Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How much is too much direct mail?

I know it's shocking, someone in the direct mail business even mentioning there is such a thing as too much direct mail. I'm here to tell you it's true, there is such a thing. With the economy like it is a wider variety of dealers are looking to direct mail as an advertising tool. It is one of the few forms of advertising that is absolutely track-able, and it does a great job of creating some excitement. After a few successful events, it's easy to want to do mail every week or month and hope for the same results. Is that the right plan for you and your dealership? Really, only you and your direct mail consultant can determine that, but here are some general guidelines.
  • Look at your market-Get a list count from your mail company & a map. Map out all the areas you typically hit, and find out how many people are in each area. Think about if there are any other areas you think you could draw from. Today there are many small towns losing franchise dealers--those people will have to go somewhere.
  • Split it up-Our Owner loves analogies. His favorite in this case is to think about your market as a dartboard with the bulls eye being your dealership. Using this "Bulls Eye" marketing method it makes sense that the spots closest to the center are worth more to you and those farther out less. Instead of just going after the low hanging fruit, closest to your store, over and over, think of dividing the market into pie slices instead. This way you should be able to expect similar traffic results on each campaign because you get a good mix of your market with every "slice."
  • Make a Schedule-This seems to be the hardest part. With every type of mailer (database, service, used car events, new car, etc.) you should never hit the same household with the same type of message more than every 3 months in most cases. If you like sending scratch off mailers out 20,000 pieces a month, there should be at least 60,000 people in the market you defined. On the flip side if you only send out 10,000 pieces once a quarter, yet there are 30,000 potential homes in your market you are missing out. The caveat to this is however, is the dealers that see Direct Mail can also be used for name recognition marketing, much like some of your more general TV and Radio spots. If this is the schedule you are putting together than you can certainly hit the same person more than once a quarter.

Once you've looked at your market, split it up into sections and made a schedule choosing zip codes becomes automated. In most cases your mail provider can probably just keep track of it, and you won't have to do anything! The best part is, you can rest easy knowing you've already carefully chosen & strategized about the people you are targeting.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Finding out what the dealership experience is like for the consumer

My colleague, Josh, just sent me this site. It's a place where customers can go and leave a rating & comments about their experiences with a specific dealership. I thought it tied in really nicely with the post from yesterday about creating a total experience for the customer. Some dealerships have lots of feedback on here, others don't, but it's worth taking a look at. We all know more and more consumers are going online for reviews of not only products & features, but also customer service before they start shopping. To all my clients I'm out Friday, but Katy will be here. I hope everyone has big weekends, and also has some time to spend with the family!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Creating the dealership experience for the customer

First off, I don't work in a dealership, and I never have. I'm not going to claim to be the "dealership experience" diva, or expert. I do talk to a lot of dealers on a daily basis and have picked up a few "best practices" over the years that seem to set apart the very successful dealers from the ones that struggle. This is specifically in regards to crowd control & atmosphere at event sales. With the disclaimer portion out of the way--let's get started...
Let's assume you are doing a big weekend event. You've spent lots of money on the marketing, have your sales guys ready and you're just waiting for the traffic to start pouring in! What does the consumer go through visiting your dealership?
Sit back, and pretend for a few minutes that you are the person that got the mailer at home today. Step 1-Getting there. You're ready to go to ABC Motors, you got a special invitation after all. You've never been there before though. Luckily, the dealer had the foresight to put a map on the piece to easily direct you there. You follow the map and pull up at ABC Motors. You know you are there because there are balloons, banners, hang tags, sky busters and a big red blow up ape out front, it's clear something special is going on this weekend at the dealership. You feel even a little proud that you were invited to the party, unlike those that just happen to drive by and see something going on. Step 2-Initial contact. This is where it could get scary for you. You've heard from friends that not all automotive dealers are there to help you, you're nervous one (or more) of those people might attack before you remove your seat belt. Instead you get out safely and head for the front door of the dealership being greeted warmly on your way in. A professionally dressed guy approaches you to ask a few questions and see what brought you in. He is genuinely excited to see you have an invitation and invites you to register for the special event. Step 3-What did I win? The salesperson leads you back to a designated area. It's clean, and there are several tables set up with writing utensils and information about the event. He let's you know before finding out if you've won something you have to register. This happens either on a special form, or on the MarketVision kiosk. Throughout the process he asks you a few questions about your current vehicle. He even mentions he might be able to get you into a newer vehicle for a lower payment. You consider this as your prize is revealed. Step 4-I won! You won a $5 shopping card to Wal-Mart. You shop there regularly so it will be a nice bonus to go toward groceries this week. You thank the salesperson for all his help with your gift. As you are leaving he wants to introduce you to the Sales Manger, the Sales Manager just likes to make sure the experience of everyone in the dealership is a pleasant one. He asks you a few questions and then mentions your trade in...maybe he could appraise it? You think, well out of curiosity, it'd be great to know what it's worth when you are ready to trade. 20 minutes later you are on a test drive with the salesperson while the manager gets your car appraised back at the dealership. Obviously, this is a dream scenario-John Q. Public responds to your mailer for the gift, and walks out with a new vehicle. It's the scenario that plays out all over the country every day though. Not every "gift seeker" turns in a buyer, but some dealers have more success in converting than others. How does the experience at your dealership compare to the one you went through on your pretend "visit" above? How do you control the experience to make sure every person on the lot is treated with respect & taken through the same steps? Send in a "mystery shopper" -your mom, a friend, someone that won't be recognized. Ask for their honest feedback on how their experience was. Find ways to standardize the experience, across events, sales reps and ups. Our MarketVision is helping a lot of dealers standardize the actual registration process, and the Ultimate Prep Packs help get the lot looking good, but these are only a part of the entire dealership experience. The most important part comes from your sales staff and the image your dealership presents.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Selecting zip codes for your automotive direct mail

Here's a quick story, does it sound familiar? You've been working with your mail consultant for the past week, looking at different themes and pieces. You've finally picked one and gone over changes, proofed it and added your current incentives. You've looked over paperwork and then, Bam!, right before deadline your realized you haven't even looked at the zip code list that was sent over 2 days ago. Quickly you circle a few zips that you know by heart are "your market" and then highlight a few more to get up to the quantity you need. They get faxed back to your mail company and you don't give them a second thought. This happens so much more often tha!n not. Many dealers spend so much more time on the message than who it's being sent to. In my experience, they should be of equal importance. So how do you quickly & effectively pick zip codes?
  1. Get out a map. You may know all the zips in a 30 mile radius, but if you don't use a map as you select zips. Most mail companies have access to zip code maps that can come with your counts, just request one or get out a state map or atlas. Look at where the traffic flows, think about if people would be traveling in your direction commuting to work, or if there is an easy route from their area to your dealership. By just using some common sense it'll help you decide on which zip you should hit out of the two or three that are a certain distance away from the dealership.
  2. Do not automatically "feather." Think about the specific areas you want to hit. Mail is much more easily tracked down if you keep it within several zip codes and not spread out over a 30 mile radius. This also helps you determine what zip codes actually pull traffic for you and which do not. It can make it harder to use more than one mail company or switch companies and not hit the same people you just sent your last mailer to as well.
  3. Know which zips work best for you. Really stay on your team to use the traffic log, or utilize your MarketVision reports to find out what zips work well, and what don't. Next time you mail swap out some that aren't working well for a new market-you won't know for sure if it'll work until you give it a shot.
  4. Come up with a plan-and stick to it. Once you have a good idea of what zips work well for you, come up with a solid plan of how you will break up your market over the course of a quarter or year. Know how many people are in all the zips you like and be sure to spread the mail around. Many dealers treat their marked like a pie and "slice" the zips up, using one slice for each sale. Others will take parts of each zip code for each sale, being sure not to hit the same people in back to back campaigns. Some will even divide the list into distance "zones" hitting the closest first, the next band out second and the furthest away last (while expecting results to be less when further out). Creating your own zip code strategy would be a good project to work with your direct mail consultant on. They will know how the zip code lists work at their respective companies and consult you on what works best for their system as well as yours.

I hope these brief points help. Many of you take the time to really look at your market and list to be sure you're mail is going where it should be. Others don't always see the value in taking the time to do this. If you work with me, Katy and I are always happy to sit down and have a good conversation on where you should be hitting and where we might stay away from.

Happy Monday!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Art of Layering your Campaign

Sorry for the hiatus the past few days. Things are been extremely busy with the drop in gas prices & the market starting to even out a little. Hopefully these are the first few signs of things starting to level and then improve. Today I just wanted to touch on a new trend in the direct mail world. I'm calling it "Layering." Direct mail is no longer just a sheet of paper with some hooks and the possibility of winning a prize--at least the mail that is working. The industry is growing rapidly trying to keep up with an ever changing consumer. Automotive direct mail has now been a marketing option for so long that many of the same old ideas are getting very worn out. The answer to this lack of results, for us at least, as been layering. So, just how do you layer?
  • First, you need to start with a proven mail concept. A product, piece or theme that is doing well in the market right now. This is really something you should discuss with your direct mail consultant to see what's been doing well in recent weeks.
  • Next, you need to add a way of tracking not only traffic, but also your ROI. Let's be real honest and serious about this, as we all know how up logs & registration cards can sometimes be misleading (at best). We use our MarketVision kiosks to accomplish this at Tri-Auto. They collect the data on every person that comes in with the mailer, you can then take the final MarketVision report and compare it to the cars sold during that time to get a real ROI result.
  • Thirdly, there needs to be a more sophisticated eye catcher. By sophisticated I do not mean a picture of the owner wearing a monocle and smoking jacket...I only mean something more than a loud, screaming title & the promise of the best deals ever. There are several options for this. Keys are doing well right now in this way, as are pieces with the person's name written all over them, you can even look into a different way of showing the "winning number" if you use one. Right now personal websites are also making a big difference in response. Really anything that stands out to make your mailer the one consumer takes a second look at.
  • Finally, attention needs to be paid to the details. Many dealers consider the actual prize on a piece an after thought. This is an integral part of your mailer, and with as much money as you'll be investing in a campaign like this don't skimp out at the end. Think about what will really drive interest & traffic into your store. Consider the price (I'm talking a max of $5 a gift), but also consider that everyone has seen the vacation, umbrella & BBQ set for the past five years. Premiums are always changing, be sure you are aware of what is new to the market so you can use it first!

This is the basic premise of layering. If this was a book I'd also include adding a technological component to the piece, considering lists, dates & timing, and a multitude of other things.

Layering does mean a higher price, but it doesn't mean you have to increase your budget! These new ideas in marketing are increasing the response rates at percentages that mean you may only need 1/2 or 1/3 of the mail you used to. With times like they are, it's important every penny counts, and that's why layering is now the way to go.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Database List Management

I was referred to Dan Kennedy's website by a client yesterday (thanks Steve!). I checked it out and was very intrigued. He has some really great info in an easy to read format. Definitely one to bookmark. One of his articles: http://www.dankennedy.com/index.php/articles/id/141 talks about really taking a good look at the list of who you are sending to before just shooting 50,000 pieces of mail out to them. In previous posts we've talked about segmenting saturation lists into carrier routes for extra detail and some demographic information. The ideas in this article can also carry into your database mailers. If you aren't hitting your database with a special event 4 times a year you are missing the boat. Seriously. Yes your sales guys should definitely drop personal notes to their customers on a somewhat regular basis, but the dealership as a whole should also be taking advantage of the very best list at your disposal. After all these people know you, know where you are located, and have bought something from you before--even if it's service related! Dan mentions a list he saw that was filled with duplicates and incorrect information.
With 30% of the population on the move at any one time, and the ways info is typically entered about 25%-35% of your database is complete GARBAGE.
If you are sending a mailer to it, it is essential to have it "scrubbed." Database scrubbing is a process your mail house should be able to perform. We essentially access your ADP, Reynolds & Reynolds, or whatever system you use to make a copy of your database. It is then run through National Change of Address, and scanned for duplicates. You'd be shocked how many times John Smith might show up as J. Smith, Jon Smith, & Jane Smith (John's wife)! You don't need to be paying for 4 mailers to go to the same freaking guy. The other thing to note is, this process is done on a copy of your database. That means if you did a mailer with someone three months ago the database you still have is not clean. Be sure to either use the same company and request that they use the list from last sale, or have it scrubbed again. Ideally have it scrubbed every 3 months (if it's being used as a mailing list). So check out Dan's site, think back to the last time you sent a mailer out to your database, and plan your next one accordingly.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Marketing to TODAY's customer

Who is today's customer to the automotive market? When I say "today" that's what I mean. Who is shopping for vehicles in October? Obviously the market has been on an extreme landslide since last week, and everyone I talked to assumes that means no one is buying cars. But they are, the only difference is--their reasons have CHANGED. Has your marketing changed to target these "new" buyers? Old buyers There are still people with leases running out, kids turning 16, needing a winter vehicle and having vehicles break down. These are not the people that direct marketing stirs to action. If they get a piece from you during this time that increases the likelihood they'll shop at your dealership instead of others, but it's not going to stimulate them to start the hunt. New buyers So who is the new buyer? People are concerned about their retirements and nest eggs, and just plain how much they are spending these days. Gas seems to have become less of the issue and the general budget at home has taken center stage. So how can the automotive industry help during these struggling times? You can help by getting them into a newer, more efficient vehicle to decrease maintenance. You could hook them up with a more gas friendly car than what they currently have in the driveway.
But really, let's be honest it comes down to a monthly payment. You could help them cut their monthly payments in HALF or more.
Two, three, four years ago for many people a $500-$700 car payment was something that made sense, now all of a sudden it looks crazy. These are the people you can help, and they aren't just the "bottom feeders" these are people with good credit, good jobs, and possibly even some cash down. These are the people that are reasonable & responsible that are realizing a BMW isn't as important as some cash in the bank for security. At Tri-Auto we're very focused on keeping up with the times and marketing to TODAY's customer. We just came out with our "Bail Out" piece that focuses on how you are helping "bail out Main Street while the government bails out Wall Street." If you want to check it out let me know. Otherwise, just be sure you are changing your marketing as quickly as the times are--it IS possible to "stir the market" with the RIGHT message.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Direct Mail Diva has launched!

Hello everyone- Today Tri-Auto sent out an email promoting the blog. This is the first time it's really been out there for the world to see. I'd love to hear your comments and responses on the past entries and also what challenges you are having with your direct mail programs. Here's your chance for some free consulting and ideas! I really appreciate you stopping by. I update 3-4 times a week so please come back often as the topics are typically very timely to what's going on in the market. Have a great day!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Resources, resources, everywhere!

Happy Monday! Now that the government has decided to move forward with the bailout, there seems to be less unrest among the general public. Dealers I've been talking to seem to be happy there is some kind of conclusion to the nightmare that began a couple of weeks ago, and regardless of how they feel about it politically, they're just hoping this is the move needed to get the credit situation under control. Obviously, things won't change overnight, but it seems to be a step in the right direction. Lately due to the economic situation and the effect it's had on me personally, and also the automotive industry I've become a nut for information. I'm on and off of CNN, MSN and the Drudge Report all day, along with the Automotive News website. I want to know what's going on and how it's going to change tomorrow. I've also found lots of industry experts use the Internet in different ways to share FREE knowledge! Here are just a few I've found helpful, and just by using search engines you can find so much more! If you're planning a new marketing campaign, sales training technique, looking for more creative lenders, looking to kick start customer relations, etc. etc....why not check hear what the experts have to say before jumping right in. The best part is, you can do some research without spending a dime! Direct Mail Expert podcast (one of my colleagues): http://web.me.com/larryacraig/Marketvision/Podcast/Podcast.html Sales & sales training podcast & blog by Caskey One: http://caskeyone.com/blog/category/the-advanced-selling-podcast/ Automotive Marketing Advice - I love this one: http://www.automarketingadvice.com/blog These are just a few I check out frequently. If there are others you like, please leave them as a comment, I'd love to check them out.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

How much are ups costing you?

A colleague got an email today from a competitor. This competitor was touting 11x17 tri-fold self mailers for "cheap." The price really wasn't all that cheap but you do get something free with purchase! Boy does that sound familiar :) With the market as it is it's important that the money you are spending on marketing is actually bringing in results. Some dealers are religious about collecting data about what brought people into the dealership, others go by a gut feel. The gut can be a dangerous thing. Through our recent MarketVision data we can prove that the 11x17 tri-fold is, simply, the worst direct mail product on the market (an average sale yields a .046% response)...yet so many dealers call asking for it because it's cheap. But is it? How do you find out?
  • First, you have to know the true traffic count of the sale. Many dealers use the registration cards that most companies send out to do this, make sure you note if they came in from the mailer on the card though. Not every up through the door is from the mailer. If you or the sales guys struggle doing this with every person that comes in you can also utilize MarketVision to get a precise count.
  • Second, do some basic math. If you need help with this--do not call me. Even with a calculator I still manage to mess up the most simple math problem! Figure out how much each up cost you on the sale. (Total sale price divided by number of ups). Once you have that number you'll know how much the mailer actually cost you.
In some markets the 11x17 tri-folds can still be effective. These are typically very rural markets with little to no aggressive direct mail marketing. In these markets the tri-fold is still a great value! In markets that have seen this product since Pat Gunning was a child, it may be time to start looking at the more sophisticated products. You'll only know what's best for you when you do the math for your store. Happy calculating!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

New Month-Fresh Start

After getting the Automotive News email yesterday, as I'm sure many of you did too, I was disheartened to hear that September looks to be the worst month in 10 years for the automotive industry. It got me down, especially with thoughts of the winter months looming in the near future. I went home, after closing out the month and belabored the point with Andy (my husband to be) for 20 minutes before he told me he was done listening. But today is October 1. It's no longer September and it is no longer one of the worst months in years. It's a fresh start and hopefully a fresh outlook. Here's some surprising news, last week when the country was in turmoil, with the news anchors squawking about failing banks and possibly $700 billion bail out plans...dealers were selling cars. Monday morning I got four or five emails from colleagues about GREAT sales! I'm not talking about 1% traffic and a 5% closing ratio, I'm talking about close to 3% foot traffic and two sales over $200,000 gross profit in a weekend. This makes me so excited about October! This week, try to make that month end process at short as possible and start looking into what you're doing next. There are some very neat, new products out in the direct mail world right now. New premiums, pieces, and themes. Think about adding/replacing an extra zip code in your list this month--maybe your competitor down the road is "pulling in his reigns" making it a perfect opportunity for you to snatch up some extra business. Get in contact with your media consultants and start brainstorming for the future! Now is the time to differentiate yourselves from the rest of your market. It's true, the gut reaction in times like these is to just stop spending...but that may just be what everyone else is doing. Kids are still turning 16, "old reliables" are still breaking down, and the "Jones's" are still driving nicer cars than the neighbors--people still need cars. Make sure your dealership is the one they go to first. So there's my "rah-rah" for the month. A little positive thinking and a good attitude goes a long way, I know I'm not the first to say it, but we all forget it from time to time. PS: To get your brain going, here are the top 5 direct mail ideas from Tri Auto right now (as reported by our MarketVision sales data): http://www.triauto.com/products/index.php