Aggressive Marketing in 2009 May Be the Key to Survival

by Victoria Fierson

Fluctuating market conditions have made it difficult for dealers to determine the best marketing strategies. Some are aggressively marketing their brands in an effort to boost sales, while others are taking a more conservative approach and scaling back.

For the upcoming year however, more creative marketing strategies may be a way for dealers to offset their losses. Kurt O’Donnell, general manager, Herb Chambers Saab located in Boston, Mass., says difficult economic times are a great opportunity to promote customer-driven products. His dealership is currently offering customers who purchase 2008 or 2009 Saab models a pair of skis that retail for more than $1,000.

“Promotional products are a great idea, but it’s important that dealers use products that are easily traceable.” — Will Brown, Fidelis Marketing Inc.

“In tough times it is always beneficial to use a vehicle-tovehicle strategy,” says O’Donnell. “That means anything that gives customers added incentive, like buying a car and getting free skis, is usually very successful.”

O’Donnell says effective marketing strategies are tailored to a specific region. “In the Northeast, skiing is very popular,” he says. “This was something I thought customers would really respond to. Just for agreeing to go on a test drive we give customers two free lift tickets.”

Solomon Ski Company approached Saab dealerships around the New England area with the promotional idea. Most of the dealers opted to participate and fund the ski promotion. “Dealers have “co-op” dollars, which are funds allocated for brand marketing,” says O’Donnell. “The manufacturer matches how much of our co-op money we give and we felt this would be a great promotion to offer.”

O’Donnell says in his opinion, promotional products are the most effective way to boost sales. He also started doing a radio spot in December. “During the holiday season people spend a lot of time in their cars so it’s a great time to market, but you need good bait,” he says. For 2009 he anticipates his marketing efforts will be geared towards gas assistance or lower interest rates.

“It really depends on the market conditions, but I think our focus will be on finding a leasing program,” says O’Donnell. “GMAC doesn’t offer leasing programs, so we’ll be looking for a bank that does.”

Dealers are likely to only fund marketing strategies that they feel produce the best results, according to Clarke Hammond, HR Director and Trainer, The Bass Group, an automotive marketing group based in Waco, Texas.

“We’ve been seeing dealers both scaling back and doing everything possible to sell cars,” says Hammond. “It’s really a question of are you going to live out of faith or fear?” Some dealers haven’t changed their marketing at all. For Rick McGill, general manager, Foss Toyota located in Casper, Wy., his dealership’s marketing strategies are winding down because of the season, not the economy.

“We’re offering the Toyota-thon now, which is the same thing we have been doing for the last 10 years,” says McGill. “Toyota is cut and dry; they come up with a marketing strategy and stick to it, but dealers can do individual marketing if they want to.” McGill says during December his marketing efforts usually slow down because people are spending money on gifts, not cars. “We’re doing the same thing we have always done,” he says. “There is no need to scale back any further; business hasn’t dropped off that much.”

For aggressive dealers now is a great opportunity to capture market share according to Will Brown, development director, Fidelis Marketing Inc., an automotive marketing company based in Folsom, Calif.

Brown says scale-backs and aggressive marketing even each other out. “Promotional products are a great idea, but it’s important that dealers use products that are easily traceable,” he says. “You want to know what exactly is working and what’s not.”

Brown says marketing strategies for 2009 should focus on avenues that will allow dealers to trace their marketing successes. “Direct marketing strategies that focus on dealer-specific brands and vehicles lines will be important in the upcoming year,” he says.

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