Dealership Social Media, Branding, & Customer-Buying Process

April 12, 2021| Zach Klempf

Zach: Hello, Zach here, and we have a great guest on the podcast today all the way from Canada, Jason Harris, who is the president of Digital Dealer Solutions as well as a marketer and podcaster via Strategy with Jason. Thanks so much for joining me on the podcast!

Jason: Hey Zach, it’s my pleasure man. Really looking forward to this. I’m excited. You know usually, I’m on the other side doing the interview so it’s fun to be on this side of the table.

Zach: So let’s get started for those of us who are listening to this podcast, how did you get into the car business? How did you get started in auto?

Jason: Well I find that people in the industry get started in one of three ways. They were either born into the business, which happens. They kinda stumbled their way into the business in some manner or another. Or they were like me, they got conned into the business. So I got conned into the business. I had a roommate at the time who was working at a car dealership. I was working at a Radio Shack so I kinda date myself here. I’m originally from the States, I’m not from Canada which is always kinda fun because whenever I’m down there, speaking I’m introduced as Canadian, whenever I’m up here,  I get introduced as the Americans so that’s always interesting. But I had a roommate that was working for a car dealership and he asked me, “Hey you like selling stuff and you like cars.” so I said  “Yeah, sure I like that stuff.” and then he goes “Well you should come sell cars with me in this Chevy dealership.” and I said, “Yeah, alright I can stop selling diodes and resistors at Radio Shack and I could go do that.” Little did I know that he received a $500 bonus if I stayed employed for longer than 90 days. So, he asked me, and literally every other person in the dorm if they wanted to come sell cars. All of a sudden I showed up for the first day, and realized about half the people there were from our dorm. So, the funny thing was, at the end of the 90 days, I was still employed and he wasn’t. So yes, I got conned into the business, that’s how I got started.

Zach: Wow, and so how did you get to Canada from the US?

Jason: So I worked in the business for a while. I started with the GM Group in the States, fairly large GM Group. I started off as sales, worked my way over to management, I spent some time in the F&I office then this thing called ‘BDC’ was starting up in the industry. Then there was all of a sudden websites and these people called ‘internet leads’ were coming in and they didn’t necessarily know what to do so, you know at the time there wasn’t really a title for me so they just kinda made something up. I was called the Director of Internet operations because pretty much anything that had to do with these “internet people” was pretty much my responsibility which then also developed into a BDC. I started there so I ran that all the way up until 2008 during the recession when my group was closed down. My wife at the time was Canadian so I kinda said “Heck with the US, I’m moving to Canada.” Thought I’d just find myself another big dealer group to work with and boy was I surprised when I got here. It was like stepping back in time from a marketing and operations perspective in the industry and all of a sudden I had this crystal ball and I’m like, “Wow! We’ve already dealt with all these issues.” So it was very cool. I hit the ground running really quick and consulted with dealerships and dealer groups all over Canada. I eventually ended up owning a dealership, a Mitsubishi dealership, which really was just a used car dealership with a flagged out front. For everybody that knows Mitsubishi, that’s really what it was. I had a great time doing that. Brought it up into a place where I was actually able to sell it and make a little bit of money which was awkward for me who has ever owned a Mitsubishi dealership. And then I started the agency. So the agency has been running now for almost 5 years and I started podcasting about 3 years ago, got real heavy into building a brand and putting a lot of content out there and I pretty much haven’t turned the camera off in the last 3 years and it’s been a lot of fun. 

Zach: So let’s talk about 2020, it was a rollercoaster of a year for dealers. Talk to me about what you observed from your -- in Canada and how dealers have adapted since the pandemic?

Jason: Well you know I think there’s many different ways we’ve kinda adapted. There’s an operations perspective, marketing perspective, and I given some crap about how much tough love I give our industry sometimes and I can do that because I’ve been in the industry for long enough. I can give people crap for operations and marketing but what I’ll say in 2020 is that we as an industry changed more in that 12 month period than we’ve probably had in the last 30 years combined when it comes from operations, the customer buying process, and marketing. So many things and I hate to find the silver lining, you don’t want to do something like that during a pandemic but it was. It was actually probably one of the best things that could’ve ever happened to our industry. It almost gave us kind of a reset or I’d like to call kind of a sucker punch in the face and saying,hey, look, you know things like for example, we have to stop the sales process and we have to focus on the buying process and I could explain a little bit what the difference is there. We have to stop marketing the $52 weekly car because nobody buys a $52 weekly car and we actually have to start branding. That was a big one and also I think from the communications perspective, It was these so-called internet people were not internet people, they were real people and we needed to have real conversations with them so we needed to connect with them quickly. Things like live chats have always been around, they saw big adoption to that. Text messaging option. The ability now for me to have a real conversation in real-time with the majority of the dealerships out there within seconds changed before we used to make our customers go through hoola hoops and we made them kinda do somersaults until they could actually communicate with us well that changed in 2020. We were like “No, you have a question for us? We got an answer for you.” I think those were some of the biggest changes I saw in 2020. 

Zach: What are you seeing now that we’re starting in 2021 in terms of digital marketing mistakes from dealers?

Jason: So much has changed in 2021. I mean when you talk about things like the cookie Wars,  you know dealerships from a marketing perspective, as an industry we relied on remarketing strategies and so many things have changed around that. It’s unfortunate enough cause I don’t think enough dealerships are educated on what I mean by that. In the sense that a customer comes to your website and leaves your website. We remarket in very high frequency a “188 by weekly, a 188 by weekly.” and that has been a strategy for us for the last 10 or 15 years and it has worked. Well, that’s going away in 2021 or it’s gonna be vastly limited to the amount of people you could actually remarket to so that’s one. The other thing I think dealerships are waking up to in 2021 is that we need a bit more. The customer wants more. They want to chew on something. They want to connect to a brand than necessarily just buy a product. So we’re finding that now moving into 2021 is now more important than ever for dealerships to really identify the why buy here? No real. Why buy here? Not bullcrap like we’re family-owned. No one gives a crap about family-owned by the way. Any dealership out there that thinks it’s a good marketing strategy, you should just stop it right now. Now, you got to dig deeper into what does it mean to you from an operations perspective. To actually be family-owned. What does being family-owned change in your operational processes that are unique to you and it’s different from your competitors. So I would say that’s probably one of the biggest things.

Zach: And you hit the nail on the head with the “Why buy from us?”, from your perspective if I’m an independent dealer, smaller store, what are some of the why buy from us, in a high level we should consider? 

Jason: Well I’ll tell you what it’s not. It’s definitely not your family-owned, no one gives a crap. It’s not because when I buy a car from you I get a warranty, that’s not it. It’s not because I buy a car from you and I get tires for life. “Buy a car from me, you get a 50-inch TV.” These are not reasons why people will buy a car from you and what you’re looking for is you got to identify the reasons why someone would actually want to create and maintain a relationship with you. That is actually the better question. So if you kind of think about why buy, we buy from brands and people that we connect with at a relationship level, in some level or form not necessarily need to be friends with every single customer you have out there but you got to connect in a human way with someone. If you think about it, even for yourself Zach, some of the top 3 brands that you can still go back to, there’s something about that brand that you personally connect with and maybe it’s their approach quality, maybe it’s their approach to the environment. It’s something that just is personal to you as an individual and that’s what dealers have to focus on right now is that the why buy should be a series of operational processes. That shows you that I actually give a crap. That I’m gonna put you first before my profit. Now I know that sounds crazy but every single business industry that has ever done that has created more about the buying process, not a sales process. They make money, they make tons of money. Amazon’s perfect example. As we were speaking right now my phone just went off and I have an image of a package that‘s sitting right now, outside on my front door. Do they need to do that? Absolutely not, they don’t need to do that. I mean think about all the tech in the process that had to go in to build that type of little tiny element. But then next to it, Like I connect with them. I’ll give you another quick example of something small. I was at Starbucks the other day. I went to go order my Starbucks, I scanned my app and they said my name, “Alright Jason, it’ll take about 5 minutes so if you want you can just stand over there and we’ll get that out to you.” ”Wait a second, I haven’t been in this location before. Do I know them?” For a moment there I was like “Oh crap, do I know this person that I forgot?” Then I realized, as a brand, they wanted to connect with me in the simplest way in the sense of my name. Names got a lot of power with people and that’s what they did. They built a smaller process that when I now scan the app, my name pops up on their screen. 

Zach: Speaking of brand, you often use the color orange for your personal brand and you have a  very unique style in social media. How should used car dealers think about building their brand and standing out from the competition?

Jason: So building a brand, people connect with the brand for two reasons. Because you educate them or you entertain them, one or the other. From a brand perspective, you have to decide what perspective you’re gonna go for. There’s been some dealerships out there, we have great examples that have done an amazing job at connecting with people through entertainment. Shop is a perfect example of that, the Badger commercials was another great example, Suburban’s trunk monkey, I don’t know if you remember that campaign but that was amazing. It entertained people and you connected to the brand through entertainment. It’s one of the reasons why you kept coming back to consume their content because it was fun, it was funny. Chop had its own tv show, you go to Las Vegas, the blue genie, you had all this stuff. It was all entertainment, there was a total circus there. I had the chance to actually go to the dealership once, it was a total circus. Or you defined that your brand is educational. I work with a great dealership right now that’s relatively new but focuses a lot on non-prime; it's a used car dealership that focuses a lot on non-prime stuff. All of their content is actually educating people on how not to be non-prime but they’re in the business of providing non-prime but it makes sense. I loved talking to this dealer principal ‘cause we were so like-minded, he’s like “Look, I would rather put myself out on business. I would rather do less non-prime business but actually connect with people from a brand perspective than do more non-prime business.” So all of his marketing, all of his messaging, everything out there is about a path to prime. He educates people on how you could get to that point and it goes all the way down to his operations, it’s a beautiful thing. 

Zach: What do you think about Carvana and Vroom, they’re more US-based but what’s your perspective on brands from the online used car dealers’ standpoint? 

Jason: You know what, I am someone who has bought a car completely online with never test driving it. In fact, I actually just bought an RV completely online, it’s being delivered in two weeks. I’ve never even stepped foot in, it’s just from all of the 360s and the pictures and all the videos I’ve been able to watch. Purchased the entire thing and I’d never even step foot in this model before. I’ve just had a couple of salespeople at work for me, buy cars, completely sight unseen. Is there a large audience out there that is ready to do that? That audience is getting bigger all the time and I think from any dealerships out there that are listening or watching right now, I understand the audiences. Hey look they’re an independent dealer and the key I think is meeting the customer where they want to be. In the sense, understand that you got to get rid of your sales process, that 12 point sales process, throw it away. Focus on a buying process. A buying process puts the customer first, not the dealership and that gives you now the opportunity to actually have a real conversation with the buyer and how they want to buy. Not how you want to sell, because trust me, we know how you want to sell. You actually have to have a real conversation with a buyer and ask them how they want to buy. Then your process has an ebb and flow to it so that works well with every single customer out there. You see a portion of this being executed with Carvana and Vroom and you see how people are flocking to it. That’s just a unique way, ‘cause what it is it’s a buying process, not a sales process. That is what’s key in Vroom and Carvana is that they’ve defined a very specific buying process. Now it may not be a buying process that works for every single person out there. In fact, I don’t think it does but they’ve gone away from the sales process, they’ve gone to the buying process.  

Zach: Let’s move on to social media. What are some common mistakes that you see dealerships make with social media?  

Jason: Most common mistakes that I’ve seen dealerships make, with social media is that they make it about them. “Look how great we are, look how many cars we’ve sold, look at our happy customers, look at this car that’s coming off the lift right now, look at this car that just came into our shop, look at me.Look at me. Look at me. Look at me. That’s not social media, that’s the polar opposite of it. If you talk to any influencer or social media guru, I hate to use it because it’s so self-proclaiming that anybody calls it that. But If you look at people that are executing really really well at a high level is that they create content not for themselves but for their audience. They create content that’s relevant to them, not to me. It’s not like, “Hey look at me, look how great I am.” No, it’s about them. If I’m the dealership right now and I’m in ABC town or little town of anywhere. If I’m in the little town of anywhere, what content actually means something to the people I’m trying to connect to. Because I think social media is international, monstrous, it’s big, it’s everywhere but as a dealership, you need to find who you’re trying to connect with. There’s a sea of people you could connect out there.  First off you need to find who you need to connect with, then you need to have a real conversation about what content actually means something to those people and then you go create content for that. Understand, that’s only one portion of social media, that’s the media portion. For the most part as dealerships right now, we do a pretty decent job of understanding media, creating content, but there’s another element to this. You actually have to be social. Isn’t that crazy? We actually have to be social on social media? What are you talking about? We actually have to participate in conversations. We actually have to be online, we have to actually be a person in the sense of something happens locally. There’s a local fair or new restaurant that opened in your area, you should be one of the first people within the comments down below, actually engaging saying “Hey, welcome to the neighborhood. I can’t wait to come try your mama’s recipes of whatever.” It’s actually being a person. I think when it comes to social media, dealerships out there, big things I’ve warned you is it’s not about you, it’s about your customers and you need to take time to define who these customers are. Remember that it’s not just the media portion, you can’t just create content, this is not a -- scenario or -- they will come, it doesn’t work that way. You actually have to be social, when you’re social you actually have to be a person meaning engage with other content out there that’s relevant to your audience. If you were to come and tell me, “Hey my audience is parents or particularly mothers with small children because I sell a lot of minivans.” In my dealership we did, I bought every single minivan I could, that’s one thing I find in used car dealerships is that we become the jack of all trades, master of nothing, and I hated that. So for me it was like I identified, and I would shift but it was like if it came into my lot I was gonna have 27 minivans to choose from. It’s just like I could fulfill any type of need. Anyways, I’m getting off-topic but that’s the key of social media, those few things. 

Zach: A lot of dealers throw leverage like generic auto autoresponders whether it’s social media or email. Talk to me about why using generic autoresponders obviously, there’s some good autoresponders but why is it a bad idea to just use a generic autoresponders as a dealer?

Jason: For simple reasons, you do not communicate with anybody else out there. I don’t use autoresponders with my wife, maybe I do from time to time like ‘On My Way’ you know those things when someone calls and a little option pops out, you have these four little autoresponders. I don’t know about you but when someone uses one of those autoresponders against me, I’m kinda like “Asshole.” I mean really? You didn’t have enough time to just say “Hey, I’m in a meeting, can I call you back later?” No one likes autoresponders. That’s the bottom line. We’re consumers, we don’t like to be responded to with an autoresponder. You shouldn’t be treating your customers any other way. Your expectations as a consumer should be higher than that, so why in the hell did you think it’s okay to spend tens of thousands of dollars in marketing to generate these great opportunities, to have these wonderful conversations, and then you screw it up by sending them a stupid autoresponder. Look, customers are smart, you’re smart, you’re consumers so you’re smart, you know this. If you smell that it was an autoresponder, you know immediately and boy does that say a lot about you as an individual. That you just didn’t have the time for me, you didn’t have the time to send me a three sentenced message. I’ll tell you, I’ve used autoresponder and we still do from time to time but if we do use an autoresponder, I’ll tell you right now those autoresponders will have one maybe two sentences in them. In fact, I’ll even tell them it’s not a responder. “This is an autoresponder, we’re letting you know that we received your lead and someone is looking after it.” Alright, I can accept that. That’s cool. That’s transparent. That’s setting the stage for the next piece of the conversation, better be a real written piece of content to me as an individual or even better, a video. I’ll digress on that one ‘cause when I get a little heated up on, I could probably take out the whole podcast and I won’t stop it.  

Zach: So in that same wavelength, what else in the auto dealer marketing world are dealers missing out on or relying too much on, similar to autoresponders?

Jason: In the marketing world, similar to autoresponders, what are they missing out on. I think the video’s a big one. When you look at the lowest cost of engagement in any marketing product out there, it’s in video. We’re still seeing on average or in between 5 to 15 cents for a 30-second view. I mean think about that. There’s a few things that video has, one thing is the video has the opportunity to evoke an emotion and when you’re able to evoke an emotion in your marketing efforts, your brain stores it in an entirely different place, and your ability to recall that information is insanely higher. In fact, it’s up to 4000x higher than if there is no emotion attached to it. Now what do I say about emotion, if you can make someone giggle, if you can make them tug at the heartstrings and makes them a little sad, that works too, or even if you piss them off. I know that sounds crazy but we’ve had some great examples of this. Just recently we had a client of ours record a, it was a Chevy dealership and we were comparing the difference between the new Chevy and the new Ram and he just flat out said, “I don’t know what you want me to say, it’s Ram.” What else do you want me to say about it, the guy was frustrated about it in front of the camera which was great but that is actually the piece that we put out there socially. I can’t tell you how many people remember that person saying crap about that Ram, by the way, I’m not saying that’s a good strategy for everybody out there. The point behind this is that in your marketing efforts, you should be focusing on telling a story. I’ve been in the automotive industry for a long time, the art of telling stories is something that we learned very early on and I’ll be honest with you, we’ve lost that art. We’ve lost the art of telling stories. When a customer would come in, looking at a product, I would have my story ready. If they were coming in to buy a Chevy Cobalt, I had my story ready. If they were coming in to buy an Aztec, I had my story ready. If they were coming in to buy Sentra Spec V, I had a story. I had something that they could connect with. I think from a marketing perspective, people need to understand that we connect with the story before we connect with the product and it goes the same thing for dealers. I connect with the story behind the dealership before I connect with the dealership itself. That’s what I would say the biggest opportunity in what I see people are missing out on is that they’re not shooting videos and they’re not telling stories. They’ve got a way of telling stories. 

Zach: What are some of your predictions for 2021 for auto dealers? And I know that’s a big one. 

Jason: I mean, I’ve spent the last 10 years just strategizing. Just marketing strategies, operations strategies, customer strategies, buying process strategies. I’ve spent so much time doing that and then this year I feel like I have to almost throw everything in one of those strategies out and be willing to just really kinda listen because you just don’t know what’s going on. Inventory’s a big issue, we just don’t know if there’s anything gonna be there and when you do have the inventory you’re gonna sell it. I think from a prediction’s perspective, I think one of two things is gonna happen. This snowball of change that we’ve seen around making more of buyer-centric operations, communications, and marketing either A stick or B go back to the way it was. I think we’re gonna see that late into 2021 if people are still embracing that snowball of change, especially going into the beginning of 2022 is if they’re still embracing that change or they’re like, “Okay, we’re done. We could go back to just focusing on interest rates and payments.” That would be my prediction for this year.

Zach: My last question for you. What are your 3 best nuggets of advice for small to mid-size dealer, running lean on inventory staff during these times? 

Jason: Retention. I made a lot of my success when I had my mid store and everybody knows it’s a used car dealership with a flag out front but a lot of my success was around retention. And that is not something that is typically talked about within the independent and used car dealers out there is that we’re so focused on acquisition. You have to get away from that so you really have to define what your existing customer marketing strategies are, communication strategies, and this is not just about selling too. Understand that these strategies, you should have strategies for selling existing customers but you also should be having strategies around connecting with existing customers. That’s one big tipbit. From a branding perspective, really understand that the “Why buy here” has a lot to do with why you do the things you do, why you do them. We all know you sell metal and you make service metal, depending on your dealership but why you do it the way you do it is what makes you unique from everybody else and that is the story of your brand and that’s what you need to define. You got to understand for everyone out there that’s listening right now, understand this too is that you already have a brand. It already exists. It’s in the eyes of your customers. Go read your google reviews, look at the 2 or 3 most commonly used words in all those reviews, and good or bad, that is your brand. As an owner, you need to take ownership of how your brand is perceived out there. You need to create that strategy saying “This is how we want to be perceived. These are the 2 to 3 words that I want people to describe us as and one of them describes us as innovative or hassle-free or friendly.” Those are the words I want people to use. If you go look at your Google reviews right now and they’re not using those words then you’re not hitting the mark. Understand that a brand has more to do with why you do the way you do it. Understand you sell cars but why you do it the way you do it is what makes you unique so that’s number 2. Then number 3, we talked a little about earlier is getting -- of the sales process, just stop selling. Try to create a buying process that gives control back to the consumer and gives them the ability to buy a product from you instead of you selling a product. This is a great time to do that because inventory is so low. We don’t have to do a whole hell of a lot of selling, for a lot of cases or it could be different depending on your location or where you want your inventory and other stuff. But really take this time, this opportunity to focus on how to create a transparent, easy buying process, not a sales process. Those are my 3 things.

Zach: That’s excellent Jason and for those who want to follow you or reach out to you, what’s the best way to connect?

Jason: Well could pretty much find me in any social media platform out there underneath Strategy with Jason. LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, all underneath Strategy with Jason. I also run another brand called Strategy Mob. That’s myself and actually a whole group of additional content creators that really give a crap about our industry and has put their time into creating content for the betterment of our operations and marketing efforts. Definitely check out or Hey, reach out to me. I’m very approachable. LinkedIn is where I probably spend the most amount of my time. Feel free to dm me, I’m always available.

Zach: Awesome. Well Jason,  thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today.

Jason: Thanks Zach. It was a lot of fun man. Give yourself a great day. 

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