Article by
Craig hooghiem in Strategy

It’s a question that marketers in all industries ask themselves and one that should be the core focus of any effective long term marketing strategy. For some, it’s a topic that is a four year degree, for others it is a topic that comes into play due to their business needs to drive sales in the near term. For others, it is some combination of the two.

In automotive, it can sometimes be a challenge to keep this in mind. With the ongoing needs to promote current incentives for new car sales, promote inventory on the used lot, keep the service bays full, offer extended warranties and F&I products, with the odd recall thrown in here and there, it is easy to become distracted with focusing on the dealership and OEM’s marketing requirements rather than your customer’s needs.

So how does one keep in mind customer preferences in how they are marketed to, while achieving the marketing objectives across the five departments in a store? In short, it comes down to understanding and paying respect to consumer behavior.

One article is not enough to cover every point and factor that plays a part in Consumer Behavior, but there are a few points that are easy to implement in your process and communications that will help.


The nice part about having a consumer behavior driven approach to your marketing is that at the end of the day, every marketer is also a consumer. When putting together a broad marketing plan, or focusing on specific tactical opportunities, one can ask themselves, “Does this speak to me?,” to keep the customer’s needs top of mind.

While there will always be a need for advertising that has a broad reach, such as display advertising and radio, to allow for your store to become top of mind to car buyers and owners in your geographic area, there is also great opportunity to have your marketing speak to individual customers that you already know – those that have already expressed interest through submitting leads on your website and those that have bought or serviced at your dealership in the past.

When communicating with your current or prospective customers, how can you make your marketing more timely and relevant to their needs? In short, you can focus on the right audience for a specific message, and have the content of your messaging be personalized to that customer.

While the “creepiness” factor of personalization is a hot-topic in 2019 for marketing, something to keep in mind when communicating to your customers is that they are your customers. You have a relationship with them where they have likely spent tens of thousands of dollars with your business, or are in the process of considering to do so. Coming back to every marketer being a consumer, you can ask yourself when drafting a letter or email to your audience for a specific goal, “Do these customers want to feel like they are being marketed to?”. When speaking to your customers about offers, incentives, or promotions that they qualify for, greeting them by name, including their specific year/make/model, and other pieces of their information that you have in hand makes it feel like they are part of a conversation with a local business that is part of their community rather than a cold mass-marketing machine a million miles away.

Don’t leave it there though, use this as an opportunity to provide a concierge service level experience. Having a landing page that has a personalized URL with their name in it, continues to greet them by name, and includes offers or promotions that are ‘exclusive’ just to them brings the personalized, connected experience to a whole new level.

Media Mix

With the understanding that it is important to make a connection to our customers, and to make them feel like we truly value them, its also important to consider how they want to be communicated with. For a car dealership, traditional media, although still an important tool in the marketing toolbox is not the most effective way to reach individual, specific customers.

Every customer has a preference in how they are communicated with, and focusing on one method is a sure-fire way to ensure that your marketing is being lost in the clutter of day-to-day life. Email is a great way to keep in touch with your customers, but again, coming back to every marketer being a consumer, we have all experienced an influx of marketing emails, many of which we ignore – some of us even set up dedicated email addresses that we never check just to give out to business for marketing emails to keep our real email inbox uncluttered.

Mail on the other hand has a psychological effect to it. It offers a personal experience, and has a 29% higher brand recall than digital advertising1. It is not as prominent of an issue nowadays, however, it is easy for a consumer to have the perception of getting “junk mail” if it is the only form of communication received from a business.

So what is the solution? Consumers in 2019 have their guard up in a way. They want to be communicated with by businesses that they have had some form of a relationship with, but they also need to be reached in a way that resonates with them as an individual. There is no one-size fits all way of pushing marketing out in a way that will convince every customer 100% of the time, but there is a tried and true method of maximizing your effectiveness of reaching customers as individuals, and it is a media mix.

Integrated marketing communications – or a specific message pushed out across multiple channels and mediums is an excellent way to reach your customers, and to provide them the opportunity to engage with your marketing in the way that works for them. Don’t focus your strategy exclusively on email, or exclusively on mail – that’s an underperforming strategy. Focus instead on making use of all the tools available to you, pairing email and mail together with your other channels to reinforce your message. If your customer misses your email, doesn’t see your social ads, or doesn’t hear your radio ad, you have a second chance of reaching them with mail – and vice versa.


No consumer wants to feel like they’re getting bombarded with messaging from one specific business, but at the same time, nobody wants to feel like they only get communicated with by a car dealer when they want to sell them a new car. Too much, or too little can frustrate a customer.

There is no formula that works for every consumer, or set number of communications you can send in a month or year that you can market to a customer directly that works across the board, but common sense prevails. You have a business requirement to communicate with your customers with some regularity, but should not overdo it out of respect for your customers.

One great way to help dial in your frequency of messaging is the targeting of customers for each communication. Although it is not a bad thing to reach the same customer multiple times, you can make sure to only do so when it is relevant to them. Don’t focus on sending every communication to every customer – it unnecessarily increases your frequency per customer while being inefficient with your marketing spend. Instead, filter your communications down to customer segments that are most relevant for the messaging being sent out. If you have a sale on heavy duty trucks, the customer who has only ever bought compact sedans may not be the best audience for your message.

Along with using the targeting of individual segments to aid in your fine-tuning of frequency of communications, again fall back to the idea of every marketer being a consumer. When you are creating a campaign, maybe filter out customers who were marketed to directly in the last 30 days. Ask yourself, would I want to be followed up with so soon with another marketing campaign promoting the same or similar thing?


We’re all consumers, and some of us are marketers. How you market your dealership, and how you speak to your customers is ultimately a question that only you can answer, but keeping in mind how your customers want to be communicated with is something that will always be of value. Making your communications relevant to an individual customer, available across multiple channels and mediums, and making sure you contact your customers often enough – but not too often will make you a more effective marketer, and allow your marketing dollars go further.