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 dot.com days; “Content Is King.”
But what is content?
ALL THE SAME, JUST DIFFERENT
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!
TWO WHO DO
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