Thursday, December 24, 2009


Vincent:    How about a dog?
Jules:        I don't eat dog either.
Vincent:    Yeah, but do you consider a dog to be a filthy animal?
Jules:        I wouldn't go so far as to call a dog filthy, but they're definitely dirty. But a dog's got personality. Personality goes a long way. *


If you immerse yourself  in the discussion topics and blogs on the popular Internet car dealer sites (Dealer Refresh, ADM, Driving Sales, Kain Idea Exchange, etc.) you might soon believe that the solution to all your puzzles and frustrations lies in acquiring more site apps, buying more vendor services, and devoting your all to mastering the conundrum of social media sites.


I think our collective obsession with outside solutions comes about because, as an industry (and as individuals) we forget to remember that, in order to communicate with people, one must first have a message.  Of course, if Marshall McLuhan is to be believed, the media is the message.  And since our media is websites, web apps, emails and IMs, it's understandable that we should fall into believing that the more websites, web apps, email and IM products we buy the more successful we will be at communicating.

But this is not always so.  What most of us end up with is a well intended but, ultimately, clumsy collection of sites, apps and services that, in the end, does not add up to a very compelling message.  Yes, the media is the message, but we overlook the fact that mediums by definition must have content to convey.  And that takes us right back to that popular declaration from the days; “Content Is King.”

But what is content?

There are core content components required of every dealership's Internet presence. (Your website must feature your inventory, for example. Map and directions to the store is another). These things are imperative and all dealer sites have them. But the true content solution is not the physical features described above.  These items are not really content, they are simply store fixtures.  True content is your differentiating message.

Your differentiating message emanates from two sources.  The first is your business model: what do you do that other dealers in your area do not do?  (If anything).  The second is where media comes into play: how are you presenting and expressing your store's story to the public?  Put another way, 1). you've gotta have a story to tell, and then 2). you've gotta tell it in a memorable way.

Example: my own employer prides itself on being an atypical car dealership.  We have a no-pressure straight-up type of store that treats customers with intelligence and respect.  According to company lore, that’s what we do that makes our business different from the other same-brand franchises in our area.  This is a key component of our differentiating business model.

But does our store tell its differentiating story to prospective and current customers via our websites, emails and IMs?  No!  Nothing in our online presence conveys that we are a no pressure straight-up type of store that treats customers with intelligence and respect.  This is a huge disconnect and a huge opportunity lost.  We have three websites and all three have store fixtures aplenty, but no actual content, i.e. there is no differentiating message.  Our Internet Sales success derives from the fact that we have a large inventory and an experienced, hard working sales staff.  Imagine how good things could be if we also delivered our differentiating message online!

Here's two courageous examples of dealers who 1). have a differentiating business model, and 2). tell that story to the public in a unique and engaging way.

Check out this site: Suzuki of Wichita.

Are these guys having fun?  Do we like them?  Do we want to go to their store and be with them?  Do we want to buy a car from them?  I know I do!  (BTW - they are now the highest volume new Suzuki dealership in the USA – and they are only 2 years old.  So it must be working, eh?)

Now, put on your eye safety goggles and try this one: Ling's Cars.

Is this lady fearless or what?  Have you ever seen a dealership site as outrageous as this?  Is it ugly?  I guess so!  Graphic design professionals on both sides of the pond are racing to be the one who condemns Ling's site the loudest – but they totally miss the point.  Ling’s business model is unlike any other in Europe or the US and her website is unlike any other on the planet.  Oh yeah, and her business is booming.

We are not all meant to be wild and crazy like the dealers above.  But we do all have something to say and the opportunity to say it.  The goal is not to be like somebody/everybody else, the goal is to be like nobody else.  Just forget everything you know or have been told about how a car dealer should look, act, and behave on the Internet and ask yourself, “How would I want my store’s information presented if it was being presented to me?”  If the answer that pops into your head scares you because it doesn’t look, act or feel like anything you have ever seen others do before, do it now!  You might be touched with genius.

As Jules said, personality goes a long way.

* © 1994 Miramax Pictures

Monday, December 7, 2009


I have been avidly following an ongoing discussion thread on ADM entitled “NEED HELP - Templates for the first 8 Days - No Contact.” Wow! Get out the boxing gloves! It began over a month ago when a dealer, feeling that his email templates were not up to the task, asked ADM members to share their own successful templates with him. The topic and the responses it has generated highlight the wide range of individual takes on this touchy subject, proving once again that, while few in the industry question the correct process for showroom Meet/Greet/Qualify/Presentation/Close, nobody in our biz is in agreement on how to do the same with Internet sales leads.

Some of the thread’s respondents, many of them ISMs trying to helpful, others vendors trying to drum up a little business by offering a free taste of their products and/or consulting services, have put forth examples of the templates used by their stores or businesses. Putting myself in the mindset of a curious but uninformed Internet customer I read them all and, sadly, came away feeling only bored, patronized, insulted or ignored.

Whatever happened to K.I.S.S.?

I recently mystery shopped my own store and six area VW competitors. Every responding dealer (including my own employer) used an automated template-based email of some kind as their 1st response, and some continued to use them for subsequent attempts to contact me. Now, I don’t have a problem with that, and I can’t believe customers do either. In real life I am an online shopper too sometimes, and as long as the info I am getting back from the seller is relevant to my curiosity, I don’t care if the store uses robo-templates or not. Do you?

But, with the exception of one or two responses the template-based replies I received during my mystery shop were terrible, IMHO. So were many of the personally composed replies, frankly.

I realize I have to be able to back up my potentially arrogant and presumptuous conclusions above. So, with your permission, let’s analyze the content of what I believe is a fairly typical automated template-based 1st response email. For this exercise let’s use the 1st response template preferred by my own employer. To my mind it is no more nor less awful than any other 1st response template I’ve run across lately, so why not?

Here’s the text:



Thank you for your request on the #DESIRED1_YEAR# #DESIRED1_MAKE# #DESIRED1_MODEL#. I am pleased that you have considered Acme Volkswagen to assist you and your family with your present or future automotive needs.

I want to make sure that your request is processed properly and that your internet experience is an enjoyable one.

It will be my pleasure to assist you in purchasing your new vehicle. Please be patient while specific vehicle details are gathered and a search for the vehicle to match your request is made.

If you would like to see our monthly specials or in stock vehicles, please visit our website at

Acme Volkswagen offers all clients a comprehensive program of amenities and privileges which include:
- Complimentary Shuttle Transportation
- Complimentary Car Washes during Business Hours
- Client Lounges with Wireless Internet Access Hi-Definition Flat Screen TV’s
- Complimentary Beverages
- Online Service Scheduling and Convenient Saturday Hours

Looking forward to speaking with you and thank you for contacting Acme Volkswagen.

Proud member of the Acme Auto Group.




OK, what is wrong with this letter? Oh, man, where to begin? Let’s examine it line by line:


Thank you for your request on the #DESIRED1_YEAR# #DESIRED1_MAKE# #DESIRED1_MODEL#.

– We haven’t gotten through the first sentence and already the word “on” doesn’t feel right. That’s not the only thing wrong, however, as poor sentence construction makes the whole line seem clumsy and awkward. Maybe it should say “Thank you for your recent (desired year/make/model vehicle) inquiry.” Isn’t that faster, cleaner and more to the point?

I am pleased that you have considered Acme Volkswagen to assist you and your family with your present or future automotive needs.

– Egad, this is an overly long and passive sentence; it has no energy at all. How ‘bout this instead: “Thank you for considering Acme Volkswagen for your automotive needs.” I just condensed 23 words into 11 and gave the sentence more immediacy (”Pleased” takes place in the past. “Thank you” takes place in the present). There is more sales energy in this version.

I want to make sure that your request is processed properly and that your internet experience is an enjoyable one.

– Um, OK, that’s nice, but, who cares? Can we please get past the introductory remarks? I’m getting pretty bored, buddy. Keep it moving. 86 this paragraph.

It will be my pleasure to assist you in purchasing your new vehicle.

– Isn’t this basically a repeat of what was said in the sentence above? Why is this here? Cut it.

Please be patient while specific vehicle details are gathered and a search for the vehicle to match your request is made.

– “Please be patient…”! What? So at this early stage of the relationship you are already telling me to go sit down and wait? This is the Internet, man. I want instant answers!

- “…while specific vehicle details are gathered and a search for the vehicle to match your request is made.” You mean, like, you need some big Univac computer to collect my specific vehicle details (didn’t I just give you those in my inquiry????) and next you need to comb the earth to find a car like the one I requested? Aren’t you a VW dealership? Isn’t that why I chose you? Aren’t you supposed to have these things in stock?

Can we try this instead? “I will reply promptly with the exact information you requested.” That simple. Instead of asking the prospect to be patient, I told him/her that I will be replying with lightning speed and providing him/her the very thing he/she requested. I also condensed 21 words into 10. The new sentence is quicker, cleaner and far more energetic.

If you would like to see our monthly specials or in stock vehicles, please visit our website at

- Huh? Now you are telling me to go somewhere else? Who said anything about monthly specials? I’m still waiting for a quote! Now you’ve gone off topic and changed the subject of the letter! 86 this paragraph.

Acme Volkswagen offers all clients a comprehensive program of amenities and privileges which include:
- Complimentary Shuttle Transportation
- Complimentary Car Washes during Business Hours
- Client Lounges with Wireless Internet Access & Hi-Definition Flat Screen TV’s
- Complimentary Beverages
- Online Service Scheduling and Convenient Saturday Hours

- OK, this is nice and all, but, again, you’ve changed the subject. One letter = one topic. The purpose of this letter is not to sell me on the dealership. (That comes later) I am still waiting for a quote – and I’m beginning to suspect that I’m never going to see it. 86 again.

Looking forward to speaking with you and thank you for contacting Acme Volkswagen.

– Not only is this an incomplete sentence, but it also tries to say two things in one sentence. Remember: one sentence = one thought. Suggest instead: “Thank you again for contacting Acme VW. I look forward to replying soon with the info you requested.” Drive home again that you are the salesperson who is going to give the prospect what he/she asked for.

Proud member of the Acme Auto Group.

– Um, sure, I guess. Whatever. It’s another incomplete sentence but at this point I’m too weary to care.




All we need and want to do with the 1st automated response letter is tell the customer
1) I got your email inquiry
2) I’m on the case
3) I’ll be back soon with the goods.

That’s it! If you want to say more say it in another email. I’ll repeat again: one email = one topic.

So, by taking the original 1st response letter and doing some major surgery, a better 1st response template email might read something like this:




Thank you for your recent #DESIRED1_YEAR# #DESIRED1_MAKE# #DESIRED1_MODEL# inquiry. I am pleased to be of service.

I will return promptly with the exact information you requested.

Thank you for considering Acme VW for your automotive needs. I look forward to communicating with you again soon.



Short, sweet, and to the point.

When I was starting out in Internet car sales I wrote and employed some email templates that, frankly, embarrass me today. My 1st reply auto-responder thanked them for their inquiry, extolled the virtues of the product, extolled the virtues of the dealership, gave fail proof directions to the store, included a vehicle price quote PLUS an explanation of how I arrived at that price. And then my contact info. I just didn’t want to leave anything out ‘cause I knew this might be my one and only chance of making an impression on the prospect. But it was too much; the email printed out at a page and a half long single spaced in Arial 10 pt. Yeow. Not cool, not cool.

Take it from one reformed word abuser; the next time you sit down to write a few words, write a few words. And the fewer you write, the better.

Your customers will love you for it.

Monday, November 23, 2009


The title of this piece comes from a quote attributed to the screenwriter William Goldman.  He was referring to the fact that, although the motion picture industry has been in existence for more than 90 years, no one in the movie business can accurately anticipate the public's taste or predict how well a picture will do in the theaters.  In the end, a picture's success or failure is to a great degree just luck.

Is that not true of all retail?  How many of us have held a big sale to which nobody came?  Our found ourselves in a momentary sales surge for which there was no ready explanation?

I think the reason dealership websites are such a conundrum, and therefore the reason we dealers devote great amounts of money to miracle diet aids, herbal healing balms, organic peyote powders, and 100% natural Phytoplankton tonics (I'm sorry, I meant SEO management vendors, 3rd party lead providers, talking website avatars and industry best practices seminars) is because, at core, we don't understand what we want our websites to do for us.  Or what they can do for us.  Or how to get them to do it.  And if that is not bad enough, deep down we fear that, even if we did know these answers, a lot of a website's success is just luck.

Nevertheless, I have been on the path of discovery these past couple of weeks and, while I believe there is no single prescription for building successful dealership websites, I believe one can isolate a formula that greatly improves one's chances for getting there. To each his own; however, my version is this:

1). Engaging Look & Feel (the subtext)
2). + Smart Functionality/Features (the delivery)
3). + Business Differentiators (why you stand out)
=   Successful Dealer Website!

Number 1 is the scariest component because you start with a blank page.  If the medium is the message, then the text and images you put on the screen are delivering an irreversible message about you and your store. Whether it is the message you think is being sent, or want to be sent, is a whole 'nuther matter.

Number 2 is where you display your Internet merchandizing savvy.  What does your site do that others don't?  Can you harness the technology of the web to deliver information in a way that creates a refreshingly original online shopping experience?

Number 3 is where you display your retail creativity.  Who are you?  How are you different from other stores?  Can you show it?  Say it?

For the sake of argument I think there are two distinct car shopping website types.

The first site type will allow you to buy online.  Right now.  I call that a "True eCommerce" website.  eBay Motors is the most obvious example of that type of site: you see a car, you want it, you buy it. Online.  The site will take your money.

Most car shopping sites, however, cannot and will not take your money, and are instead designed with a three-step goal in mind:
1). Cause Internet prospects to generate email inquiries (or better yet, place phone calls)
2). So the sales staff can get these prospects on the phone and make appointments
3). So that once in the store the sales staff can convert them into sales.

I call that a "Git 'Em In" website.  It doesn't want to sell you a car (not right now, anyway).  It wants you to come to the store.  As such, it is no different in intent than a newspaper ad, television commercial, radio spot or direct mail piece. Except that, being a website, it presents your inventory in something close to real time, plus it contains a few additional interactive features.

Few of us can or want to operate true eCommerce sites.  Most of us own “Git ‘Em In” sites that make us unhappy because they only advertise our goods and fail to make that important next step; creating commitment.

In her comment to my last essay Donna Ransdell (perhaps unwittingly) said it all when she made this declaration; "My favorite website?  - they provide a great informative shopping experience that converts."

Converts.  There's the key word. converts you into a person who just spent money, right then and there.  (And if you don’t or can’t, you’ve likely parked some item on your Wish List so you can easily come back to it and buy it later).  We all envy the or (or whatever) model and wish we could create websites that contain a strong call to action.  But the retail car industry is not yet ready for true ecommerce car dealer websites.  So how can a car dealer website convert?

I believe it can.

Since Donna was so kind to compliment my last essay I went to her website to see what it's all about. Donna's store is Patty Peck Honda.  To my mind this website is better than most car dealer sites I've seen:
1)  Bright, engaging color scheme.
2)  Readily available live chat.
3)  Easy to find inventory.
4)  Photos of the actual vehicles (new and used).
5)  Online credit app.
6)  An “About Us” page with photos of the staff and a clearly stated store mission.
7)  An online service scheduler.
8)  And more.

The site has a somewhat “homemade” look to it but, in her small market (Jackson, Mississippi) that may play OK.  I came away from my visit to Donna’s site feeling like I had found a friendly car dealer who will be folksy and pleasant to do business with.  And I’m sure in person they are all that.

Unfortunately, I did not feel a commitment to do business with them.  What was missing? Why did I not feel the call to action after visiting their site?

Let’s try another ADM member’s site:  Joe Pistell's Sun Auto Warehouse. This store is also located in a smaller market (Central New York State) and looks a bit homemade.  But, again, let's assume that that plays fine in their market area.

SAW's site has every feature seen on the Patty Peck Honda site except a robust "About Us" page. But it has some other things that put it way ahead of the pack IMHO.
9)   Video walk-arounds of select vehicles.
10) An Amazon-style “Wish List” (they call it My Garage) where prospects can “park” a car they are eyeing and come back to it later.
11) A “My Account” feature so prospects can register their name, address, phone # and email address, on the site.  (Now SAW has their permission to be contacted.  And SAW didn’t pay a 3rd party vendor to get it).
12) And my favorite: the ability for shoppers to sort vehicles by down payment + estimated payment.  What a great idea!  Is there anything that makes people feel that a coveted car is within their grasp better than that?

Then, all of the above is pushed over the top by SAW's corporate customer service policies;
13) Lifetime Car Washes,
14) Lifetime Inspections, and a
15) Free Birthday Oil Change.
Does it get any better?

After visiting I wanted to do business with Sun Auto Warehouse.  Today.  They clearly stood out against all the other dealers and dealer websites that I encountered on my Internet research this particular Sunday afternoon.

Look back at the 3 component website success formula described earlier:
1). Engaging Look & Feel
2). + Smart Functionality/Features
3). + Business Differentiators
= Successful Dealer Website!

Did the Sun Auto Warehouse site deliver on all three?  I think it did.  The bright and cheerful look and feel of the site, combined with the exceptionally friendly navigation and vehicle search features, combined with their unique after-the-sale customer service programs made a customer out of me.  As a result of my online visit to their site I converted into a person who has made a commitment to do business with Sun Auto Warehouse.

Does that mean you must agree?  Of course not. You might be reading this article right now and thinking "That guy's an ass. He doesn't know what he's talking about."

You are probably right.  Remember: Nobody Knows Anything.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


It seems to me that, as a community of Internet Retail Car Sales professionals, we devote a lot of discussion to the success or failure of the online software tools and services that we employ.   However, very little is said about the success or failure of our dealer websites to successfully merchandize our products and services.

Yikes, was that a dry opening paragraph or what?  OK, let me phrase it another way.  I want to talk about the first thing prospective customers encounter when they seek to know us: the front end of our websites. The architecture, navigation, text content and graphic design. The part that does the selling.

I'll be blunt; I think (most) car dealer websites suck.

When confronted with something new, original, uncharted and undefined (and does that not describe the Internet ten year ago?) early adopters revel in it, stand in awe of it, and then let their imaginations soar as they discover its unexplored opportunities and potential.  Following this brief initial development period a second wave of people come onto the scene: those who find ways to harness this new and wonderful thing by putting it into identifiable boxes, categorizing it, defining it and setting recognizable parameters for it. This is a necessary second step for growth, unfortunately, it also has the unwanted aftereffect of pretty much snuffing out the newness and originality of the thing. Overnight, what was once amazing and new and unlimited becomes charted, prescribed and defined.  Conformity sets in.

I don't know when or where the playbook was written, but sometime in the past 10 years, the industry collectively agreed that car dealer websites must pretty much follow a look-alike and behave-alike formula. Why?  Who says a car dealer website has to look like A Car Dealer Website?

Any discussion of dealer websites' merchandising capabilities has to start with a discussion of the sites' pure functionality.  The medium may be the message, but this medium must also deliver the retail goods.

By now pretty much everyone agrees that the mechanical features and qualities below are can't-live-without items for a car dealer website.
1). Easy to find merchandise.
2). Photos of the actual merchandise for sale (not renderings)
3). Features and specifications of each car, including any options/upgrades particular to that vehicle.
4). Prominently displayed dealership department phone number(s) and email addresses.
5). Easy to find dealership hours and directions
6). Some type of posted price for each vehicle (MSRP, "Suggested price," "Internet price", whatever)

What else makes for a good dealer website?  IMHO the following additional items are also essential:
7). "Wish List" (car locator) feature
8). Live chat (for sales and service)
9). Online credit application
10). A panel or panels synched to the manufacturer's current month incentive programs. (New car dealers only, obviously).
11). Ability for customers to make service appointments online (and not just appointments for 2 weeks or more in the future - duh)
12). A robust "About Us" page.  (This one item could be an entire essay in itself.  See related Dealer Refresh story here:

Now that the agreed upon mechanical functions are in place we must turn our sights to the merchandizing aspects of the site. When people go to your site for the first time you've probably got 1, maybe 2 seconds at most to impact them with that all-important first impression.  What emotional messages does the site deliver?  What does it "say" about your store exclusive of the words on the page?  What kind of car shopping experience is your site promising to deliver when it first greets their eyes?

In that regard I'm going to add what I feel is the all-important 13th item to the above list:
13). Bright, friendly and attractive color scheme and graphics.

Hey, I never said this piece wasn't subjective.

Let's go shopping online.  What are you in the mood for?  Clothing?  Jewelry?  Household items?  Electronics?  Discounted merchandise?  OK, let's visit some sites. Try these for starters:,,,,,,,,

That's nine major retailers' websites.  What one thing did all these retail sites have in common? (Other than items 1 - 6 above).  Anybody?  OK, here's the answer: each site's page background color is white!  Nice, clean, bright, cheerful, optimistic, easy-on-the-eyes white.

Now let's go car shopping:, (my employer),, (sorry, Alex),
to name but five selected at random.

What one thing did all these retail sites have in common?  You got it: they are dark. Moribund. Somber. Some are almost funereal. Really gets you in an upbeat mood to go buy a car, eh?

Granted, not all dealership websites are dark and dreary like the examples above.  And some of the sites above have commendable layout and functionality.  And I know some of the younger guys in my office claim to prefer sites with dark color schemes.  (The Goth or heavy metal band influence?)  But it remains a basic principle of color psychology that extremely dark blues, grays and blacks suggest power, authority, humorlessness and conservatism.  While bright colors (whites and pastels) suggest happiness, optimism and relaxation.

When polled, most Americans admit that they love cars but dread going into a dealership to buy one.  As an industry we have a public image comparable to that of personal injury attorneys, bill collectors and Bernie Madoff cohorts.  So why do we publish dark, authoritative websites when our goal should be to cheerfully entice people into our stores?  I'm flummoxed.

My personal theory is that most dealership websites (those not provided or forced upon the dealer by the manufacturer) look the way they do because they personally please the eye of the dealership principles. Little thought is given to what message (apparent and subliminal, surface and subtext) the site delivers and whether the general public will respond to it!

Obviously, simply painting a website white or in a cheerful pastel does not alone make it a great site. But once you agree that upbeat, positive color schemes are essential to creating a great dealership website first impression, then we can examine how graphics, text and ease of navigation combine with color to deliver the total website message.

To be continued....

Sunday, October 25, 2009


How do you tell someone that their child is ugly? Is it possible to tell a parent that his/her baby is homely? And even if you do, will they hear it?

The baby above is a metaphor for something that I believe vexes the Internet-based retail car business.  It certainly does me. It is this: as an industry (retail automobile sales) that suffers from a somewhat low regard by the populi, a regard that we all want to see improve, it behooves us to put on our most professional public face. And now that the quality of a dealership's web presence has become as or more important than its physical presence for establishing that professional face, it especially behooves dealers to have pro-quality websites and issue pro-quality bulk emails. And yet, as an industry (but on the local level), we remain stubbornly committed to publishing bad websites and issuing embarrassingly bad bulk emails.

The tools to do right are there; the vendors have done a pretty good job of creating widely available template-based websites and bulk email programs. So I don't think we can blame the technology any longer.

So how do we get today's Internet Directors, eCommerce Managers and/or General Managers to understand that the amateur-quality content they put on their websites and in their mass marketing emails is not only ugly, it also makes their dealerships look unprofessional in the eyes of the very customers their stores are trying to reach most; well qualified buyers?

Right away I want to say that I don’t mean to sound arrogant, and I realize that there is a great danger of that with this piece, so I will attempt to measure my words carefully. My interest in this subject is both professional and personal. It began a couple years ago over the Christmas holidays. Our extended family was at a restaurant having dinner when my dealership sent an email blast to its prospect database promoting an end-of-year new car sale. My then twenty one year old son was a recipient of this blast as I had earlier used his personal email address for a test and kept it in the system. He pulled out his iPhone, read the email, and in front of everyone at the table turned to me and said, "Geez, dad. Can't the people you work for write or spell? Isn't your dealership embarrassed, sending out emails that look like this?" Ouch. That ruined my dinner. But he was right. The layout looked very homemade, and the text featured poor sentence construction and grammatical errors. I was embarrassed.

Was the incident atypical of our industry? I think not. I no longer work at that store, but I receive copies of emails from my current store plus competitors stores whom I have mystery shopped. And a clear majority of the pieces I get suffer from the same amateur assembly.

Why does our industry, one that sells the 2nd-to-most-expensive big ticket retail product on the market, freely tolerate websites and email marketing  pieces of such less-than-professional quality that you have to turn to spam to find something that looks worse? Is it because we don't care?  Of course not. Everyone's intentions are the best; nobody sends out a sloppy piece or uploads a crappy web page when they could send out a good one. And since it generally takes just as many hours to make a bad piece as it does to make a good one we know that time constraints cannot be blamed.

I have to think there can be only two answers:
1). For budget reasons many dealers must compromise and do their stuff in-house, using whatever talent is available on staff.  Unfortunately, oftentimes the "talent" isn't very talented.
2). Some dealership managers simply can't tell the difference between a good piece and a bad piece. So they think the stuff they're putting out is just fine.

I empathize with both 1). and 2). above. They are business and human realities. The problem is, customers don't give a flip about our compromises  and shortcomings. They just know that they expect professionalism. And, the more sophisticated customers think our unsophisticated efforts are reason enough to continue their belief that all car sales people are rubes.

Just because you or I can't tell the difference between good (effective) online communication and bad (ineffective) online communication does not mean customers can't also. They can, believe me.  

So how do we get our industry to understand this?  It's like having a balding uncle with a bad comb-over. Everyone in the family knows it looks ridiculous - except him.  How do you help him to see it the way others see it?


Car dealers are legendary for their ability to produce unbelievably bad TV commercials; why should we be shocked when their Internet content is no better?  But why does this phenomena - seemingly unique to our industry - persist?  I think it's pretty easy to explain.

One of the great things about the car business is that anybody can get into it. Walk through enough dealership doors and eventually you will get hired. What you make of it after that is up to you. It’s rock n’ roll, baby!  Anybody can play: from the street smart person with only a high school diploma and a lot of aspiration, all the way up to the guy with a Masters in Asian Studies and no hope for a teaching position in his field; anyone who is willing to do what it takes can
be a success (in theory anyway) in the car business.

Let's say we have a talented, hardworking person who ends up in showroom sales where he/she becomes a top salesperson. Then one day this talented, hardworking person gets asked to join (or run) the dealership’s nascent Internet Sales Department. Now you have a person who may not be
particularly skilled at writing and/or who has no special eye for graphic design, and he/she is suddenly working in or running a department that relies upon the written word and graphic design to brand itself and connect with its customer audience. It happens every day.

My personal hunch is that the eternally optimistic and confident car guy mentality, the one that makes the car biz so attractive and so intoxicating to the people who rise to the top, is the same
mentality that also puts people unqualified to be in charge of websites and bulk emails in charge of those very things. 

Car sales superstars often see themselves as great communicators.  And people who see themselves as great communicators often make the mistake of assuming that if they are great communicating in one venue, then they must be great communicating in other venues as well.  But that ain't often the case.

The smart stage actor understands that film acting is a very different art.  The smart classroom instructor understands that putting his/her course into book form is a task unlike live teaching.  The reason is simple; the first one (stage, classroom) is communicating via live performance,
while the second one (film, book) is communicating via recorded media.

Showroom sales is live performance.  Internet sales is recorded media. The two are not the same.  And he who excels in one is not always going to excel in the other.

For more than 100 years people have been witnessing news and entertainment on movie screens, and for over 50 years now Americans have had television screens in their homes. Then, in just the past 10 -15 years, the computer monitor has become ubiquitous. And with the recent release of
high quality flat screen monitors an explosion of text and images has taken place; today you can’t go into a bar, bus terminal, grocery store, airport, classroom, hotel lobby, doctor’s office, restaurant, bedroom, office or dealership lobby without encountering a friggin’ flat screen monitor! The result of this 24/7 bombardment of electronic text and images is this: people today are exposed to so much high visual quality electronic media that they now expect professional looking content on their screens. Any screens.

To successfully communicate with today's online car shoppers we must accept that, like it or not, once you put text and/or images onto a screen you are in the professional electronic communications business. And your content had better be of professional quality or the audience
is going to think you are a loser. Or worse yet, a car salesman.

However, honestly, I think this problem will take care of itself over time. As we advance through the next 5 to 10 years more young Internet-generation media-savvy people will enter the retail car business and the old "We'll Beat Any Deal! Just come on down!" guys will fade away. We're already seeing these young people do a great job of social networking their businesses on Facebook and elsewhere.

Me? I guess I'll just accept the fact that I'll shudder every time my store sends out a bulk mailer, and take comfort in the knowledge that this too shall pass.

So, is your baby ugly?  Absolutely.  But even ugly babies can grow up to be handsome adults someday.