Auto Dealer Drives Calls, Visits With E-Mail

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An Indianapolis auto dealership boosted traffic to its two showrooms and increased service center business by adding an e-newsletter to its marketing arsenal two months ago.


Penske Indianapolis, which owns a Honda and a Chevy dealership in the city, began sending monthly e-newsletters to prospects and customers who opted in for e-mails in October.


Scott Haynes, Internet marketing manager for Penske Indianapolis, said the dealership wanted a more targeted and less costly method than direct mail to communicate with customers. It previously sent a monthly print mailer containing a letter from the dealership and promotions from its service centers and sales department to about 5,000 leads and prospects.


Penske spent about $2,500 on each mailing, including $1,500 in postage. With no way to track response to the mailings, executives were unsure how effective they were, Haynes said.


Instead, Penske Indianapolis focused on building the dealership's e-mail database earlier this year, signing up customers who brought their vehicles in to service centers, customers who bought vehicles or visited its showrooms, and from prospects who visited its booth at the local mall. The dealership now has about 16,000 customers on its e-mail list: around 10,000 Chevy customers and 6,000 Honda customers.


In October, with the help of IMN (iMakeNews Inc.), Waltham, MA, an e-communications service provider, the dealership developed two-page e-newsletters, one for Honda customers and another for Chevy customers. They include articles on new vehicles, travel and links to certain areas of its Web site, such as "new car inventory," "used car inventory" and "schedule service," that corresponded to the articles.


IMN developed the Loyalty Driver e-newsletter service specifically for auto dealerships. It includes a library of articles on topics such as travel tips and car maintenance that dealerships can choose from, or they can place their own articles. Call to action buttons are included alongside some stories, and analytics lets dealerships know how many customers viewed an article, clicked through to the Web site, called the dealership and other metrics.


Via a call tracking number provided at the top of the e-mail, more than 90 customers called Penske's dealerships to schedule sales and service appointments or ask questions in the first month. Penske's second e-mail, sent in November, included similar information and called for customers to schedule a test drive of a new Chevy, placed near an article on Chevy's Red Tag sale.


"Within the first hour of the newsletter going out, I had 15 test drives," Haynes said. Twenty-five test drives were scheduled, which is "large for any campaign. And 25 test drives is just part of the success -- you have to add in service ... I am still getting phone calls from the e-newsletter that went out three weeks ago."


Along with an increase in calls, both Penske Web sites experienced a spike in traffic after the e-newsletters were sent.


"My lead rate probably goes up 50 percent in the two to three days after [customers] read the newsletter," he said.


The e-newsletters have been more cost efficient and measurable than Penske's previous direct mail pieces, Haynes said.


"For just a few hundred dollars monthly investment, it seems like the most cost-effective thing we do," he said.


Though Haynes thinks that the e-newsletter's calls to action and coupons are effective traffic drivers, he thinks the calls to action work because they are surrounded by interesting content.


"We wanted to give them a reason to read the article," he said. "We even put in an article about movies for the holidays."


Using IMN's analytics, Haynes and other executives track which articles customers like to read and how long they spend reading them. Relevant articles and information also yield low opt-out rates, he said. Only two customers opted out of the e-mail list in the past two months.


Christine Blank covers online marketing and advertising, including e-mail marketing and paid search, for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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