[INTERVIEW] Brand Consideration: How Our Comprehensive Digital Branding Services Re-imagined Automotive Marketing for a Tampa Dealership

Learn How Our Full-Service Digital Marketing Team Can Do the Same for Your Dealership

Automotive dealerships have unique needs when it comes to marketing and branding. Independent dealerships are up against staggering competition from the public companies in the auto industry, which often boast some of the nation’s biggest marketing budgets – to say nothing of the immense supply chain pressure they are currently facing.

Sometimes, it feels safest to do what you’ve always done when it comes to dealership marketing. You know the routine: operate a decent website, run local TV commercials, hold local events. But the question that you should ask yourself is this: is it working? Are you seeing the kind of growth that justifies your current strategy?

Perhaps it is human nature to be pretty risk-averse, but avoiding risk also means avoiding growth opportunities.

A forward-thinking automotive dealerships marketer will excel at those standard marketing tasks, of course, but Lincoln Digital Group (LDG) goes far beyond “standard.” The time is right for implementing innovative digital marketing strategies, including high-impact CTV buys, integrated programming sponsorships, streaming simulcasts, and video geo-fencing alongside meticulously detailed marketing scripts, community activations, and search engine dominance.

Retaining an automotive ad agency is a large commitment that can feel like a big risk. You’ve probably sat in plenty of pitch meetings, listening to ideas and strategies. But how do you know that you can trust the agency you’re most excited about?

We recently sat down with Justin Cerone, our CEO and Creative Director, to learn more about how Lincoln Digital Group built an outstanding marketing strategy for a car dealership in Tampa.

Back in 2016, before LDG got involved, Reeves Import Motorcars in Tampa knew there was a problem. They weren’t seeing the metrics they wanted to see in their market share and sales efficiency. These faults can cause poor lead quality and quantity. Their marketing company was sending them a lot of traffic and generating millions of monthly impressions – but simply wasn’t providing them with the kinds of high-quality leads they needed to see share and sales growth.

Q: We started working with Reeves in 2016. Can you tell us about how they came to choose LDG over our competitors?

A: In the spring of 2015, Reeves Import Motorcars was reviewing its marketing contracts. They were having market share and sales efficiency challenges. We came in and pitched, but they decided to give their existing agency another chance to make things right.

Then, in January 2016, I got a call from the General Manager of the dealership. They were ready to change agencies. Despite giving time to the prior agency to address the prior issues, those problems had not been solved.

Our team came to understand that brand consideration was at the root of those issues. But when they first reached out to us, it was because of market share issues.

Q: How did they know from early on that we were the agency they could trust to deliver on these goals?

A: I grew up working in the automotive industry. My first job was counting nuts and bolts in the warehouse of a parts department. Then I worked in the retail parts department, serving customers directly. Later on, I moved to the service department, then business development – which gave me a comprehensive view of customer needs and dealership operations.

Fast forward to my career today. I’ve had a huge amount of experience with the automotive industry and automotive marketing. I know the necessity of being numbers-oriented. Even before we started working with Reeves, we already had significant automotive experience working with a few other large dealer groups here in Florida. And I know the importance of being analytics-oriented guy: execute, measure, and refine. In fact, the availability of real-time traffic, lead and sales data – and ability to impact it – is part of what attracted me to digital marketing as a career in the first place.

When I shared my perspective with Reeves, combined with my experience marketing big, well-run dealerships, it was clear that we had the right mix of experience and expertise to help overcome their challenges and add unique value to their dealership.

Q: So this was a years-long relationship, right? How did you build trust over all that time?

A: Yes, all of this was achieved over a period of six years as their agency of record. And we treated their dealership like it was ours. If someone on the Reeves team had a short-term goal that would boost sales temporarily but ultimately make long-term growth more difficult, we didn’t just say, “Okay, fine,” and act like an order-taker.

We would give advice with an eye toward the long term. And we would ask ourselves, “If this was my business, what would help us in the long run?”

Retail automotive marketing is the front line of the front line. The competitors in this industry are some of the biggest marketers in the country, which is why automotive marketing contracts are so competitive. If we weren’t providing results, we weren’t going to stick around. The fact that we served as agency of record for so long is evidence of our results.

Strong Automotive Marketing Requires Industry Knowledge & Insights

Q: One of LDG’s big campaigns for Reeves was a 50th Birthday event. How did that come about, and what did the project look like?

A: Working on this campaign was probably the biggest honor of my career, as well as a fun memory. Reeves’ 50th birthday began in January 2021. In the third quarter of 2020, I mentioned something about to the client about their upcoming milestone. They agreed that it was an interesting idea, but that it had been on the back burner for a while.

A few months later,  the GM and I had our Christmas lunch, and he re-visited the  idea of working on a 50th birthday event. Just a few days before the end of 2020, we had a brainstorming session with our teams, about 7 people in total, and by the end of that call, we envisioned much of the campaign.

We came up with the key elements: the very specific 50th birthday branding and logo. The logo would be on everything that year–the tentpole of the campaign. We also envisioned community-oriented events, videos, and productions to underscore that 50th birthday celebration. We even started going back into photo archives.

Q: It seems like the 50th birthday events built really well onto the previous campaign, Tampa Drives Reeves. Is that right?

A: The Tampa Drives Reeves campaign, which started in the Q4 of 2020,  was incredibly successful. When it was time to celebrate the 50th birthday milestone, we already had the URL of DriveReeves.com. We took the 50th birthday logo and combined it with the success of Tampa Drives Reeves in order to create the messaging that Tampa Drives Reeves – Since 1971. We don’t often structure campaigns this way, but this was a unique opportunity that both built on prior success and clearly communicated the main idea of the 50th birthday. It was a really natural fit that we had data to believe would resonate with the market.

Q: Digital automotive marketing requires really close attention to the smallest of details, doesn’t it?

A: Philosophically, there is nothing more ROI-positive or effective than a fully integrated campaign. It is not about digital vs. traditional vs. experiential. From your customer’s point of view, their interaction with the dealership is all one thing.

From the first time they see your commercial to when they go to the website, and then when they call you and your receptionist picks up, to when they go to one of your events–to your customer, that is all one thing. They don’t care how we separate it behind the scenes.

What this meant for the Reeves campaign is that we wanted everything to be completely integrated.  We went down to the smallest detail, like putting 50th birthday messaging on their receipts and invoices, and writing new phone scripts. Everything has to fit together.

We ask ourselves this essential question about every single aspect of the customer’s journey: how can we make this more meaningful, and deepen connections with the customer?

Working with a Trusted Digital Marketer Gets Results

Q: What distinguishes LDG from competitors when it comes to automotive marketing?

A: For us, as an agency, all we do is focus on the consumer. We are a B2C agency. I’ve always had this view that you always need to see things from your customer’s point of view. In the case of our clients, we need to see things from their customers’ point of view to do the job effectively.

As we went through the pandemic, that accelerated Reeves’ need to focus on technology and how to fulfill customer needs without being in person. That made us narrow in even more on how we build consumer connections.

Q: What is your relationship like with your customers, including Reeves?

A: One thing we don’t do is come in and say, “Here’s your finished ad. Good luck!”

We’ll ask questions about operations and how they plan to deliver what they are promising. Today, marketing is more than what you see on TV and the website – it’s customers’ actual experience with your business. At its’ core, marketing is simply a promise being made from a business to its audience. But, you must fulfill that promise for your marketing and advertising to “work” over months and years.

That means that sometimes we’ll push back on sales or service managers. We will challenge them to live up to that promise. Are they upholding the best practices within their industry? If not, we’ll provide some consulting to help get them on track. We bring a valuable outside perspective to help managers take their operations from a B level to an A level wherever we can.

Q: We know that LDG was able to provide Reeves with a significant increase in high-quality leads. Can you tell me about how you measured your success when it came to providing those leads?

A: The campaign was a massive hit. We have focus group data that shows that intent to buy increased 50 to 60% after someone saw the ad. Every single month of 2021 was a record-setting leads month and a record-setting sales month.

Q: What connections do you see between those record-setting leads and sales?

We are responsible for creating opportunities for our clients to sell more cars. We want to get your brand in front of significantly more people who choose to seek out more information and contact your sales team.

When we see massive lead growth in a month or quarter, we ask how the closing rate changed as well. That’s a key indicator of quality. A salesperson won’t forget how to sell cars overnight, right? So if we send over an increase of 50% in leads, but the closing rate drops by 90%, then that’s a problem. It means we’re not sending quality leads.

With Reeves, we saw exceptional lead growth and sales growth; which means we sent quality leads.

Long-Term Thinking Supports Long-Term Goals

Q: When you started working with Reeves, there were things that they had never imagined doing, which you made possible. What are some of those things?

A: The story of our engagement with Reeves was about starting very small and focused, very narrow in scope. Then, we gradually layered on. We needed to make the right expansions, the right strategic adjustments, at the right time.

Tactically, that means that years one and two were about as fundamental as they can get. It was paid search, SEO, and email marketing – strictly the basics. As we gained trust and proved that leads and sales were growing cost-effectively, it was time to layer in some social media ads. Then, a year later, it was time to layer in some broadcast TV sponsorships, roadblocks and schedules, and then cable. By 2020, we were adding streaming TV ads, local streaming sponsorships, and highly sophisticated location-based digital ads – things we never would have imagined doing just a few short years prior.

Reeves came to us as a brand that knew themselves very well. Not only did we do the very fundamental tasks of building up the lowest part of their funnel, but we also got them to be front-and-center in their town’s local Superbowl coverage. We got them front-and-center in their town’s Masters and Stanley Cup Playoffs coverage with custom sponsorships negotiated with the local broadcast affiliates.

Each step of the way, we earned their trust. And they were willing to go along with us. We left no stone unturned when it came to getting them in front of audiences that were really difficult to get to, like those digital streaming markets in sports. That was a huge challenge at that time – the technology just wasn’t all there to deliver on the idea. But we spoke directly to the inventory supplier and found a way.

We were forward-thinking and fast-acting. We knew how it would affect customers if we owned those marquee programs and events in town – especially in the midst of a pandemic, when TV was one of the few things people could spend lots of time doing. Ultimately, we just wanted to win – so we turned over every stone to help our client do that.

Lincoln Digital Group Provides Our Customers With Forward-Thinking, Comprehensive Digital Services

We don’t just solve the marketing problems that automotive retailers face. We do it in a way that proves, every step of the way, that we are prioritizing their long-term interests.

We helped Reeves Import Motorcars find new success through our data-driven approach, intense attention to detail, and our extensive industry knowledge. We know what automotive dealerships need in order to make waves in one of the country’s most competitive markets.

Imagine the success that we brought to Reeves: 142% lead growth in year 1, with 51% lead growth from their established website. They also saw 30% lead growth from organic traffic visitors compared to 2019. And in 2021, Reeves experienced seven consecutive months of all-time record high sales volumes!

Let’s set up a time to start discussing how you can see numbers like this by working with Lincoln Digital Group.