Archive for the ‘Marketing Matters’ Category

Santander expands its national accounts sales team

012815 IL Santander expands its national accounts sales team

Santander’s National Account Managers (from left to right) Stephanie Bradford, Christie Eastwood, Becca Neal Tharp and Shannon Celestine.


At Santander Consumer USA (SCUSA), the new year also brings about new initiatives to help our dealers build their businesses. One of the company’s new developments is the expansion of the national accounts sales team.

The team is expanding from two regional sales reps to four, with an emphasis on customer service. The additions will give SCUSA the opportunity to focus on providing a better, more personalized experience for our national account holders.

The National Account Managers will serve as liaisons between SCUSA and the dealers’ corporate offices. By managing these relationships, National Account Managers are hoping to give our national partners the feedback and collaborative effort needed to drive more business.

SCUSA has chosen four of the company’s best and most experienced representatives to lead the way. Meet the national accounts sales team.

Shannon Celestine is the most experienced in the group, working national accounts for the past two years. Before national accounts, she served as an Area Sales Manager in southern Louisiana, a market she opened and has developed for SCUSA since 2004. Celestine has been with the company 10 years, and says she loves it because there is never a dull moment. Celestine is originally from Springfield, Ohio, and enjoys the travel and variety of working national accounts.

Christie Eastwood is new to the national accounts team but not to SCUSA. She’s been with the company 10 years, working as a Senior Area Sales Manager. She is from Colonial Heights, Va., and has stayed close to home, servicing the Richmond area. Eastwood says the best thing about working for SCUSA is the people she’s met and the friends she’s made. Now, being on the national accounts team, she hopes to expand her horizons and help her national accounts expand theirs.

Becca Neal Tharp is another one of the company’s seasoned veterans.  Tharp is from South Mississippi and covered the same territory as an Area Sales Manager for nearly eight years before being promoted to National Account Manager.  Prior to SCUSA, Becca worked for Wells Fargo for almost two years. Her favorite part about working for SCUSA is being able to work with some of the best business leaders in the industry.

Stephanie Bradford brings a wealth of auto-industry experience to the table. Bradford, an Oklahoma native, worked as a finance director for seven years before joining the team at Santander. She has been with the company an additional seven years, working the Southwest region of the country. What she enjoys most about working with SCUSA is establishing long-term relationships with clients internally and externally.

The expanded team members have already begun strategizing and making plans for dealers in their new territories. If you are interested in your auto group becoming one of our national sales accounts, contact your Area Sales Manager for more details.

How social media can enhance dealers’ digital marketing efforts

social mediaMarketers know that just about everyone is on Facebook, but it’s not as easy to turn that information into sales.

Digital Air Strike, a firm specializing in automotive social media and reputation management, has some ideas to help dealers in that department.

According to a recent survey of dealers on social media marketing from the company, 91 percent of buyers used social media or review sites in the process of selecting a dealership. Furthermore, 48 percent indicated they would use a “click to purchase” button on Facebook to make auto-related purchases or take advantage of coupons or discounts.

The results came from Digital Air Strike’s “2014 Automotive Social Media Trends Study” and included an online survey of 2,000 consumers who had purchased a vehicle in the last six months.

Facebook has several advantages for marketers apart from its ubiquity.

For one thing, Digital Air Strike CEO Alexi Venneri told Auto Remarketing, Facebook campaigns can be precisely measured. “It’s literally the most measurable and the most holistic medium we’re seeing for dealers today,” she said.

As for using Facebook to connect with customers, Venneri recommended that dealers make efforts to engage their existing customers on the medium. And if existing customers write reviews, so much the better: Reviews from Facebook friends are “very compelling” to potential buyers, according to Venneri, and car buyers now rank Facebook among the top five dealership review sites.

Dealers that use promoted posts containing valuable content will likely perform better on Facebook  rather than using simple ads, according to Digital Air Strike. Facebook users are on the site to interact, so content that offers them something helpful and shareable has a good chance of succeeding. Dealers also should be sure to have clear links to their own sites and contact information on Facebook.

Review sites such as Yelp also weigh heavily on purchase decisions, Digital Air Strike said in its survey report, with 20 percent of buyers calling them the most helpful resource in choosing a dealer, and another 25 percent saying third-party reviews are “at least as important” as dealer sites themselves. About 83 percent of buyers said they looked at dealer ratings from review sites on Google in search results before deciding which dealers to visit.

Used car shoppers are turning online for their purchases, too.

By this year, 52.3 percent of shoppers cited the Internet as a contributing factor to an automotive purchase, according to CNW Research, up from 39.2 percent in 2013.

– Philip Ryan

Local marketing still relies on word-of-mouth recommendations, study shows

word of mouthThis headline caught our eye: “Word of mouth still dominates,” referring to local marketing.

“Word of mouth is still the leading source for new business,” according to F&I and Showroom online. “But a new study says [online] review sites continue to gain ground.”

“In the age of online reviews, it turns out that word of mouth may still be the most common way consumers recommend local businesses – but habitual use of the Internet to find reviews is increasing,” reported F&I, citing a survey of more than 2,000 customers by SEO firm BrightLocal.

The survey found that 61 percent of respondents recommended a local business to people they know by word of mouth, including a car dealership, compared to 38 percent on Facebook. Other online sites also were cited, however, including Yelp, Twitter, Google+ Local and Tripadvisor, though none of those online garnered more than 13 percent of local marketing survey responses.

“Word of mouth is clearly the most popular way for consumers to recommend a business to someone they know,” according to BrightLocal’s analysis of the results. “Consumers prefer to give recommendations to people they know on a more personal basis.”

And what factors “would make you more likely to recommend a local business to people you know?”

They’re reliable and professional – Far and away the most important factor in local marketing, with 68 percent support.

They’re friendly and welcoming – The second most important factor at 44 percent.

I had a unique and original experience – Which drew 36 percent of responses.

*Numbers add up to more than 100 percent because customers could choose more than one response.

Only then did financial factors come into play, such as special offers (32 percent) and price (28 percent). A request by a business owner generated only 9 percent of responses.

However, the survey doesn’t dismiss the potential business impact of online reviews, indicating that 62 percent of the survey respondents said they trust those as much as personal recommendations “if there are multiple customer reviews to read” or “if I believe the reviews are authentic” and another 26 percent were comfortable with online recommendations for some types of businesses. Only 13 percent of the consumers do not trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

“Local consumers are placing more trust in online reviews than ever before,” said BrightLocal, citing the 88 percent of “yes” responses compared to 79 percent in 2013 and drop in “no” replies from 21 percent.

Details of the report, Local Consumer Review Survey 2014, including questions posed to consumers in the United States (90 percent) and Canada (10 percent), are available on the BrightLocal website.

See the Santander Consumer USA blog for more news on auto-, auto-finance and SCUSA-related topics.

How the U.S. auto industry, dealers must market to women shoppers

women car buyers


Who better to give advice to the auto industry about marketing and selling their products to women than, well, a woman?

Jenny Darroch, marketing strategy expert at the Peter F. Drucker School of Management and writer for the Huffington Post, believes there’s plenty of room for the auto industry to improve.

“Women represent a huge opportunity for the auto industry,” Darroch wrote recently on the Post business blog. “In the U.S. alone, 500,000 women are ‘in the market’ to buy a car within a one to three month window.” And while up to 85 percent of car purchases are heavily influenced by women, a significant majority (74 percent) “feel misunderstood by auto manufacturers.”

And it’s not just the manufacturers who stand to benefit from improvement, but dealers as well.

“Women are becoming the most powerful and largest segment of car buyers, presenting a plethora of opportunities for dealerships and salespersons to capture more sales,” reported Auto Remarketing online, citing the “2014 U.S. Women’s Car Buying Report” by

women shoppersOpportunity No. 1, according to Darroch, is attracting a larger share of a woman shopper’s wallet.

“Car manufacturers need to ask, ‘What can we do to encourage women to place a higher value on owning a car?’ To enhance value, car manufacturers should focus less on performance and user imagery and more on brand judgments [such as] quality and safety, brand credibility and superiority, her feelings toward the brand and her overall relationship with the brand.”

Opportunity No. 2 is in reducing a female shopper’s “post purchase dissonance.”

“Fifty percent of women are dissatisfied with the car they buy,” wrote Darroch. “Part of the reason for this high level of dissatisfaction is that women dislike the sales experience.”

“Provide a female-friendly environment,” Darroch urges, “and address issues that are important to her – price, financing, technology, and the look and feel of the car itself. When interacting with women who visit the dealership, remember she is informed, educated and astute, so treat her as such.”

Opportunity No. 3 is to improve the vehicle service experience at the dealership.

“Dealers need to start paying close attention to how women are treated when they bring their car in for service,” wrote Darroch, noting that dealers must “become trustworthy partners post-purchase – providing service alerts, service scheduling and other notifications.”

“But person-to-person interaction is still important,” the expert writes. “Whether I have a man or woman assist me is irrelevant. I want to trust the advice I’m given, be treated as an intelligent human being, be made to feel like a valued customer, and feel good about spending a ton of money on a car, and then constant amounts of money and time on having the car serviced.”

Opportunity No. 4, according to Darroch, is not treating all women the same.

Citing research that suggests “women want small, safe, maneuverable, fuel-efficient cars,” she wonders, “Do all women want small, safe, maneuverable, fuel-efficient cars?”

“When marketing to women, don’t assume all women have the same needs. Look for differences between women and develop products and marketing approaches to suit a greater variety of needs.”

Obviously, such a suggestion would apply through the dealership sales process as well.

“With the auto industry, I think there is tremendous opportunity to think differently about marketing in order to better embrace women as influencers, buyers and users of cars,” said Darroch in an email.

For more on marketing to women shoppers, see our recent post on the Inside Lane blog, “Respect now top factor for women when shopping for a vehicle.” And for more on Darroch’s expert advice on marketing cars to women, see her article on the Huffington Post.

Why auto dealerships’ websites must be attractive to women shoppers


women shoppersEven in an increasingly connected world, an auto dealership’s Web presence is no guarantee of success in generating sales to women shoppers.

While dealership websites ranked as the No. 1 stop for women researching new vehicles – clearly providing those businesses opportunities to boost sales – 41 percent of women responding to a survey said the dealer’s website “was not helpful.”

The report did not indicate why the women surveyed did not find certain websites unhelpful, and the website did not respond to a request for more information about the results.

The other top websites women use for shopping research are, in order, Kelley Blue Book, manufacturer sites, Consumer Reports, AutoTrader, Edmunds,, Carfax, Craigslist and J.D. Power.

The results are important to dealers because women buy more than half the new cars sold and influence 80 percent purchases, the website reported separately. Survey results came from’s study “2014 Women’s Car Buying Report: Shopping, buying, leasing + service trends at car dealerships.”

Recommendations to dealers for improving their websites, in general, include:

Providing fresh content regularly. “Blogging is a very effective way to inform your customers, bring a wealth of SEO value to your site and establish ‘the voice’ of your dealership,” according to Blog posts should be informative and professional to supplement marketing strategy, but lively and interesting with original content, tags and images to keep the reader engaged.”

Diversifying your content. While vehicle inventory is the “heart and soul” of a car dealership, said Speed Shift Media, “make sure to talk about your service center, finance department and parts store so that visitors understand the full breadth of your dealership’s capabilities.”

Selling your people, not just your cars. “At the end of the day, people buy from other people,” according to Speed Shift Media. “Personalizing your website with staff profiles and opinions contributes to improving a car dealership website experience by ‘humanizing’ your business and building trust with your prospects before they even set foot on your lot.”

Building new Web pages each month. “New content is looked upon very highly by search engine algorithms,” said Speed Shift. “If you have a special promotion going on or want to talk about a new vehicle model that has recently been released, creating a new page with good content will help you attract people through search and give them the information that they need very quickly.”

Of course, all of that must be done keeping in mind the differences between women and men shoppers. See Auto Remarketing, Kruse Control and Jean Knows Cars for more on attracting women shoppers.

“Women are leading the way being sophisticated users of new technology solutions,” wrote Anne Fleming, president and car buying advocate of, in Auto Remarketing online. “Her most prized possession is her smart phone and, with mobile usage now mainstream for her, she expects her favorite brands, including her car dealership, to be a tap away.”

And to address her interests and concerns.

The changing ways people shop for cars

car shoppingCar shoppers consider many different things when researching potential vehicle purchases, but ultimately make their decisions based on just one or two factors, according to a new report from C+R Research.

The study, commissioned by both C+R and, found that the majority of consumers seek control during the car-buying process. They use independent research sites, visit dealerships and discuss the purchase with friends, as opposed to relying on traditional advertising channels.

“Consumers can be overwhelmed by automotive content, but rather than tune it all out, they’re selecting the pieces that are most valuable to them, effectively curating their own car-buying experience,” said Simon Tiffen, senior manager of advertiser insights at

“They’re willing to put the time in to gather all the information they need so that they’re confident when they eventually head to the dealership.”

The majority of consumers report being influenced by six to seven sources in their buying process. Of those sources, only one or two end up being used as primary decision-making tools. These “go-to” sources are typically viewed as the most helpful and trustworthy by consumers.

Traditional advertising fared poorly. Only 9 percent of shoppers were influenced by outdoor ads, while just 8 percent cited radio advertisements as influencing their buying decisions.

Meanwhile, digital sources have a significant impact on vehicle and dealership consideration: Two out of three shoppers referred to an online source as being one of their “go-to” resources, and nearly half of shoppers cited independent research sites as being a primary shopping tool.

Online research is a substitute for dealership contact as only half of all car shoppers reported contacting a dealership prior to visiting, with most believing it was unnecessary given information available online.

The study shows information provided by independent research sites, manufacturer websites, dealer websites and review sites give shoppers the information they want, when they want it, without having to visit a dealership to do their homework.

Most shoppers are influenced by at least three online sources, and two-thirds of consumers refer to an online source as one of their go-to resources. These digital resources play complementary but distinct roles in the consumer research ecosystem, and shoppers decide what role each site plays for them. That makes it essential for auto marketers to maintain a consistent presence across these channels to build shoppers’ confidence as they encounter various bits of information across platforms at various stages of their online research.

“Not all sources are the same, and consumers are quick to realize this,” said Tiffen. “Each source serves a different purpose during the shopping journey, which makes understanding context critical.”

– Cody Lyon

Car shoppers think dealers make a lot of money on each vehicle transaction

car shoppersCar buyers think auto dealers make a lot more money than they really do on the sale of each vehicle – five times as much – according to a survey conducted for TrueCar Inc.

And that sort of misperception is bad for business, according to the TrueCar Buyer Study.

“The TrueCar Buyer Study results show that fear and mistrust have a cost in the car buying process,” said Scott Painter, TrueCar founder and CEO, in assessing the survey results.

“The survey showed that roughly 26 percent of car buyers feel that they overpaid for their purchase and that 32 percent stated they would not return to the same dealership due to low customer satisfaction with the purchase process,” reported TrueCar, a negotiation-free, car-buying-and-selling platform.

On a $30,000 vehicle, shoppers think dealers make about 20 percent profit margin, the TrueCar study reported, while the typical margin actually was just under 4 percent in 2013, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA). That 20 percent translates to a $6,000 profit, which is almost $4,900 more than a dealer’s actual average profit of $1,140.

At the same time, car buyers would be willing to pay dealers more than their typical profit margin – an average of 10-12 percent was considered fair – if they had confidence in the car-buying process.

And what if car buyers knew dealers would make nothing on a vehicle transaction?

They would be willing to “tip” dealers around 8 percent ($2,400), according to the TrueCar study, more than double the actual average profit margin.

“If consumers believed that they were getting information that they could trust as part of a more transparent process, they would be willing to pay dealers more,” said Painter. “These survey results are consistent with the idea that increased transparency in the car-buying process can result in higher margins for dealers and greater consumer satisfaction – everyone wins.”

“This survey is further validation of something we hold dear at TrueCar,” said John Krafcik, TrueCar president, “That providing price confidence to buyer and sellers will bridge the trust gap.”

The study was conducted in February and surveyed more than 3,000 consumers across the country.

TrueCar works with a national network of 8,000 dealers.


Hook, Sales & Sinker: Selling in tough times

By Geoff Williams

Attracting car buyers has never been more difficult, or more important. This dynamic has placed an increased emphasis on marketing, as dealers try to achieve higher returns on
shrinking budgets.

Regardless of the economic climate, the key to marketing cars remains constant. As Kevin Gallagher, who owns Utah Auto Sales in Lindon, Utah, says, “I call it the BSD factor. You have to give your customers Benefits, you have to have a little bit of Sizzle, and you have to be Different. If you don’t have the BSD factor, you’re not going to attract people.”

Marketing strategies don’t have to be all three things at once, but they better have at least one of these attributes. Some examples:

Look after your current customers

According to, a marketing firm for auto dealerships, 89 percent of buyers will never return to your parking lot—not even for maintenance. Of those remaining 11 percent, 72 percent will eventually repurchase a car from that same dealership. The message: stay in touch. Whether the economy is up or down, failure to market to your existing customers is a mistake.

Be a resource

To your own customers, absolutely, but even to the general public, if possible. Eight years ago, Gallagher started publishing “The Used Car Buying Guide,” a 30-page magazine with articles and information about beating depreciation. He has printed 10,000 copies over the years, occasionally modifying the text, and he has built relationships with credit unions around the state, offering educational seminars on the premises to the institution’s customers.

Consider newer ways to get out your message

Six months ago, Mike Sage, owner of University City Nissan in Los Angeles, gravitated to Gumiyo, a specialist in automotive mobile marketing. Gumiyo, whose prices ranges from zero to approximately $150 to $200 per month, places a dealership’s inventory, vehicle photos and condition reports on mobile phone screens. Photos on a mobile phone aren’t for every dealership. “If we were another company, aimed at Generation X and Y, I would say that would be a focus that we would need to concentrate on,” says Paul Nogrady, new car sales manager at Porsche of The Main Line in Newtown Square, Penn.

Partner with organizations to attract new customers

Dan Quirk is the owner of eight dealerships in Massachusetts and recently set up a partnership with a nonprofit called Moore Center Services, which helps people with developmental disabilities. Quirk paid for a 1950s-style diner to be built on the premises of his Quirk Chevrolet Buick dealership. Moore Center Services staffs the eatery and keeps the profits.

Remember your community

Gallagher’s dealership has an annual complimentary barbecue that feeds approximately 1,500 people. It’s always a success because he joins forces with a local parade, which has a built-in crowd that is grateful for the food. “People need some benefit when they’re going to do business with you,” says Gallagher. “You’ve got to change with the times and give people something that they want or need.”

As guerrilla marketing guru Orvel Ray Wilson once said, “Customers buy for their reasons, not yours.”

Of course, that’s how it has always been, which should be comforting. The times and technology may be frequently changing, but the actual marketing in many ways doesn’t. “History repeats itself,” says Nogrady of Porsche of the Mainline in Newtown Sq., Pa. “When it comes to marketing a car dealership, you often have to stick to the tried-and-true to bring in customers. It’s how you handle those tried-and-true events, and where you’re spending your money in general — that’s what’s important.”

Selling "Regular" cars amid the hybrid Craze

by Victoria Fierson

Boy, that Prius looks nice. You are standing in your local Toyota dealership looking over a dark blue model, practically salivating at the thought of going 571 miles between tank refills. “Sorry, sir, that’s the last one we have,” the dealer says. “And it’s already sold.”

What a dealer does next is equal parts art, sales and math. In today’s market, keeping customers when their preferred fuel-efficient model has sold out is as critical as ever. There are only so many car sales to go around.

Consider the methodology of Brady Henderson, financial director for Pederson Toyota located in Fort Collins Colo. “The real question is, do you drive enough to make up the difference in pricing on the more expensive model?” asks Henderson. “Hybrid models are more fuel efficient when driving short distances within cities and towns. On the highway the car switches from electric to fuel emission. Whether or not it is a more cost efficient alternative mainly depends on the type of driver.”

It works — sometimes.

“Our job is to educate and guide the customer,” Henderson says. “There are many instances where a customer is misinformed about the true savings they will receive from hybrids. But if people want a Prius when they walk into a dealership, they are usually willing to wait for it.”

Tony DePaula, president of DePaula Chevrolet in Albany, N.Y., says the dealer should discuss the economics of a proposed purchase with any consumer leaning heavily toward a hybrid.

“When people are asking about alternative-fuel vehicles, give them an opportunity to do the math, DePaula says. “Often people think they are saving a lot more money than they really are. Customers need to assess what the true return is on their investment. This is based on the amount of miles they drive and the length of period they will have the car. Whether or not a hybrid will be more efficient and cost-efficient is based on a case-by-case basis.”

Take the Prius and the Corolla. There is about a $6,000 difference between the two, says Tim Curley, finance manager at Glens Falls Toyota in New York. For a customer who drives more on highways, the Corolla gets 36 miles per gallon, where the Prius gets 45 to 50. “While there is only an eight-miles- per-gallon difference, the amount of money a consumer will save on gas may not make up the $6,000 price difference,” Curley says.

Curley says initially people often decide to switch to a more fuel efficient vehicle out of panic. What the consumers don’t realize is that “it may take longer than the length of the lease to make up for the cost of the vehicle in relation to the amount of money saved on fuel,” he says.

That’s fine for consumers who buy based on price. What about the consumers who seek out the often-sold-out hybrid models for other reasons, what one dealer called “emotional” reasons? This is a tough situation for a dealer.

“It is a dealer’s responsibility to present all of the options to the customer to find the car that best suits them,” says Louise Miconi, financial manager of Hyannis Toyota in Hyannis, Mass. “Vehicles are an emotional purchase. People have their minds set on something, even when they are told other options are better. Especially when it comes to the hybrids, they are more concerned about being kind to the environment.”

For some nameplates, alternatives to hybrids are selling well, even in today’s credit-challenged economic environment. For example, non-hybrid Hondas are still strong sellers, such as regular Civics, Accords and CRVs. “They get really good gas mileage to begin with,” says Greg Conner, financial director of Prime Honda in Newton Corner, Mass. “Anyone who wants the hybrid version is interested in being environmentally conscious and is not as interested in fuel economy.”

It’s hard to talk someone out of that.

Cashing In: Tom Kontos on Liquidity & Depressed Values

At a time when cash is king, it’s more important than ever for everyone carrying used-vehicle inventories—manufacturers, captive and non-captive automotive finance companies, banks, commercial fleet management companies and dealers—to take advantage of the auction industry’s ability to generate liquidity. Auctions have the unique capacity for creating cash quickly through the robust, competitive bidding process this industry fosters both in the lanes and online. And let’s not forget the impact the auction industry has on the Big Three and its captive finance arms. Auctions play an important role in creating liquidity for these companies by remarketing its used, program, off-lease, repo and company vehicles. The remarketing of these used units, which is a regular part of the domestic manufacturers’ operations, can be accelerated as cash needs dictate.

On a daily basis, the auction industry establishes resale values for thousands of vehicles. Consignors are at liberty to sell or refuse to sell at these established values. Dealers also have other options—they can return offered vehicles to their stores and mark them down for retail sale. But most consignors are just delaying the inevitable by “no-sale-ing” their units. Moreover, they are also denying themselves of needed liquidity to fund their front-end lending operations or even of needed capital for their businesses.

While many may be thinking now is the wrong time to be selling used-vehicles due to the record wholesale price decline in October, the current need to generate cash may be more important than obtaining maximum vehicle values. This is especially the case at a time when auto asset-backed securities markets have collapsed and other sources of capital are severely restricted.

Moreover, not all segments of the wholesale market are experiencing weak demand. For example, demand for many of the sub-prime repossessed units — which tend to be older, rougher and, as a result, less-expensive — is relatively high at auction right now. This may be attributed to two things: the preference of some dealers to conserve floorplan capital, and the relative success retailers in the buy-here-pay-here space are having. The latter are often perceived as “lenders of last resort” for the credit-challenged car-buying public. Also, older units are in shorter supply at auction. This is because franchised dealers are holding on to trade-ins that they would have previously wholesaled. This is done in an attempt to retail these units for the attractive grosses they generate.

Often, sub-prime financing companies that have to satisfy certain covenants with sources of capital are basing sales strategies on liquidity considerations rather than retention considerations. As previously stated, this may be an appropriate and commendable strategy to provide “front-end” liquidity for retail lending. Dealers may also find it best to liquidate aged or unwanted used-vehicle inventory to generate cash in order to weather potential economic storms.

So at a time when the government, the financial community and the automotive industry are all seeking ways to inject liquidity into the market, the auction industry represents a ready source of cash from ample volumes of used-vehicles.

Wholesale market values may be depressed at present, but there are pockets of healthy demand for certain types of used-vehicles and auction companies can advise remarketer of those opportunities. In these unprecedented times, the need to create liquidity may ultimately supersede the desire for price maximization.

Tom Kontos is Executive Vice President of Customer Strategies and Analytics at ADESA, Inc.