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Auto Dealer Direct Mail Strategy

Posted by Brian Berg Google+


Success in auto dealership direct mail lies in the consistent and regular marketing message of your auto dealer brand.  And your brand should be the consistent message that separates you from the rest of the pack. 


Consider the following story line….you’re the owner of a Honda auto dealership and you’ve got 9 other Honda dealerships all within a 1 mile radius of your location.  How do you differentiate your dealership from the rest?  How do you version your message within your direct mail piece?  And what is the common, most important message to be included in all your direct mail messages?


Firstly, your direct mail message should be integrated with the consistent message included in your newspaper ads, radio and TV spots.  Your message should be important enough to say over and over again, be it lowest price, best customer service, post purchase car care, etc. 


The worst thing an auto dealership could do is to send one message out via radio, then a completely different message from direct mail and newspaper.  Unless your brand is stagnant and failing, the cost of reinventing your brand is measured in the non-responsiveness of your direct mail marketing campaigns. With the right direct mail marketing campaign, you can build upon you’re your brand image and message. 


Below are some of the important items you’ll want to consider implementing.


Definitive Direct Mail Market Territory

Defining your direct mail market is fairly easy to determine.  The best and most effective way to identity your direct mail territory is to look at your existing internal customer mailing list.  Where exactly have these people come from?  Consider both distance and location. 


Some of your previous car buyers on your internal mailing list may have come from all directions around your car center, while others on your internal mailing database have come from specific area’s within your town.  If you’ve taken good care to develop a workable direct mail marketing database, you’ll have recorded in when they’ve purchased, how much they’ve spent, what model, repeat customers and so forth. 


All this information can help identify your direct mail marketing territory. Also consider the competition in your area that mails your potential customers.  Who is your competition and how do they reach their customers?  Where are they located and what’s their competition? Are there any natural geographic challenges within your territory that cause your direct mail prospects to not consider your auto center such as a river or mountain to cross?  Once the geographic territory is decided upon, stick with it and be sure your direct marketing campaigns continually pulse this population.


Long-term Direct Mail Planning and Commitment

Once you’ve identified your direct mail marketing territory, simple research can be done by your direct mail marketing firm.  They can run counts of the number of people on a mailing list that might fit certain criteria. 


For example, let’s say your direct marketing territory consists of a 20 mile radius in all directions of your dealership.  Ask your direct marketing firm to run the following counts from a consumer mailing list database;  all consumer households within the 20 mile radius broken down by credit score range, all consumer households within the same distance radius broken down by income, age, home value, and modeled make/year of vehicle currently owned. You should also have your direct marketing firm perform a database enhancement profile of your internal customer mailing list.  The process takes your internal customer mailing list and appends demographic, psychographic, and other elements of information pertinent to your dealership direct marketing efforts. 

This is easily done because all that’s needed is the actual mailing list of these customers, i.e., names and addresses only.  The result is that it gives you a very good idea of what they “look like” in terms of age, income, marital status, presence of child, homeownership, home value, etc.. 

Here you’re looking for patterns within your customer mailing list in hopes of developing a direct mail strategy for your marketing. From this process, you might find that of all the people within a 20 mile radius of our store location, there may be only 42,000 people that truly “look like” your existing customers.  Knowing this is the first big accomplishment in your direct mail design efforts. 


That 42,000 people need to be pulsed on a regular basis with direct mail as well as other marketing mediums.  You may mail to them 4 to 6 to 8 times a year but be sure the number of times they receive your direct mail piece is consistent, year after year, and that your message be consistent, piece after piece.


Though difficult, try to find out what your competition is doing in the way to using direct mail to reach these same people.  You may do this by having friends living within this same direct marketing territory save the direct mail pieces sent to them.  There’s a great wealth of information available to you from doing this. 


Consider how often your competition is mailing to these same people.  What is your competition offering to them and how are they positioning themselves from you?  In a way, consider your direct mail pieces as sound bites from a politician campaigning for votes.  When the same branding strategies are being used, people will vote for the wrong reasons based on what is being told to them.  Is direct mail marketing a big component of your competitions marketing efforts?


Color, Copy, and Brand Development

You may learn from your internal customer enhancement that your previous direct mail efforts have pulled younger people from the North end of town than from the South.  It doesn’t matter that the University is on the North end of town and that there is simply more younger people located there.  In fact, knowing this is to your advantage. 


You might version your message completely different to this audience or area than to the other.  You may consider the direct mail piece to include an offer that includes one year of free sushi with the purchase of a new car, and a different offer to the older market. Those on the other side of the river might always receive a consistently different direct mail message than those on your side of the river. This versioning of the direct mail piece is an important component to a proper developed direct mail campaign strategy.


From the photo’s you use on the mail piece, to the language and put in front of these potential car buyers, the copy and message is key developing relevant communication that ultimately touches these people better than your competition. Measurement Absolutely no direct mail campaigns should go out without some sort of response measurement included in the campaign strategy.  There should always be something learned from one direct mail campaign to another.  Be it testing the mailing list criteria set, to the offer, to the copy and message. 


Something should always be ever so slightly different.  Then look for a significant lift in response.  The more you can learn from these direct mail campaigns, the more you can capitalize on these minor improvements.


Consistency Theory

The theory behind a constant barrage of advertising messages for car dealers is that, over time, people tend to do what they’re told, i.e., “if you can get financing, why wouldn’t you go car shopping?”  We know this because it works.  In today’s consumer market, everywhere you turn, you’re being told to purchase, spend, and buy. 

Even our national government sends the message, “your economic stimulus check is in the mail and on its way”.  As if we haven’t spend enough.  But the challenge continues; too much competition for too few buyers.  How do we separate ourselves from the rest of the pack? 

You do this with evaluating your most powerful attributes, and asking your customers over and over what’s important to them.  The more participation with survey’s and questionnaires, the more you’ll be able to understand what makes these people respond.  Never assume you know your customers.  Customers changes over time for many reasons. Customers Change As we all grow older and our life takes on a different meaning, our priorities tend to shift and we spend our hard earn money differently. 


Your brand message should stand up to the test of time and ring true with all people in all chapters of life.  Many auto dealerships pride themselves on the fact that they’ve been around the longest.  They’ve probably sold to your parents and your parents parents.  This branding message is very strong because you can’t argue with the statement and whatever comes with it holds some degree of perceived truth.  Or the “we’re the biggest in the land” with acres of car’s. 


Again, perceived truth automatically tags along with these statements.  These two examples hold the test of time, no matter if you’ve just graduated from high school have earned your first car, have finally got that first great job and can afford to reward yourself, just got married and must now get rid of that sports car to ready yourself for the family vehicle, or just divorced and need a new change, or just retired and on and on… 


People’s attitudes change their buying decisions what appeals to them, but a good branded message stands the test of time buy appealing to all people, in all walks of life.