Ben Levitan

levitan-ben

What are the cur­rent strat­egy and com­pany mis­sion for IMN?

IMN is a con­tent dri­ven dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing solu­tions provider. We offer man­aged ser­vices for newslet­ters, social media ser­vices, and behav­ioral analytics—which is a rel­a­tively new ini­tia­tive. This year’s push is a new prod­uct that mar­ries some of our exper­tise and con­tent with cus­tomer behav­ior. Our strat­egy is to lever­age our con­tent and our dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing chops—not just with our auto­mo­tive indus­try, but across other indus­tries as well. All of that is under The Loy­alty Dri­ver brand name. It is our core, flag­ship product.

We have cre­ated and grown rela­tion­ships with close to 2,000 deal­er­ships across the coun­try – across all brands. We also have about a dozen OEM rela­tion­ships. So, our task is to help and part­ner with the man­u­fac­tur­ers and the deal­er­ships that are seri­ous about dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing and with a focus on dri­ving profit in all of their key cat­e­gories: parts, ser­vice, new car sales, leas­ing, used cars.

 

What are your mar­ket­ing objec­tives for this year and beyond?

Our objec­tive is to help our cus­tomers engage with their con­sumers and increase loy­alty: between them­selves and their deal­er­ships, between them­selves and their fran­chises, between them­selves and the insti­tu­tions that serve them. That is a very com­pli­cated but impor­tant task. We believe that this will make prospects buy­ers, and make buy­ers repeat customers.

The next year or so will be focused, par­tic­u­larly the begin­ning part of the year, on a new solu­tion that will allow deal­er­ships to com­bine trans­ac­tional or DMS data with the behav­ioral data that we are col­lect­ing via our newslet­ters. We are send­ing 30 mil­lion emails a month to auto con­sumers, so, we can take that cus­tomer behav­ioral data and cre­ate a more per­son­al­ized and rel­e­vant set of cam­paigns in a way that is very dealer friendly, intu­itive and con­forms to their brand and their cur­rent mar­ket­ing initiatives.

What we mean by cam­paigns and what we mean by behav­ior ana­lyt­ics might be dif­fer­ent than gen­eral def­i­n­i­tions, so let me explain a lit­tle bit more. So, you are aware we send out a lot of newslet­ters, these newslet­ters are a very robust prod­uct, essen­tially a microsite that allows us to send back to the dealer the engage­ment level and the spe­cific inter­est of that con­sumer. When a cus­tomer or prospect opens an email, it indi­cates to us that they may be inter­ested in a test drive of a par­tic­u­lar vehicle.

They may be inter­ested in learn­ing about a new vehi­cle and when we com­bine that with DMS data it might point to the fact that that customer’s lease is com­ing due.  We can also see whether this cus­tomer has been a long-term cus­tomer, and whether they leased from us or another deal­er­ship. Now that notion of telling a cus­tomer about new mod­els and excit­ing deals at the end of a lease is not a new con­cept. Every­one does this sort of trig­ger based or cal­en­dar based campaign.

What we have is spe­cific knowl­edge of a cus­tomer pro­file based on the DMS data, as well as behav­ioral  knowl­edge from inter­ac­tions with the newslet­ter. We would know that a cus­tomer has an Accord and is click­ing on Odyssey arti­cles in the newslet­ter and watch­ing videos on the Odyssey, and has been doing so for the last few months. Know­ing this, and the fact that their lease is com­ing due, we would tar­get them to come in for a test drive of the Odyssey. This behav­ioral data—that you are look­ing and plan­ning to stay with the brand but with a dif­fer­ent model, is insight that can only be gleaned by com­bin­ing trans­ac­tional, his­tor­i­cal data from the DMS with behav­ioral data.

We have essen­tially iden­ti­fied buyer inter­est at the bot­tom end of the fun­nel. We know who the cus­tomer is, as well as the cus­tomers own­er­ship expe­ri­ence. We also know, for exam­ple, if the cus­tomer is new to the deal­er­ship or not. This is pow­er­ful data com­pared with just know­ing that some­one was brows­ing your web­site inven­tory poten­tially look­ing for a new car, but you don’t know what this per­son cur­rently dri­ves, whether they are in the mar­ket for a new car and what their browsing/engagement his­tory has been.

The early results that we have from the test drive, with about a half a dozen cus­tomers, half a dozen dealers—these are high­line brands, main­stream brands, the domes­tic, imported—is that  using this data in par­al­lel has led one dealer, for exam­ple, to hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in deals.

In the sec­ond part of 2013 we will focus on another area of oppor­tu­nity, rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment. It is an area that a lot of peo­ple have made a move in, an area that has moved from a nov­elty to a com­mod­ity.  It hap­pened very quickly in this mar­ket. I think faster than any­one pre­dicted. Lots of peo­ple said it was going to be a big deal but we are start­ing to see how every­body has a rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment offering.

Our par­tic­u­lar point of view is that when we are engag­ing with that cus­tomer on the behav­ioral side and we have their trans­ac­tional data we want to link the rep­u­ta­tion aspects to the event that just occurred for them. We want to link it to a cam­paign. We want to link it to what their buy­ing inter­est is. So, our strat­egy around rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment is dif­fer­en­ti­ated byour con­tent and behav­ior knowl­edge and this con­nec­tion with the DMS. I think the peo­ple who have DMS inte­gra­tion are going to be the win­ners in rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment because you want to man­age your rep­u­ta­tion as it relates to a spe­cific buy­ing event. It is anybody’s game but I think it is much more impor­tant for deal­ers to develop a strong fol­low­ing and a strong, if you will, rat­ing around actual trans­ac­tions that occur.

That is our expe­ri­ence in talk­ing to deal­ers and man­u­fac­tures; cer­tainly the part about how we treat prospects and how prospects are treated. That has been a long source of focus for deal­ers whether it is rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment or whether it is, CSI scores where they do the mys­tery shop­per and all that but our par­tic­u­lar point of view and the sec­ond oppor­tu­nity that we think relates to our DMS capabilities.

 

What other oppor­tu­ni­ties does IMN see in 2013?

I will say broadly the area of part­ner­ships. For a long time the frag­men­ta­tion in the indus­try has been a source of frus­tra­tion for cus­tomers. It has been a source of oppor­tu­nity for many ven­dors who are cre­at­ing stand-alone prod­ucts. At IMN one of the themes in 2013 is the oppor­tu­nity to con­tinue and expand the part­ner­ships we have. So we have a part­ner­ship, for exam­ple, with Naked Lime and Reynolds and Reynolds. We are look­ing to expand and reju­ve­nate rela­tion­ships that may have not be a vig­or­ous as they are today. We want to rekin­dle those and you know, solve some of the prob­lems that our cus­tomers are say­ing, such as inte­gra­tion or con­tin­u­ous work­flow for their orga­ni­za­tions. These part­ner­ships could in turn advance our con­tent and social offerings.

 

What is your assess­ment of the auto­mo­tive deal­er­ship mar­ket­place right now?

The car indus­try is cool again. It has gone through a period of sig­nif­i­cant con­trac­tion and pain and we lived through that, our com­pany cer­tainly has. Many have recently dis­cov­ered the power and the value of hav­ing deal­er­ships as cus­tomers and part­ners and so there are a lot of new entrants because it is one of the few grow­ing indus­tries. So, for us we feel very grat­i­fied that we have been able to be a suc­cess­ful par­tic­i­pant in the resur­gence and play a very minor role but hope­fully a con­struc­tive role in the resur­gence of the auto­mo­tive retail­ing envi­ron­ment.  The shift to dig­i­tal, the notion of deliv­er­ing real con­tent not just pro­mo­tions and coupons and blast­ing cus­tomers; we actu­ally engage with them.

We feel like we are help­ing to raise the game of the auto­mo­tive retailer. So, to me, gen­er­ally speak­ing there are more buy­ers than sell­ers at points of dis­tri­b­u­tion whether you call them deal­er­ships or deal­er­ship groups. We see that quite fre­quently. We see that the man­u­fac­tures are quite eager to sup­port a reju­ve­nated deal­er­ship net­work so the man­u­fac­tures are par­tic­i­pat­ing at a level that maybe they were not able to a few years ago.

And the con­sumer is excited. Every­one has their own idea of why the auto­mo­tive indus­try is going to be suc­cess­ful this year — whether it be ana­lyt­i­cally speak­ing in terms of the age of the fleet on the road (ten years now) or whether it be because there are new inno­va­tions in car telem­at­ics and equip­ment. My proxy is the num­ber of new cars that are going to come to mar­ket in the next eigh­teen months. The num­ber that I have heard and seen is 37 new vehi­cles and refreshed mod­els. I don’t know if that is a his­tor­i­cal high but it sure feels like to me there are a lot more excit­ing . Whether it be alter­na­tive trans­mis­sions with elec­tric, alter­na­tive sizes with things like the VF500 and the lit­tle itty bitty cars. I just think you have a lot of excit­ing prod­uct on the road so my over­all assess­ment is it’s cool again to be in the car indus­try. And it is cool because peo­ple are mak­ing money and there is excit­ing prod­uct that peo­ple are proud to talk about.

The Japan­ese tsunami and some of the struc­tural issues in the sup­ply chain are cleared out. You know, some of the tragedies asso­ci­ated with bad prod­uct and qual­ity seem to be behind us. It just feels like it is a good time to be in the busi­ness. I think you are going to see at NADA a more upbeat vibe, a lot more hir­ing and frankly a lot more need for savvy mar­ket­ing to attract the con­sumers. So, we are really excited about where we are and where the indus­try is.

 

What do you con­sider to be IMN’s most sig­nif­i­cant accomplishment?

There are two types of accomplishments.

One is the stuff that is above the line that is pub­li­cally known and every­body gets excited to read a press release about and deal­ers care about. I would put that in the cat­e­gory of OEM rela­tion­ships we have built.

You know, a few years ago we had one OEM rela­tion­ship with Volvo; they were our first. Now we can count just about every major man­u­fac­turer as not only an OEM part­ner of ours but a co-op part­ner as well. And that is a good way to keep score. Do the man­u­fac­tures hear good things from your deal­ers about the prod­uct we are sell­ing directly to the deal­ers? Keep in mind we are a tier 3 solu­tion, so we are sell­ing directly to the deal­ers. Do they come around and get behind that prod­uct and say, “you know what not only are we happy with what you have done with five or ten or twenty per­cent of our deal­er­ship base we want all our deal­ers to have it….we are going to put some of our money behind it.”

We are very proud of the progress we have made in demon­strat­ing value in our dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing solu­tion. It is a very straight for­ward prod­uct but it is very pow­er­ful, very cost affec­tive. So that would be sort of what every­body in the world would expect us to say, “Wow!  You guys have really done a nice job with the OEMs. “

The part that is below the line, the part that earns us that respon­si­bil­ity and that priv­i­lege to be part­nered with the OEMs is a whole series of behav­iors and tech­niques and tech­nolo­gies. These are the things that are a lit­tle bit less pub­li­cally avail­able are the things that make it work. In addi­tion to mak­ing it more cost effec­tive for deal­ers through OEM part­ner­ships, we are get­ting the job done. One of the ways we mea­sure how we are get­ting the job done is our deliv­er­abil­ity. In other words, when we send out a note to a cus­tomer, when we send out an email or com­mu­ni­ca­tion the com­mon prob­lem that most deal­ers have is what? Their ISP can­not han­dle the vol­ume. Their ISP doesn’t get it deliv­ered. It gets dumped into the spam fil­ter; it never reaches the consumer.

So, it is that prob­lem when you do adver­tis­ing and the con­sumer walks out of the room and never sees your ad. And no one knows, right? In our case our results, our tech­ni­cal results, our tech­ni­cal pro­fi­ciency con­tin­ues to out­pace the indus­try. Our email deliv­er­abil­ity is over ten per­cent higher than the indus­try aver­age. We are at 91 per­cent. So, that means that 91 times out of 100 we are deliv­er­ing – it is get­ting to the inbox. That is unprece­dented in the dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing arena.

I am very proud of our tech­ni­cal team and what we have been doing with the deliv­er­abil­ity and get­ting the job done every day for our cus­tomers. I would say that’s that I know our com­peti­tors try and achieve that and even much, much larger com­pa­nies try to achieve it too.