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.