyone to get in and start mixing it up a bit.

I’m simply scratching the surface, and some of you are probably already screaming, “Information overload!” Some of you may already use the Internet for marketing, but there are always new and better ways to continue to build your brand. Otherwise, this may sound like niche marketing to you. You might also be thinking, how is this really going to help me move more incremental units? Well, in the short term, it may not. However, in the long run your ability to gain brand recognition in this space will be the difference between life and death.

The important thing to keep in mind is timing. Right now, the time is right and the space really isn’t overcrowded. Could you imagine opening up your local newspaper on a Saturday or Sunday morning and seeing only one or two dealers in the car advertising section instead of fifty? That’s really what cyberspace is offering in its infancy. Though it’s young, it does have the eyeballs – 50 million plus.

My advice to you is to integrate your dot-com into your brand. Do you have to go the full 1-800-FLOWERS route, actually changing the name of your dealership on your signage and tax returns? Probably not, but I would advise taking that type of mentality and mind-set when approaching branding on the Web. Use all of your old world mediums to promote that dot-com brand every chance you get.

Vol 4, Issue 3

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