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?

No comments:

Post a Comment