“MAD AS HELL!”
7am Monday morning 22 years ago my phone rings. It’s one of my newest and biggest advertising clients on the other end of the line. This can’t be good. “Jim, my competitor is using the exact same lines of copy we used last weekend…isn’t your work copyrighted? I’m mad as hell. I want my lawyer to send him a letter today.” After he vented for several more minutes I calmly told him not to worry…and not to call his lawyer. I did this for two important reasons. First, you don’t want your competitor to know he’s getting under your skin. It will only encourage him to plagiarize more of your material. Second, adding more radio time to your schedule will sell a lot more cars than sending a check to your lawyer.
STEALING IS EASY!
Copyrighted material can easily be modified to skirt the intent of the law. Even if you change the entire word track, a thief can steal a concept. The answer is to simply lead the market. Stay ahead of the pack. When they start twisting like you’re twisting, be ready to turn in a different direction by design…with planning.
KIPLING WAS RIGHT
Many years ago on a plane flight from the West Coast I picked up a magazine that had a quote from Rudyard Kipling. “They copied all they could follow but they couldn’t copy my mind, and I left em sweating and stealing a year and a half behind.” When I got back to my office, I had a plaque made up with that saying and it has hung over my desk since then. It is one of my most important guiding philosophies of marketing.
LEAD DON’T FOLLOW!
I can lay out case after case of successful marketing strategies, tactics and campaigns that embrace leading…never following the market. One of the most brilliant strategies in the retail automobile business I ever witnessed was a large dealer in the Midwest who completely dominated his marketplace and destroyed the competition with a masterful leadership plan. Every week this dealer ran a loss leader vehicle at a triple net price for a certain number of hours on a certain day.
A powerful advertising broadcast message blanketed the market for the preceding 72 hours of the sale period. Competitors went crazy. Some sent shoppers to see if it was a bait and switch tactic and if the dealer actually had the vehicles advertised. Some burned the phone line to the factory complaining of unfair pricing.
The following weekend, many of this dealer’s competitors would run the same vehicle at a competitive price however this leading edge dealer was advertising something completely different. For at least eight weeks in a row this dealer would run these crazy loss leader sales on different vehicles every weekend. But here’s the best part. This dealer had the highest average grosses across the entire line of any dealer in that market. He was selling more cars. He was making more money. He was the target of every competitor claiming his prices were unfair. It was simply amazing.
I spent an enormous amount of time studying this masterful leading edge marketing and took many of the concepts on the road to dealers all across the nation, and every time we stuck to the basics, we won…and still win big.
“The answer is to simply lead the market. Stay ahead of the pack.”
Here are a few of the most important components of this leading edge promotional blitz:
- Planning, planning, planning. Obviously anyone can sell a car at a loss anytime they so choose. But that’s not fun. If you order a handful of base vehicles, deleting every option possible, you’re in a better position to sell at a below market price because most of your competition isn’t ordering vehicles that way. But that takes planning and ordering, and delivery time. These campaigns work best when laid out in detail six months in advance. Planning also gives your media folks plenty of lead-time to create the most powerful message possible and make sure the communication channels can deliver it effectively.
- Don’t order too many of the leader vehicles. One of my closest dealer friends once ordered 100 base Ford Escorts with standard transmission. It took him over a year to balance out because most people moved themselves up to an automatic or advertising higher content. But the fact that he actually had all those base Escorts became an amazing market gambit. But he probably could have had as much success with 15 of the base models.
- Actually have at least several of the vehicles you advertise at the price you advertise them at, and be ready to sell those vehicles at that advertised price. The reality is that most people will move themselves to a model with options, colors and features they actually want.
- Train your salespeople to sell that vehicle at that advertised price. There is nothing more disarming or contrary to typical ‘move em up’ strategies than a salesperson who says “You must be here for the car we are advertising. Let’s go pick out a color and get you in the drivers seat.” Of course as the salesperson is taking the customer to the advertised vehicle, there is nothing wrong with pointing out the row of the same model which happens to have automatic, a tech dashboard, etc., for just a little more per month.
- Limit the sale price period to a matter of hours (preferably hours preceding the normally busiest traffic hours of the day). For instance, the sale period might be from 8am until 1pm on Saturday. Be firm about the cutoff. Allow a greeter to distribute sale price holders to those people in the showroom who have arrived in time for the sale that are waiting for a salesperson to talk with. Have a sign at the entrance indicating the sale price is good only until a certain time.
- Advertise the sale specifics on radio and television only 72 hours prior to the sale. Make sure the advertised price is no longer advertised at close of sale. Use promotional display and video advertising on the Internet, email and mobile one week before the sale but don’t disclose the actual model on sale until 72 hours prior to actual sale. The Internet and social media is a great place to tout “Another mind blowing, market busting six hour sale this Saturday from 8am till 2pm. Prices so insane we can’t disclose them until Thursday morning at 9am. Stay tuned.”
- Loose lips still sink ships. Your marketing plans/strategy have to remain as close to top secret internally as possible until public disclosure. Don’t feed your competitors any information they might use to counter a planned promotion.
If your advertising is seat-of-the-pants, last minute and reactive, you’re doing it wrong. The more you plan and the better you plan, the easier it is to lead and dominate your market place. Your competitors will hate you. Your customers, the factory, your accountant and your family will love you.