Screen Shot 2017-09-16 at 3.04.30 PM

The post-digital dealership

“All prices are internet prices only.”


“Internet price may include all generally available rebates.”

Or, maybe not.  We haven’t decided.

“The dealer advertised price may not reflect specific dealer offers.”

That last one, I get. The others, I don’t understand, and I work in this line of business.

One can shop for cars and research pricing online, but, in all but rare instances, one needs to see how specific offers and incentives apply to one’s situation on a certain date, and you probably need to come into my place of business to process this transaction. Yes, in some cases, you can click a “buy it now” button and arrange payment and shipment.  But let’s talk about what happens most of the time.

What we can do for you may depend upon the specific date we do it and more terms and conditions too numerous to mention.

That last bit would probably look less snappy as a retail disclaimer on a web site, but it would be an improvement. In the post-digital world, you’re not innovative if you’re online. You’re just like everybody else online. We’re all online. Here are a few actual screen shots I’ve collected (none from dealerships I’ve worked for, so I may not know what I am writing about firsthand); I cannot recollect which dealerships they are, or which disclaimers may or may not be currently in use, depending on which winds of regulation and enforcement are blowing and which competitors may be applying competitive pressures in a given regional market:

Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 11.37.28 PM

Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 11.31.41 PM

Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 11.24.52 PM

The dealership world is chock full of sales trainers, marketing consultants, digital ad agencies and other advice-givers loosely termed “vendors.”  The automakers, or “OEMs,” an abbreviation for Original Equipment Manufacturers, likewise, devote organization and resources to advise dealerships on using the tools of data mining and digital marketing. Vendors and OEMs tell us dealers much the same: shoppers today want a fast, friendly, clear and transparent shopping experience that works seamlessly from the web site to the showroom. From millennial hotshots to old car dogs, to a person, their advice is proven to work: customers want discount pricing online. So, do it.

And, then, let the games begin.


I just added that last part.  No one, professionally, advises us to “let the games begin.” That said, the worksheet above, or variations of it in use at many dealerships, may be why the prices you see on the internet are internet prices only.


Screen Shot 2017-09-16 at 3.04.30 PM

Screen Shot 2017-04-21 at 11.01.00 AM

Metrics 2.0

Automotive Engagement Conference, Tysons Corner, Fairfax, VA, April 20, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 8.27.25 PM

As automotive conferences go, this was nicely packed into only one day and much easier to travel to. And, with the understanding that most sessions are 50% business pitches, this one was also a business pitch, for a product that does appear to fill a legitimate need.
VistaDash — an analytics platform designed for the single-point dealership or the multipoint dealer group, understanding that data is coming from multiple OEMs and varying website/digital marketing vendor platforms.
In other words, my dealership has two web sites run by two competing vendors, more than one digital marketing service company and multiple third-party and classified inventory lead sources.  We also have multiple phone call tracking vendors. Our parent company manages multiple dealerships that attempt to similarly measure and compare results via multiple digital marketing services. 
Whether it’s to manage one store, or to manage multiple stores served by our vendors, VistaDash provides one portal to see compiled digital marketing performance, and VistaDash advocates for dealerships to make use of uniform quality, not quantity, metrics that we need to know, to hold ourselves accountable as well as our vendors.
The promise is that this becomes the tool to identify and eliminate (the best of your ability) waste when it comes to digital marketing spending.
Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 8.32.32 PM
These are the engagement metrics:
1.) Cost per Engagement — specific actions, from photos viewed to buttons clicked to forms submitted, etc., are considered “engagements,” but are weighted in order of importance 
2.) Engagements per Session — identifying low-funnel in-market shoppers
3.) Photo Engagement Rate — did the shopper just land on the VDP, or did the shopper dig into the photo set?
4.) Zero Engagements per Page Rate – what percentage of vists were low engagement?
5.) Button Click Rate — measure it, a/b test it, improve it
6.) Form Completion Rate — too many forms suffer from high bail-out rates — but measures beat anecdotes, we can all agree — and if you can measure it, you can also improve it
All of which means that the following metrics are not useful for comparisons, performance gauges or any other kind of keeping score:
Bounce rate
Time on site
Pages per session
# of visitors, sessions or any other traffic “counts”
Random notes:
“Website” is not a lead source.  It is your dealership.  How a shopper got to the website, that’s your source.
Hiring the right people and hiring enough people so that equity mining is done right is the most critical hiring activity in the sales department.
Screen Shot 2017-04-21 at 11.01.00 AM
On average, shoppers leave your website with 14 seconds of submitting a lead form.  Fast Ring, Call Drip and other lead-to-phone tools are must-haves.
Does a web site need a tune-up?  Look at Google page speed tools for recommended fixes — any page scoring less than 90 can get a ranking penalty.
On the subject of mobile, web site traffic can be upwards of 65% mobile — customers landing on the top of a search results page can quickly bail if the page is an endless scroll without a relevant vehicle of interest — simple, optimized for mobile, landing pages work better.
Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 8.37.59 PM
Simple pages with one call to action are the norm everywhere but automotive — automotive needs to follow the example of other consumer goods sold online — keeping it simple is the key to success when it comes to digital.
Call-to-action buttons need active language.  “Unlock” vs. “get,” “best price” vs. “e-price,” “instant” vs. “request a …”
But only one button, not nine.  SRPs often don’t have call-to-action buttons at all — one is also better than none.
Lotlinx and similar direct-to-VDP marketing works because they successfully find the in-market buyer, not because they land anyone they can find on a VDP.  VDPs and sales have a correlation, not a causation.
To put that into other words, Lotlinx helps you find the shopper while helping the shopper find your merchandise. Both may be needle-in-the-haystack.  Conversely, your inventory may be not rare at all, easily found everywhere — in that case, the value of Lotlinx is bringing the shopper to your site before that shopper lands on your competitors’ pages.
Definition of terms: “third party “ leads are not VIN-specific, and may be inaccurate when it comes to model year, color, trim, etc. Make and model are all you know.  They are landing on a price site.  “Classified” leads are third-party sites that host your VIN-specific inventory.
You respond to ‘third party” leads differently than classified leads or leads from your dealership site.  You ask specific questions to learn more about a shoppers vehicle(s) of interest.  Ask specific questions when leaving voice mail, too.
Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 8.33.39 PM
CRM processes — good to build inspections into the managers tasks, inspecting duties are more important than mechanically clicking fully written templates — is the sales rep writing clear notes?  Are we answering the questions asked?  Are we asking relevant questions, too? Does the status and process match appropriately to the contact history?
Measuring the wrong things is pervasive when it comes to Adwords — phone calls are 90% service calls when only sales campaigns are running.  Sales campaigns are phone books for customers who already know they want to call us. 40% of ad-to-site clicks and 90% of click-to-calls.
Compared to Adwords campaigns, and Autotrader bring in much higher percentages of in-market vehicle shoppers vs. parts and service shoppers. Don’t write them off yet.
Every vendor has a differing definition of a “conversion.” Few are validated, relative to sales/purchase activity.

This cat kills with bullet points


Annnndd… just finished it (a surprising amount of best practices were shared that run counter to the normal way many dealers do digital business):

You don't need a photographic memory like mine.  These nuggets stick.

Total Recall

Joe Webb Kate Frost

Preaching authenticity to me is like preaching to the choir.

Viewing “Your Dealership is Not a Stock Photo – Joe Webb & Kate Frost,” an entertainingly mnemonic preview of an awesome upcoming session at Digital Dealer 21 (MGM Grand, Las Vegas, August 8-10, 2016), reminds me of the half-dozen or so takeaways so unforgettable, you don’t need a photographic memory like mine to keep them top-of-mind.  These nuggets stick:

“You’re someone running a multi-million-dollar business, not somebody trying to get away with some shit.” — Joe Webb, Dealer Think Tank, 2014.

“Eating an apple at 11:00 a.m. regulates blood sugar and boosts energy, helping you past the 2:00 p.m. slump that most people encounter (where they usually reach for a coffee or a soda).” — Troy Spring, page 56, Turbo Charge Your Life, 2013.

“Don’t be doing the $10-per-hour jobs.  Unless, of course, you want to be earning $10-per-hour.” Tracy Myers, every Automotive Mastermind session I attended, probably every single one.

“I’m a giver, not a caregiver.” Renee Stuart, Automotive Mastermind, January, 2015

“Everything changed for me when I discovered the law of reciprocity.” Amir Amirrezvani, Digital Summit Mountain View, 2012


photo courtesy of DealerRefresh

2016-01-17 14.05.03

Hal and his friend, Bud

Although we never met, I give Hal Riney full credit for getting me out of an ad agency and into the car business.

In 1989-90, I was learning the ad business as an audio producer and copywriter for a Harrisburg-based agency when the trade magazines noted that Hal Riney and Partners were picked to launch the new Saturn brand. His challenge was estimable, to tell the story of why an American car company could be different and build a small car people actually wanted.

In the eighties, Hal Riney had firmly established his agency as master storytellers, in evocative campaigns for Gallo, Perrier, the reelection of Ronald Reagan (“Morning in America,” “Bear in the Woods”) and many more blue-chip clients. Best of all, he had just what was Saturn was looking for: no automotive experience.

I liked everything I saw and heard about Saturn and its marketing. When the local dealership was under construction in Harrisburg, I checked it out for myself and it seemed to me it was all that. Real, no-pressure, no traditional automotive anything.

Riney’s warm, sincere narration spoke volumes about the product he pitched, and it’s important to note that he personally wrote most of what he voiced for Saturn Corp and so many others. Modest and confident in equal measure, underneath it all, the message of Saturn, as spoken by Hal, was direct: this is our last chance to save the American auto industry, and there’s one way to do it right.

Visually, Hal Riney and Partners’ message permeated the experience of working for the brand or its retailers, shopping for a car or owning one. The reality was more complicated, but everyone acted as if Saturn was created from the proverbial clean slate.

2016-01-17 14.03.28



2016-01-17 14.13.44


2016-01-17 13.59.53


2016-01-17 14.05.03

When the new Saturn of Harrisburg was ready to open, the radio commercials gave another dimension to Saturn’s (and Riney’s) authenticity with the singuarly unpretentious voice of its non-spokesperson “Bud.”

These radio spots had no music beds, no sound effects, no mellifluous announcing.  Just a fact-based message from a plain-spoken guy, who wanted you to know that there was a new brand in town, called Saturn, and if you were going to have a brand, you ought to have a spokesperson — “Bud” was reluctantly offering that he could be that spokesperson if you wanted one, not that you needed one.

The voice belonged to Maxwell “Bud” Arnold, himself an advertising giant in San Francisco where Hal Riney and Partners made their home.

From his obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle, published online August 28, 2013:

Maxwell ‘Bud’ Arnold, adman extraordinaire, dies
By Joe Garofoli

Maxwell “Bud” Arnold was a different kind of advertising executive – a professionally trained writer equally comfortable creating campaigns for luxury brands like Domaine Chandon as he was crafting socially conscious campaigns opposing the Vietnam War or supporting Democrat John F. Kennedy for president or Republican Pete McCloskey for Congress…

He exuded an idealism that was born in his love for his country and expressed through a writer’s love of words and a social activist’s call for change. He was an engaging presence, whether he was sharing a glass of fine wine at his beloved French Club in San Francisco or creating goofy stories and cartoons for his grandchildren.

Mr. Arnold was born Feb. 18, 1919, in San Francisco, but grew up in Los Angeles and Minnesota. In 1942, he volunteered for the Navy, serving in North Africa and the Atlantic during World War II.

After the war, he returned to Stanford University where he studied under writer Wallace Stegner, who later became a lifelong friend. Mr. Arnold published short stories in Harper’s magazine and Stegner’s “Stanford Short Stories.”

By the early 1950s he had gravitated to advertising, beginning his career at Guild, Bascom and Bonfigli, a San Francisco firm. He became an early expert in the rapidly changing field of political advertising, becoming the firm’s principal scriptwriter for its handling of Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign. His storyboards and some of the groundbreaking ads reside in the Stanford archives.

In 1970, Mr. Arnold opened his own firm, Maxwell Arnold Agency, announcing in its mission statement that it would devote 20 percent of its resources to fighting war, racism and poverty.

His Palo Alto Online obituary further elaborated on his distinguished life and work:

One of the original Mad Men, “Bud” Arnold began his half-century-long career in the early 1950s, joining San Francisco’s Guild, Bascom and Bonfigli as a copywriter and eventually becoming a vice president and creative director. The West Coast agency helped lead the move away from traditional ads solemnly praising the product, and Arnold’s work was especially noted for its irreverent wit, clever story lines, and striking visuals. Arnold also became known as an expert in the growing field of political advertising and headed the creative team that produced GB&B?s groundbreaking ads for John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign. The enormous impact these had on future political commercials was perhaps the most singular achievement of his long career. His papers on the campaign can be accessed at the Stanford University library.

In 1965, GB&B merged with Madison Avenue’s Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, and Mr. Arnold became vice president and creative director in charge of DFS’s West Coast operations. In 1970 he left DFS to open the Maxwell Arnold Agency, with a mission statement dedicating 20 percent of the agency’s time, talent, and resources to fighting war, racism, waste, and poverty. His new agency’s pro bono productions included two of the most famous anti-Vietnam War ads, “Our President was Angry, So the Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi was Destroyed” (print) and “Mother Bombs” (television). He helped beat Big Oil with his ads for California’s Proposition 20, the Coastal Zone Preservation Act, and did pro bono work for Ralph Nader’s consumer action movement and Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers, among many others. His efforts for social justice earned him a lifetime achievement award from the NAACP.

He also ran campaigns for progressive candidates for national and California state offices, notably U.S. Representative Pete McCloskey, in McCloskey’s original bid for Congress in 1967 — he beat Shirley Temple Black in an upset — and his presidential primary challenge of Richard Nixon in 1972. In search of a voice-over appropriate to the gritty antiwar, liberal Republican, he decided to skip the professional actors and use his own. His gravelly, Midwestern-inflected tones proved so compelling that soon he was signed up for other agencies’ ads, becoming the voice for Bank of the West and Saturn, among others. For several years Macy’s broadcast his reading of “The Night Before Christmas” at their animal adoption displays.

I did meet Bud — in 1999, as the sales manager at Saturn of Richmond, I hired him to reprise his role as the get-right-to-the-point spokesperson for the Used Cars from Saturn branded used car center that we opened.

Somewhere, packed carefully, are the spots he recorded for us.  I’d love to find those cassettes and hear his voice again.

Bud Arnold 920x920

(photo credit: Arnold family,




Frank Discussion #23

Attention and Design

I first saw Matthew Crawford speak before a small group assembled to hear his re-examination of skilled handiwork after channel surfing landed me on CSPAN/BookTV — his 2009 thought-provoking book, Shop Class as Soulcraft, is as riveting as his public speaking. That he operated a high-end motorcycle repair shop near me in Richmond, Virginia, was no point of reference. (Or for that matter, if he is still there). In his most recent book’s sleeve bio, the publisher notes, “Matthew B. Crawford is a senior fellow at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and a fabricator of components for custom motorcycles.”

The capsule bio goes on to mention, “His bestselling book (Shopcraft as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, translated into nine languages, has prompted a wide rethinking of education and labor policies in the United States and Europe, leading the London Sunday Times to call him ‘one of the most influential thinkers of our time.’ ”

Lest you think it’s a dry, academic read, the page above, from this year’s The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction should put any such worries to rest.

The world beyond your head

If “disruption” is the overused buzz-word of 2015, let “distraction” be that for 2016. Indeed, the likely overuse of smartphone integration (in vehicles) worried me long before the overuse of self-driving technology ever occured to me.

Matthew B. Crawford is your favorite author, whether you know it or not.  Mine, too.

Shop class as soulcraft

SCI Marketview

idealists (continued)

SCI Marketview


“Idealists.” I return to Dischord founder and Fugazi member Ian MacKaye, in a short passage I dig, in The Idealist, Glen E. Friedman’s enduring monograph chock-filled with images of, and essays by, a rogues gallery of principled and uncompromising icons. “Sometimes we may fool ourselves,” he writes, “but at least we’re not in the business of fooling other people.”

Last month, I dug a live talk by Glen E. Friedman, moderated by Alec MacKaye (Untouchables, Faith) at the D.C. Public Library. Which is partially why I’m so jazzed up.



Corollary: If you are in the business of fooling others, you’re probably just fooling yourself.


Not to equate art with work, but at the Driving Sales Executive Summit 2015, I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation of Alan H. Bird, President and Chief Executive Leader of SCI Marketview, operators of General Motors’ lead-distribution engine, on a study of email responses to online inquiries in my industry (retail automotive): statistical proof that the success of replies had more to do with the quality of their content than the speed of response. In a field where everything is measurable, it wasn’t too long ago that one took as gospel that speed was everything, and “stopping the clock” was the benchmark of all things awesome. Yes, some individual thought leaders saw through such simplistic notions early on.  Joe Webb understood that the emperor had no clothes.

Find more videos like this on Automotive Digital Marketing ProCom

But back in the fall of 2009, SCI Marketview themselves built the clock that we were all hellbound to stop.  From October, 2009, through April, 2010, I slept in four-hours-or-less shifts each and every night, so that no less than 95% of leads were responded to in less than five hours, and all leads were responded to in an average of less than two hours.  Yes, 24/7, days nights holidays and weekends.  A great deal of money was at stake. Eventually, that work was allowed to be outsourced, and soon after, when it became obvious that stopping the clock was simply bought and paid for, the time measurements no longer had big money riding on it. So, what else is state of the art, 2015, in the world of digital marketing? Healthy concepts, like emotional intelligence, trust, and employee retention. And common sense, I think.  

Those reading this, who may not know the car business from the inside, could be most surprised.  Check out my full meeting notes.