December 2009, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive
Marketing it Right
This month celebrates my twentieth anniversary in special finance. Throughout the years, the economic landscape has changed several times, as have the names of the finance companies that have made special finance a fixture in most successful dealerships.
Marketing has run the gamut as well. Different strokes, as they say. Some areas still thrive on direct mail; others rely on purchased leads. Others are now committed, as we are, to Internet marketing. The one thing that has never changed is that most dealers still don't get what’s special when it comes to special finance. Special finance is not Special “Lot Full of Neato Cars,” special “Price of $8,995.00,” or special “2005 Malibu Sale.” Special finance departments that are successful market and sell financing.
It sounds too simple, but so many dealers still have problems marketing for SF clients and even more problems converting F&I turndowns into SF car deals. For years, whether it was as an SF consultant or an SF director at a dealership, I have preached to dealer principals that in order to succeed, you must market finance. “You're Approved, GUARANTEED! Over 50 Vehicles to Choose From!” is one way to draw SF traffic. We prefer to approach it from the angle of, “Life is Sweeter with Good Credit Than Without, GUARANTEED!”
Our “blind” credit Web sites, geared to garner credit applications from the “surfing” public, fill cyberspace (thus creating your organic SEO) with repeated mentions of phrases like, “Repair Your Bad Credit!” or “Bad Things Happen To Good People, We Can Help!” Don't get caught in the trap of saying these customers don't care about that sort of stuff and that they just want wheels. Wrong. They do care, at least a little bit, about their credit future. You are right to assume they care most about getting reliable transportation, but we are talking about marketing here.
Reality and the perception of reality are two different things. When a credit-challenged customer reads, “Guaranteed Credit Approval!” they are thinking, “Yeah, right. That's what the last nine dealers said. Those slicksters are going to tell me I need $5,000 down again.” When the same customer reads, “Buy Back Your Good Name!” they react differently. Take your inventory out of the equation. SF is all about financing. Separate it from your dealership. It is as different from your mainstream sales and finance departments as your service department or body shop is.
SF marketing should be treated independently from your other ads. Get away from showing cars and prices. The vehicle they purchase is truly an ancillary item. They are being given reliable transportation, while they are buying their good name and credit back. Is the customer really sophisticated enough to understand that? Sometimes not but it doesn't matter. It sounds like a good and responsible thing to believe in. Very few people see themselves as people who have broken their word with others or with companies they sign contracts with. They prefer to blame circumstances, or other people, for their problems rather than take responsibility themselves.
Marketing is all about making people feel good about themselves and what they are doing. Buying back your good name is a feel-good thought and phrase. When you sell finance instead of vehicles, you are also selling the dreams of gaining self-respect, respect from others, the ability to buy what you want when you want it, etc. The best thing about marketing such things is all of those dreams can be realized. Even people who know little or nothing about credit know that the fastest way to improve bad credit is by obtaining new credit.
Substantial new credit, like an auto loan, goes a long way toward accomplishing those aforementioned dreams. From a sales point of view, think of how many different avenues you open when you start selling the future, instead of just a vehicle. I know what your thinking, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak!” OK, why not? SF customers, whether they are real victims of circumstances or just plain irresponsible people, share one thing: they are tired of hearing “No.” If you have the expertise to say “Yes,” I promise things like price, payment or interest rate will never come up.
Market the financing in SF and, especially in these economically stressed times; you will see your sales increase, guaranteed!
That's how it is in the trenches.