WALSER AUTOMOTIVE GROUP TURNS TO DATA-DRIVEN MARKETING Mark Andrews, director of marketing for Walser Automotive Group, which owns 23 stores in Minnesota and Kansas, says his philosophy is “digital first” when it comes to marketing spend. More specifically, Andrews said, “We let the competition outspend us, and then we win with our database.” Under Andrews’ direction, the company has moved most of its marketing to digital channels, and its data-driven approach has led to a consistent annual increase in sales, despite industry trends. Walser Automotive Group is focused on providing the very best customer experience and, to that end, has designed its sales process to be customer centric: • The company pioneered upfront pricing in the early 2000s, reducing customer anxiety about negotiating the best deal. • Walser pays its salespeople (whom it calls “customer specialists”) by the hour rather than on commission, incentivizing them based on customer satisfaction. • Walser eliminated the finance manager position at its stores and created a model in which customers work with the same customer specialist for their entire purchase journey. • The company created proprietary software that allows it to speed up the process: The average time from when a customer says, “This is the vehicle I want” to driving off the lot is just around 40 minutes — well below industry averages. “The combination of these factors creates a unique customer experience and a different way to buy a car,” Andrews said. “It’s a faster but also a better experience.” With that said, it’s no secret that automotive sales has changed drastically in the past five years. Where dealers once could depend on customers coming into the store to explore, now the bulk of consumer research takes place online, and they rely heavily on advice from strangers — including Google and Facebook reviews and from third-party sites such as Cars.com. A 2015 Crowdtap study found that 87 percent of auto buyers research potential car purchases on social media prior to making a decision 1 . As a result, Andrews and his team of 10 focus their efforts primarily on targeted email marketing, paid search, display, retargeting and social media advertising. He relies on several key vendor-partners, including Outsell and C-4 Analytics, who are subject-matter experts in their areas. “We Win with Our Database” The key to success, Andrews said, is to leverage data to the fullest extent possible. That typically starts with email. Walser utilizes a marketing automation platform designed for automotive dealers for the majority of its stores. The platform draws data from Walser’s CRM and allows Andrews’ team to send dynamic individualized emails to all the customers in its database. Each message contains content and offers based on the customer’s unique buying stage and interests and incorporates OEM content and offers as well. Subsequent messages are triggered based on click-through activity. This program replaced the generic email blasts the Walser marketing team used to send each month, and is mostly automated, meaning they only need to spend a few hours a month to keep the campaigns running across all stores.