Dealers need strong communications channels with OEMs to help them build consideration and loyalty, and of course, to find customers. One such channel, and the oldest one, is FordDirect.com. The system, which has been around in one form or another for 13 years, is also unusual in that it was started by dealers both as a shopping interface for consumers and a marketing toolkit for dealers.
The Web-based digital marketing services channel, started as a joint dealer/OEM venture by Ford National Dealer Council members Leo Hillock and David Kain (now president of Lexington, Ky.-based KainAutomotive.com), has evolved considerably since its early days.
"Back in the day, 5% of retail sales were from the net; now 22% of retail sales come from Internet leads,” says FordDirect.com VP Kate Bullach, who has been with the company since 2002. She says the dealers who started it “wanted to learn how to take advantage of emerging opportunities for partnering with Ford to leverage digital to drive service and sales."
Bullach, who says pretty much all Ford and Lincoln dealers now use one of FordDirect's services, tells Marketing Daily that part of the service’s jobs is supporting one-to-one marketing to prospects. "When a region launches a campaign, we tie into the dealer DMS, pull customers out and deliver personalized phone calls to them," she says. "It's really important to communicate to the customer the right way, at the right time, with the right channel." If a customer is coming off lease, for example, that would be the right time to deliver a message about new offers, she explains. "If I'm just in for service, there should be a message on specials. In that respect, the connected car is going to be very important for helping dealers."
Bullach says that since auto shoppers look at 25 Web sites on average when researching, "it's especially important for dealers to have a very strong presence online." On the positive side, the dealer's site is the second-most-viewed Web resource for shopping. "It starts there, but FordDirect is also about digital advertising, in all the places customers are looking." The importance of the dealer's Web engagement can't be overstated, per Bullach, who says that the top consideration drivers are the customer’s experience at the dealership and their experience with the dealer’s Web site.
"Our job is to help them to take control; that's our strength. Whether it's digital advertising tools that help them communicate, or vehicle locator systems, online trades, vehicle exchange networks, online reputation, or tips and best practices.”