Sunday, October 25, 2009


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.

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