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Attention Auto Dealers: Change The Voice In Your Head


Brand Strategy For Auto Dealers

10 things an auto dealer can do to change world opinion and increase sales.

If you are close to the auto-dealer space in any way, you are most likely hearing complaints from dealers and staff that sales are down. For dealers who dare to have vision and heart, sales can increase higher than imagined. Here are 10 ideas.

Change the Voice in Your Head

The one that says, “I’m an auto dealer; I need to look and act like an auto dealer.” If you are a “follower,” you have inherited the reputation that follows dealers. Shake this liability by distancing yourself through relevant differentiation. That is, build an experience that is different and meaningful to your customers. Your new voice should say: “I build lasting relationships by helping people purchase automobiles in a unique and compelling way.”

Stop the Noise

The world is ready for you to stop the shouting in radio and television spots. This approach does not generate excitement or motivation unless it is coming from a drill sergeant. Furthermore, it comes off as desperation and reinforces the notion that you are like every other dealer. The noise intensifies when you don’t communicate clearly.

The blur of fine print, jabs of pressure and fast talking keep consumers in a daze and on the defensive. Be sure to deliver clarity. When crafting your messaging, don’t depend on reasoning to entice buyers. Emotional connections trigger sales. Most of all, remember, people buy from people. When you speak to your customer like a friend, the noise becomes a signal.

Become Human

Brands are personifications of organizations, products, services and experiences. Consumers do not develop relationships with products, nor are they loyal to products.

Brands and what they stand for establish the emotional connection with consumers. Your dealership has a brand. Different from the manufacturer’s, it is the sum of all experiences a consumer has with your organization. It has been or is being created in the minds of everyone it comes in contact with. If you are not creating it, someone else is creating it for you.

What does your brand stand for? What emotions does your brand evoke? It should exhibit admirable human qualities. To most people, a “dealer is a dealer.” Shift the focus from selling cars to building long-term relationships with car buyers.

Remove the Barbed Wire

It is time to defuse your sales approach. It alienates your customers and puts them on the defensive.

Take your women buyers for example. They influence 85 percent of purchase decisions, yet they are treated as second-class. (How is this happening?) A survey from Power Information Network, a division of J.D. Power and Associates, found that of about 800 female buyers in the U.S. market, roughly 40 percent believe their gender hurt the way they were treated in their most recent visit to an auto dealer. (Learn more about your female buyers at Ask Patty.)

To counter this treatment, most women rely on a male counterpart to aid them in the buying process. With some respect from you, this audience would be very loyal, refer others and most likely pay more (willingly) for your product.

Live and Thrive Without Graveyard Pricing

The strongest relationships are not built on price. There are other ways to entice your target audiences. A reputation of a caring car dealer will compel many. When you humanize your offerings, funny things happen; your customers drive an extra three blocks to drink a more expensive cup of your coffee. Create something special, and let your competitors command the lowest price.

Just Make It Easy

Stop or reduce the push-back. Offer what people want to buy, and make it easy for them to buy it. Is your process building sales barriers? If you’re like most car dealers, the answer is “yes.” Reinvent your process. Find ways to streamline it. Adopt ways of putting everyone at ease. You may start by reprogramming salespeople to be … people. Or hiring people who have never been car salespeople. Look for ways to dull the sharpness.

Don’t Be a Dinosaur

We are connecting with one another like no other time in history. Make sure you have a strong digital handshake — and are changing with the times. Embrace new media platforms like blogs and podcasts; they are new channels to build relationships. Give your audience choices on how they can learn about you and connect with you.

If you are resistant to this, hire someone who isn’t, and have them lead this charge. Over the next five years, consumers will be shoveling dirt onto the graves of those who could not or would not grasp this.

Ask for a Dance

You need a partner that understands your customer better than anyone. So partner with your customer. Listen to them and build your dealership around their needs. Along the way, you may discover unmet needs and a path to additional revenue. Most importantly, you will create a bond that can weather a poor economy, competitive pressure or even an honest mistake.

Beware of the Line

Dealers today are in a long line. The line is so long it’s unclear who they are following, or where they are going. There are some things that are for certain. In the line, everyone does the same thing. In the line, everyone is influenced by the same information flowing from the same sources. It’s easiest to see this when you are not in the line. For years, someone at the front has promoted a belief that promotion is king — a belief that fluorescent stickers and once-in-a-lifetime deals (that last indefinitely) spark great romances.

The reality is promotions help create a first date. The real power is held by those who can take that and create lasting relationships. Changing the voice in your head requires opening up to new ideas and listening to those who have created unique and successful buying experiences elsewhere. Today you have an opportunity to make your own line. It’s one car buyers can’t wait to get in.

Be a Pioneer — Be the Un-“Car Dealer”

Pioneers get the arrows first. And a lot more land too. Being a pioneer in the auto dealer industry is much more inviting. I’m talking about kisses instead of arrows. Your customer is so hungry for change. But do you have the guts? More importantly, do you have the will to see it through? Cut ties with 100 years of poor customer experiences. Leave the pack to lead the pack. See the light — strong relationships and higher profits are linked.

Ready to Change the Voice in Your Head?

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Jim Durbin on November 29th, 2006 said

That’s an excellent article, Derrick. I’ve been excited about car dealers and blogging for a long time, simply because I think they have the most to gain.

Real Estate is leading the marketing right now for blogs, but some smart dealer soon is going to make it their own.

btw – you’re on the RSS now.

Jeff Kershner on November 30th, 2006 said

This is good stuff. I have been in the “Internet Side” of the automotive dealer business for over 7 years now. 98% of your dealers are still way behind the times and do not want, nor know how to change. Too much old school blood flowing through the veins of the dealer body. We have the Baby Boomers trying to sell cars to GenX and Y. A generation that is used to “Push Marketing” selling to a generation that wants to do their own research, get others opinions from online forums and choose what they decide influences their purchase (and of course the internet has fueled this change). As a new generation comes about I think we will see this change but it will be a slow process.

I know I’m doing my part in getting this change to happen for my current Mercedes dealer. I have leveraged the internet to help our dealer sell more cars and establish an easier process for our customers to purchase a car. We use proper online merchandising of our vehicles with photos, detailed relevant information that the consumer want to know before making a decision or before even stepping into the dealership. Heck, we even have a Myspace page and a Blog to try and establish the “Human” side of our business.

It’s very easy to sit back and say what dealers should do or how they should “change the voice in their head” (and I’m not disagreeing) but there is the voice of the Manufacture that unless you are in the business, many are not aware of.

The reality is..dealers are not making the money they used to in the sales department. The Internet has had such an influence and allows the consumer so much information on pricing; it’s the only industry where you can find invoice and cost on a product. The word “INVOICE” has been exploited so badly that consumers now want “Below Invoice”. Invoice is not enough. Even at a Mercedes dealer I have consumers asking for below invoice pricing every day.

I’m not sure where dealers will be in 10 years. Maybe dealers will all be forced to take the “Wal-Mart” approach in order to survive. Can you imagine spending 30K, 60K or 100K on a vehicle from a Wal-Mart like shopping facility. Then when you have a question about your car or you have a problem, you will have to deal with an unknowledgeable customer service person that makes minimum wage and could careless about you and your problem? The dealers will no longer be able to afford to pay for educated personnel or training for their sales people. It’s already getting to this for many dealers. Especially the domestic ones.

Again, it’s very easy to point out what changes dealers should be taking and I totally agree with every one of these ideas. It’s implementing these ideas and having the money to hire the personal to get it done.

Derrick Daye on November 30th, 2006 said


I appreciate your perspective. You’re right, it’s much easier to talk about change than…change.

Change for auto dealers means leaving their comfort zone to create a comfort zone for the consumer.

Some forward thinking dealer or non-dealer will see this and revolutionize your industry – I can see them reaching for that fruit now. Maybe you work for that dealer? Sounds like you are helping him/her make this leap.

Adam Kranitz on December 03rd, 2006 said

The Center for Media Research recently released a comprehensive brief on Automotive Advertising Online including Top Sites, Types and Viewers. It’s great data to take to heart, especially when you talk about “Don’t be a Dinorsaur”.

A drill-down into Online automotive advertising to reveal popular sites, reader demographics, advertisers, ad sizes and delivery types:

Joe Drenik on December 07th, 2006 said

Great article. As long as we’re advising auto dealers…

Never, never, NEVER use the beeping horn sound affect in your radio spots. It makes us turn the radio down so we can determine where the horn’s coming from!

Auto dealers always seem to be the ones doing this, at least in Cleveland.

Mark True on December 07th, 2006 said

Great comments, and a nice starter list for the first auto dealer with cajones. They are few and far between.

I’d love to have an truly courageous auto dealer as a client. The first thing I’d tell them is to NOT locate near all the other car dealers.

I’m printing and archiving a copy of your post in case I ever get one of those dealers to step up!



  1. Anonymous - January 22, 2007

    Branding Strategy Insider: Attention Auto Dealers: Change the Voice in Your Head

    10 things an auto dealer can do to change world opinion and increase sales.

  2. plugim.com - January 28, 2007

    Branding Strategy Insider: Attention Auto Dealers: Change the Voice in Your Head

    10 things an auto dealer can do to change world opinion and increase sales.

  3. Anonymous - February 21, 2007

    Branding Strategy Insider: Attention Auto Dealers: Change the Voice in Your Head

    10 things an auto dealer can do to change world opinion and increase sales.

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