Keep Your Reputation Management Engine Idling Smoothly

Dealers: Don’t Count on “Fuel Additives” to Power Your Reputation Management

Volker Jaeckel, Digital Marketing Ambassador for ADP Digital Marketing

By now, we’ve all heard about the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’S) landmark smackdown: the FTC fined Legacy Learning Systems $250,000 for unethical review practices. For the Tennessee-based company, the unethical behavior consisted of putting some “fuel additives” into their sales process by hiring marketers, disguised as customers, to plaster consumer review sites with comments about “the best home-study DVD course for guitar I have ever seen.” What a fantastic idea (NOT!!!). Sales revenues rose up into the millions, the FTC smelled something fishy, investigated, and the rest is history. Now, companies everywhere are clutching their collective hats, hoping and praying their own reputation management process is above- board.

And really, who can blame them?

Dealership Reputation Management: The Race for Stars

After all, although Legacy Learning System’s methods were fishy, they are hardly the first to feel pressured by the “race for stars.” Reputation management is the hot new buzzword, and we car dealers are in the hot seat, charged with inspiring page after page of glowing reviews in record time, as well as silencing any “Negative Nellys” who have left an unflattering review.

As a “vintage auto old-timer” who has worked in the car business almost two weeks (or was it longer?), this reviews frenzy reminds me of the universal (automotive) marketing law; otherwise known as the TRUTH: No matter how urgent or desperate a marketing campaign might seem, it must always be tempered with ethics, honesty, and wise judgment. Take it from the VJnator (Did I mention you can follow me on Twitter @VJnator?): Fuel additives may offer an exhilarating extra edge for a short while, but you can’t rely on performance-enhancing gimmicks to power your review process in the long run. On that note, here are four tips for “grease-proofing” your dealership reputation management process. Follow these to keep your reputation marketing engine idling smoothly and steadily.

Five Ways to Keep Your Reputation Management Engine Idling Smoothly

    1) Do not offer your customers gift cards, free oil changes, or any other compensation in exchange for them posting positive reviews on Merchantcircle, Yelp, etc. It may seem like a great and generous idea to reward your reviewing customers with gifts and perks, but this could be considered a black-hat behavior. As you know, the Google Reviews Help Page states “Do not offer or accept money or product to write positive reviews about a business, or to write negative reviews about a competitor.” Therefore, it is best to avoid the appearance of coercing your customers to write positive reviews, even with good intentions.
    2) Do not post fake negative reviews about your competitors. You’ll get caught and “flagged.” Popular dealer reviews sites like are cracking down on review regulations by adding a Content Monitoring Team designed to weed out “black sheep” in the industry. What happens if you get flagged? According to the site FAQ’s, “If determines that someone affiliated with a car dealership has written a review, may, in its sole discretion, may place a note on the dealership’s review page notifying readers that someone from the dealership has not complied with our website’s Terms of Use. The dealership is also subject to being placed on the probation for six months.” In other words, do not think these review rules do not apply to car dealers. They do!
    3) Learn to be patient when installing a “reputation management process” in your dealership. Remember, it IS a process. Decide which RM (reputation management) platform you will focus on, make it part of your salesperson’s delivery process, and emphasize to them the importance of politeness over pushiness. Ask your customer’s permission to send them a link to your review page, where they can grade their buying experience in the comfort of her home and on their own time. No rush, no follow-up call, no badgering questions of “Have you filled out the survey yet”?
    4) Make it a company-wide effort. Without resorting to black-hat practices, encourage each and every team member to participate in the reputation management process. Ask for at least 3 reviews a month per sales person. Getting great review feedbacks? Share them with your staff during your sales meeting. Follow the old but ever-new universal public relations law: “Do good things and talk about it.”
    5) Do not leave positive reviews of your product without disclosing your connection to the product. Lack of disclosure was the fatal flaw in Legacy Learning System’s plan, and their behavior was in direct opposition to the 2009 FTC regulation, which states: “Under the guidelines, a positive review by a person connected to the seller – or someone who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product or service – should disclose the material connection between the reviewer and the seller of the product or service.” Note: this policy applies not only to review sites such as Yelp, but also to bloggers who post reviews on their own sites, etc)

The Winning Mixture for a Premium Online Reputation Management Process

Because in the future, all dealerships will be considered “Internet stores,” meaning more than 90% of all consumers will “shop and observe” you before even coming to your brick and mortar store, the fuel mixture for driving your future success is already a known fact:

Octane 87 = Consistency
Octane 89 = Persistence
Octane 91 = Passion

Last but not least, remember there’s only two true ways to manage your reputation: Provide a spectacular customer experience, or provide a terrible one. Without having any gray zone, there will be only one white or black decision to do it right.

Volker Jaeckel, Digital Marketing Ambassador for ADP Digital Marketing

Volker Jaeckel works as a speaker, coach and educator in digital marketing. “VJ” is a frequent speaker at industry events like Digital Dealer Conference and NADA; he is also a fixture at NCM 20 Groups and OEM seminars. When he’s not dazzling others with his digital marketing know-how, VJ enjoys vintage Mercedes Benz cars and spending time with his wife and five kids.

The Cobalt Group


Don’t forget to sign up for Automotive Marketing Bootcamp!

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Dealers: Check Your Ego for Sales of Apple Proportions

How to Create Demand in Your Dealership

Chris Reed, Chief Marketing Officer for ADP Digital Marketing

What if people were willing to fly from Brazil for your next dealership promotion? What if they were willing to wake up at 4 a.m., hire a professional “line-waiter,” or pay $900 for a first spot in line at your store? Yes, we’re talking about the launch of the iPad 2-and the opportunity vehicle launches present for automotive professionals.

A Balance of Pride and Profit

Many dealers are rightfully proud of the local brand they have created – this is an investment that pays back throughout the year. However, there are times when the most effective marketing strategy is simply to ride the coattails of the many millions your OEM is spending to create buzz and interest for their new product. By studying Apple’s marketing strategy, it becomes obvious that dealers can emulate this flagship brand to create similar salivating demand for their own inventory.

The Most Important Product in the World

Much like Apple stores, car dealers are all selling basically the same inventory from store-to-store. The launch of an Apple product is a study in beautiful synchronicity. When Apple goes to market, every aspect of the Apple experience-commercials, online ads, website, store fronts- align around a singular objective: promoting the launch of that new product. The result of this multi-tier campaign is a single, powerful message: at that moment, this is the most important product launch in the world. Customers in turn believe this message, and respond accordingly. The proof is in the profits. Apple sold an estimated million units in the first day.

Leading dealers recognize the value of this “synchronicity” in their marketing in support of OEM marketing campaigns. If you are fully deployed with messaging aligned with the OEM’s launch activities you will provide the consumers a seamless online experience directly to your showroom – and facilitate that self-reinforcing consumer buzz for your store that is so essential to Apple’s success.

Synchronicity is a matter of degree. Virtually all OEMs will insure that there is appropriate messaging on your franchise website, although you’ll need to stay on your toes if you are using an independent website. Search marketing and content aligned with the vehicle launch would be the next tier. The most advanced digital marketers will deploy an integrated multichannel campaign of search, display, retargeting and web content to channel shoppers directly to their stores. These complex campaigns can be developed by your agency partner. However, investigate whether there are endorsed packages from your OEM’s digital marketing partner – they will have early access to OEM assets to provide that valuable synchronicity and cost efficiencies from use of technology and integration with the franchise marketing platform.

Synchronicity Doesn’t Mean Selling Your Soul

If you’re worried about “selling your soul” or diluting your dealership brand, take a cue from Apple as well, where Seattle stores celebrated the iPad launch with Starbucks coffee, Virginia with hot cider, and Florida with palm-tree lined storefronts. Once your shoppers get to your website or showroom it is your opportunity to deliver the exceptional experience that makes them the rabid fan of your dealership as well at the vehicle. It doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition.

The message is obvious: there are times where it is in your interest to focus on your dealership brand and there are times when it is most profitable to ride the wave of interest created by your OEM. Successful dealers will exploit both strategies with today’s new generation of cost-effective digital marketing solutions.

Chris Reed, Chief Marketing Officer for ADP Digital Marketing

Chris Reed joined ADP Digital Marketing (formerly The Cobalt Group) in July 2007 as Chief Marketing Officer. Chris brings over 25 years of experience in marketing strategy for businesses ranging from start-ups to IBM. Chris holds a BA in Public and International Affairs from Princeton University, and a MBA from Harvard University. In addition to education, Chris’s marketing inspiration could be attributed to his international upbringing-he used to ride an elephant to school in the jungles of Sumatra.

The Cobalt Group

A Car Dealer Call to Arms

Unsung Heroes of the Auto Industry, Show Yourselves

Matt Muilenburg, Vice President of Social Media at ADP Digital Marketing

Imagine a world where car dealers earned the same community respect as fire fighters, police officers and other local philanthropists. A world where little kids dream of being car dealers when they grow up, where you receive recognition in your local paper, where community members stop by your place of business just to chat. Maybe this is already happening at your dealership, but if so, you’re the exception rather than the rule. Why is that?

Will the Perception Catch Up with Positive Industry Changes?

After all, the industry has consistently marched in the right direction with a focus on professionalism, transparency and customer service.  With the advent of Monroney stickers, Regulation Z, and Certified Pre-owned vehicles, dealerships have certainly become more ethical than the days filled with stories of throwing a prospect’s keys on the roof if they wouldn’t buy a car. So why is the perception still there? Frankly, it’s because dealers are their own worst enemy.

What I’ve found in my 13 years in the automotive marketing industry is that car dealers are too often the ‘unsung heroes’ of their communities. They too plant trees, sponsor Little League teams, and participate in their local Rotary clubs. They do as much or more for the community as many other esteemed business leaders. However, due to a variety of self-defeating behavior, these good deeds aren’t imprinting themselves on the public consciousness they way they should be.

Dealer Social Media Channels Add High-Impact Personal Appeal

Many dealers have caught on that a personal touch may help build a rapport with customers; now it’s time to get savvy about using new channels to build your dealership’s public persona in the most optimal way. (Note: There was just a great Driving Sales post about building an emotional connection on Twitter-we agree 100% and wanted to speak a little more broadly about how to apply the same principles to your entire dealership social media strategy.) Instead of posting pictures of your dog and your softball team on your website (which could be a distraction to hot-on-the-trail customers eager to buy) dealers should instead transfer these reputation-building efforts to their social media channels. “This will allow you to stay in touch with clients who are still in the consideration phase-possibly torn between you and a competitor with similar inventory,” Muilenburg explains. ”Your ‘good guy/gal’ perception will then naturally pay off to tip the tides in your favor.” Here’s how to do it:

Must-Do’s for Making Your Dealership Social Media “Like”able

  1. Post blog entries about your community involvement, include photos and videos
  2. Share stories and information about your local area
  3. Let your personality shine in your status updates
  4. Show excitement about things important to your community, like the college football team, or the summer concert series, etc
  5. Reward your fans

By instituting these five simple steps, you as a dealer can finally begin to gain recognition as the community hero that you truly are. If every dealer takes these actions to heart, we will finally be on our way to transforming the industry perception once and for all.

Matt Muilenburg, Vice President of Social Media at ADP Digital Marketing

Matt Muilenburg is Vice President of Social Media  for ADP Digital Marketing Solutions, where  he has been working closely with dealers and OEMs to identify new ways to improve automotive retailing and marketing effectiveness.  When not sitting in front of a gadget, you’ll find Matt volunteering at the YMCA, attending his kids academic, musical and athletic events, or releasing stress by working in his yard and garden. You can reach Matt at or call him at 206-219-8259.

The Cobalt Group

Happy Sweet Sixteen – 16 Cobalt Milestones

Cheers! Anniversary pint glasses are a Cobalt tradition

Every year around this time, Cobaltians start to look forward to a new pint glass.  It’s Cobalt’s unique way of celebrating our March 17th anniversary.  This year’s anniversary glass reads:

The year saw the union of Cobalt and ADP, the birth of the Digital Launch Package, and the move to new headquarters – resulting in a bigger brewery and a richer malt. Sweet 16 was sweet indeed.

Here are sixteen milestones from Cobalt’s history that made Cobalt as sweet as it is today:

Cobalt founders John Holt and Geof Barker in 2000.

1995Cobalt is founded on St. Patrick’s Day by entrepreneurs John Holt and Geof Barker, in a small office in the Pike Place Market, with a staff of 7 (including Alex the golden retriever).

1996 – Lexus signs on as Cobalt’s first manufacturer-endorsed dealer website program.  Acura and Mitsubishi soon follow suit.

1997 – Cobalt grows beyond the needs of the tiny office on Post Alley and moves its headquarters to 1st and Lenora in the heart of Belltown.

1998 – Cobalt’s first generally-available bundled digital marketing service, the Essentials Website Package, is launched.

1999 – Cobalt announces its Initial Public Offering (IPO) and becomes a publicly-traded company on the NASDAQ exchange, trading as CBLT.

2000 – Unable to add more desks in hallways in the very cramped Belltown office, Cobalt moves its headquarters to the “Icehouse” in SODO, and launches eCare to better serve its growing customer base.

2001 – Cobalt is taken private by Warburg Pincus, a global private equity firm and longtime Cobalt investor, and Cobalt becomes a private company once again.

2002 – Cobalt launches the revolutionary Nitra platform, allowing dealers to customize and edit their own websites online.

2003 – Cobalt acquires the Cowboy Corporation and their CRM tool, Prospector.

2004 – Cobalt acquires the Dealix Corporation, opening a new office in Redwood City, California.

Howard Tullman with a be-tuxed John Holt at Cobalt's 10th Anniversary

2005 – Cobalt gains an endorsement from the American International Automobile Dealers Association (AIADA).

2006 – Procare — a new, personalized and proactive support service for Nitra Website customers – is officially launched.

2007 – General Motors endorses Cobalt exclusively as its provider of digital marketing, including dealer websites, search marketing, and optimization.

2008 – Cobalt opens an office in Lynnwood, its second office in the state of Washington, specifically to house an expanded Services team and support the new business with GM.

2009 – Cobalt and Dealix launch a completely redesigned to help in-market car buyers find the ‘Right Car, from the Right Dealer, at the Right Price.’

2010 – Cobalt is acquired by ADP Dealer Services and becomes the digital marketing arm of ADP under the continuing leadership of John Holt.

2011 – Cobalt moves its headquarters again, combining both the SODO and Lynnwood offices in one location at 605 Union Station in the International District in downtown Seattle.

Today, as the rest of the world drinks green beer, we celebrate for another reason – happy 16th birthday, Cobalt!

The Cobalt Group

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

In honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, we thought we’d share some of the festive automotive email marketing campaigns the Cobalt Owner Marketing team came up with to drive traffic to dealers like you! With this kind of integrated strategy, who needs luck;)

How to Apply TLC (Tough Leadership Criteria) To Your Hiring Process

Richard Rikess, Certified Performance Improvement Consultant for ADP Digital Marketing

By now, most automotive professionals are aware of the need to crack down on hiring practices in their dealerships-the mirror-fogging test just won’t cut it anymore. The question of course is how to do this. Below, the experts at ADP Digital Marketing shares four best practices for vetting potential employees.

Four Tough Hiring Practices to Employ in Your Dealership Today

1.     Sales Call Shakedown. Does your candidate have the phone skills for the job? There’s only one way to find out. Set up a phone interview and role-play a sample sales call. Posing as a customer, ask your potential hire simple questions such as:

  • “Do you have the car I’m looking for?”
  • “How is it equipped?”
  • “What is my trade worth?
  • “How much does the car I want cost?”

2.      Email Pop Quiz. Have your candidate email you a one-paragraph summary of why they are the right person for the position. Not only will this allow you to gauge their salesmanship abilities, it will also enable you to evaluate increasingly important skills such as grammar, readability, and Internet etiquette.” In today’s dealership, online literacy is a must,” Performance Improvement Consultant Rich Rikess says. “A potential hire needs to be able to communicate well across all channels.”

3.      Follow-up Fire Drill. After an interview, purposely delay getting back to the candidate. This may seem heartless, but it will separate the hustlers from the non-starters.  Following-up is a key part of car salesmanship, so this type of test is necessary to gauge a potential hire’s true prowess. Candidates that strike that perfect balance of politeness and persistence should move on the next step. “This test will also help you determine who is truly focused on working at your dealership versus who is applying all over town,” Rikess notes.

4.      The “Right Fit” Test. “A test!” you say. “This isn’t the SATs!” True, but there are many “soft skills” personality tests out there that help you further pre-qualify candidates in a way that a face-to-face interview may not. In fact, many dealer groups already use them, and single-point stores would do well to emulate this practice. “Many dealerships use Predictive Index (PI) or DiSC from Inscape Publishing.” Rikess Says. “In the end, dealers should conduct research and integrate the personality test that works best for them.”

If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. However, in the dramatically evolved digital age, these hiring processes are do-or-die. “Hiring any warm body off the street may have worked just fine years ago,” said Performance Improvement Consulting Manager Steve Hanson, “but the availability of online information has created a much more educated and informed consumers than ever before.” Therefore, Hanson said, “It takes aptitude and real skills to not only close a deal, but to also completely satisfy today’s demanding consumers and project the appropriate image of the dealership.”

Steve Hanson, Performance Improvement Consulting Manager

Steve Hanson, Performance Improvement Consulting Manager,  joined the Cobalt team in 2001 and brings over 20 years of retail dealership operations and consulting experience to Cobalt’s
clients. As a digital pioneer, Steve established his first Internet Department in 1995 as General Manager and minority partner of a
Mazda dealership. You may reach Steve at

Richard Rikess, Certified Performance Improvement Consultant for ADP Digital Marketing

Richard Rikess, Performance Improvement
Consultant (PIC) for ADP Digital Marketing has been in the automotive industry since birth. His career has
spanned all facets of the auto industry. He has worked in management, sales, marketing and eCommerce.

The Cobalt Group