Friday, June 26, 2015

The Digital Gold Rush: How Flash Point Turned One Campaign Into 1,700+

“The gold rush for sales continues for car dealers, but the methods with which they pan for the gold have transformed completely. It just so happens that my team is expert on how to get the best results with the best new tools,” says Scott Empringham, CEO of Flash Point Communications. “With TIV heading for 17 million, a record high mix, the competition for car dealers is more intense than ever before. But with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms, things have also never been more exciting. Rather than sifting through piles of dirt to find what they’re looking for, dealers have the opportunity to speak directly to in-market leads and other brand enthusiasts. They even have the chance to turn enthusiasts into brand evangelists.

The days of relying strictly on TV and print ads have come to an end. For the first time ever, business men and women don’t have to shovel a bunch of money into advertising and simply hope that it will result in sales. We can actually measure the results of our efforts and show a return on investment. Basically, Flash Point can give dealers the gold that got them digging in the first place.”

A turnkey toolkit that Flash Point calls “Hyper Local Sales Event Activation,” was designed to overcome the practical obstacles car dealers face in using social media to connect with prospects in their local area. It’s a novel approach the Costa Mesa, CA-based social commerce agency pioneered in 2013, responding to a lament from Ford marketers that, as Empringham says, “they just couldn’t get dealer-level social-media campaigns to work.”

Results from the retail pilot program on Facebook were so good – Pilot dealers got 20X more sales than non-pilot Dealers – that Ford dealer groups quickly asked for more – and dealer groups from other brands across the country are now flocking to Flash Point.

You gotta have a hook…
“It starts with a hook provided by the factory,” Empringham says. “Cars to be won, plus creative assets to promote an online sweepstakes. Dealer groups pay a set fee for each participating store – about two thousand bucks. Then we do the rest.

“First, we install the campaign promotion on each dealer’s website and Facebook page, along with proprietary tools that tie it into each store’s lead-management system. But that’s just for starters. We assign a campaign manager to each dealer, tasked with pinpointing Facebook users in nearby zip codes, cross-referencing with Polk data to find potential conquest shoppers, answering email – even creating in-store flyers.

“For both factory and dealer, it’s totally turnkey. Just fire it up, stand back and watch what happens.”

Hyper Local started with a request in 2012 from Ford’s Great Lakes Region marketers, who turned to the 15-year-old Orange County-based digital-marketing specialist that cut its eye teeth serving Lincoln Mercury when it was headquartered in nearby Irvine.

“Ford knew they could move mountains if only they could link the power of social media directly to the individual stores,” Empringham recalls. “But for several reasons previous dealer-level efforts always fell short. One, hand-off to the dealers wasn’t executed well – the benefits weren’t clear. Two, they required too much effort by in-store staff – busy people and many of them lack the required skill-set. Three, messaging didn’t work for the dealers.

“Some campaigns actually annoyed dealers by pushing unwanted content to their Facebook pages. Even worse, they drove some prospects to lead forms for a competing dealer. Ouch! On top of that, once social media users figured out how to game the sweepstakes many leads turned out to be bogus.

“So the Ford people told us: ‘You gotta get dealers behind it. It’s gotta serve their needs – delivering leads, delivering measureable sales, and a solid ROI. And it’s gotta be totally turnkey: no one should have to lift a finger.’ That was a Eureka moment for us because it really crystalized the challenge.”

… and act locally – hyper locally
For the 2013 pilot project, Ford selected geographically and technically diverse dealers in 10 markets across the Great Lakes Region, a mature market known for its stubborn brand loyalty. And that great Midwestern expanse was the first challenge for Flash Point.

“Like they say, ‘Think Globally, Act Locally,’” Empringham says. “But we had to go hyper-local, delivering hands-on service at the showroom level but doing it with enough scale to make it affordable. So we set up satellite offices at a couple of key points, and assigned Retail Account Managers, each handling several dealers. Our people worked really hard to develop personal relationships with the stores, and understand their issues. That was key to getting the stores on board, and many told us how much they appreciated the support we gave them.

“But what really got the dealers excited was watching their Facebook fan base swell with new contacts in their hometowns. On average, over five months each of the 109 dealers got 1,071 new fans. And from those fans each dealer got 150 direct opt-in leads – buyers raising their hands, saying ‘please, reach out to me.’

“You’ve got to understand what an eye-opener this was for dealers used to meeting with ad agencies and media sales reps who come in talking about CPMs and KBAs and impressions. ‘I don’t even think the agency understands how the hell a KPI, KBA, or CPM translates to a sale,’ one dealer told me. ‘What I understand is a lead…because that can at least translate to a sale.’”

On the bottom line, pure gold: 2,000 cars sold
“At Flash Point, we got excited, too, watching the leads roll in – hot, qualified leads spitting out like nuggets!” Empringham enthuses. “We were able to filter the stream down to buyers intending to purchase within 90 days in each dealer’s market area – so every one of them was worth following up. And the dealers could see clearly these leads were coming from us.

“At the end of the pilot program, best of all: pure gold on the bottom line. On average, each dealer got 20 new sales. And the factory? They gave away 4 cars and sold 2,000.

“We were able to measure this against the other 1,700 U.S. dealers who weren’t part of the program. Participating dealers got seven times more new Facebook fans, 19 times more opt-in leads and 20 times more new sales. Once they found out, scores of other dealers called up begging to be included.

“One number that made me sit up was the 25% of sales that were conquests. We had impressive conquest numbers even in Southeast Michigan where it’s easier to get folks to change their religion or politics than it is to win converts from Chevy to Ford.”

Tapping into people’s passions
In the 18 months since the Great Lakes pilot, Flash Point has been spreading the Hyper Local gospel across America, winning converts in other Ford regions and among competing brands.

“We’ve had a strong relationship with Ford since day one,” Empringham says. “And we value that because they’re great people to work with. But we work with several other brands, too, and they are now coming to us for Hyper Local support.

“We’re gearing up for growth that we know is coming because our service works, it’s totally turnkey, the results are entirely measurable and the return on investment speaks for itself. Sure, we’re going to see copycats emerge, but this isn’t just some cookie-cutter recipe – it requires excellence in execution and hands-on service that are at the core of our corporate culture.

“What’s more, we’re not standing still. The factory sweepstakes hook and Facebook are where we started, but we’re finding new ways to tap into people’s online passions. For example, we recently did a great co-marketing deal with Dodge and Motley Crüe that gave Facebook fans access to the heavy metal band’s concerts. There’s huge creative scope with this – and that’s just part of what drives us forward at Flash Point.

“This is the most exciting moment in history to be working in automotive marketing. Not only is it like a gold rush out there, the competition has never been more fun. The great American brands are back at full strength. All the brands have amazing product. And the historic shift of audiences to the Internet means everyone has to reinvent their approach. Flash Point happens to have an approach that works like a charm, plus the privilege of working hand-in-glove with the wonderful folks who run dealerships across America.”

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