what i’ve learned about online marketing from buying cars

Buying a CarI’ve bought a few cars in my life. Once from a dealer, once from a mechanic, and once from a private seller. Each experience was different, and each experience reminds me of the key players in search marketing. And just as with buying a car, deciding how to handle your search marketing and social media can be an exciting, scary and even frustrating process.

The Used Car Dealer a.k.a. The Marketing “Guru”

About three years ago, I purchased a car from a Subaru dealership. Living in New York, I want a car with decent mileage that could handle tough winters. My old car had broken down for the last time, and days before Christmas I rushed into the dealership eager to throw money at them.

As the consumer, my first mistake was letting the seller know how eager I was for a quick fix. I sat in a fancy office with Thank You notes plastered all over the walls while I listened to the salesman sing the praise of countless safety tests. Without a full CarFax report, I signed away $10,000.

devil car salesmanThe outcome? I purchased a car that had a bad transmission that, after a year and a half of fighting with the dealer, was finally replaced under the aftermarket warranty that I had coughed up $1,600 dollars for.  The alternator also went, as well a few blown out faulty tires.

So how does the used car dealer compare to the Marketing “Guru”? First, the “Guru” preys on the business of those who are inexperienced with their industry. My naivety equated into an easy sale. The “Guru” reels you in with a flashy façade and empty promises. While their pitch (and they’re every experienced in pitching) sounds like the perfect solution, once they have your money customer service goes right out the window.

Translation: The likelihood of the self-professed “Guru” providing your business tangible results is slim to none.

The Mechanic as the Strategist

When buying cars, there is the guy who knows how to sell cars and there is the guy who knows about cars. When I was 17, I purchased my first car from a mechanic with a few used cars sitting on his lot. The seller didn’t promise me any fancy “discounts” for knowing someone at his garage. What he did do is take the reasonable offer I gave him. He also agreed to replace the serpentine belt and the loose headlight on the car.  Not only that, I was provided the mechanical history of the car so I knew exactly what could or had gone wrong with it.

For years, I never had problems with my little Chevy Cavalier. Eventually, my beloved car met its demise from a disagreement with a deer. However, my family and I still do business with the garage where I had purchased my car so many years ago.

The garage owner, to me, is the strategist. He knows what he is doing and doesn’t have to provide flashy promises to make a sale.  His transparency and knowledge makes pitching useless, and if you can’t appreciate his quality of work he will not hesitate to walk away from your offer. The strategist succeeds by offering a long-term service that ensures client retention and satisfaction.

Translation: even though my Cavalier is long-gone, I still go to the same mechanic because his honesty and expertise have never steered me wrong. Even though you may be ranked number one in Google for years, the strategist will still walk you through changes in search marketing and social media while continuing to provide tangible results.

The Private Seller and the Buyer as the D.I.Y.er

Most recently, I began the process of car shopping through Craigslist. I found a car at an amazing price with great mileage and a clean CarFax report. I contacted the seller; test drove the car and fell in love. Everyone lived happily ever after….sort of. The woman selling the car turned out to owe more on her lien than her asking price, which created a small speed bump in the road. As the buyer, I had encountered a problem I would not have dealt with buying from a dealer or a garage.

Going it alone, I had to call the banks, the DMV, and research online how I could go about buying the car that did sound too good to be true.  After a few stressful days, I found a way to work around the situation. The seller had to first pay off the remainder of her loan, then I would have to apply for a loan transfer through her bank, and then I could further take out a loan through my bank to pay off her bank. Yes, this was a tedious process that you would never experience in a dealership. But if I went the stress-free route of buying from a dealer I would easily be paying $3,000-$4,000 more out of pocket for the same care.

The D.I.Y.er is the small business or individual that would rather handle their marketing themselves, learning and overcoming obstacles along the way, than outsource to someone who could potentially screw them over AND drain their savings account. The D.I.Y.er runs the risk of failing miserably, however, they have the advantage of being the sole individual responsible for the mistakes and ultimately their success.

Translation: while the D.I.Y.er may take more extreme risks and fail more often than the strategist or even the “Guru”,  by taking on the grueling tasks themselves, the D.I.Y.ers have the potential of seeing the most successful ROI of the three.

You Might Be a Guru If…

You tweet things like:

blogging guru tweet

Guru Tweet courtesy of Twitter.com


social media expert tweet

Social Media Expert Tweet courtesy of Twitter.com

You Might Be a Strategist If…

You tweet things like:

scott stratten tweet unmarketing

Scott Stratten tweet (@unmarketing) courtesy of Twitter.com

(this is a shameless plug of one of my favorite tweeters)

You Might Be a D.I.Y.er If…

You tweet things like:

twitter hashtag abuse

Twitter Hashtag Abuse courtesy of Twitter.com

(It’s OK, Tim…you’ll figure out #hashtags eventually!)

The Moral of the Story

So what lessons have I learned about marketing from buying cars?

  • Always get a CarFax report: check online reviews if you plan on outsourcing your online marketing
  • If there is something about the perfectly ironed creases in the guru’s pants that rubs you the wrong way, don’t be afraid to trust your instinct
  • If you plan on doing things yourself, make sure you do your research. Even though you may not know exactly what you’re doing, there is a high likelihood that someone out there in cyber space does and is willing to share their wisdom free of charge.
  • If someone quotes you a price that seems high or is out of your budget, don’t assume that it means his or her quality of work is worth it. A strategist will sooner create a plan to accommodate your budget with realistic goals while a guru is more concerned with their wallet than your business’s success.
  • Think your decision through. When you make snap decisions, you often overlook some important factors that could have altered your final decision.

Have you had a good/bad/ugly experience with online marketing? Please share!  Or if you’d like to rant about a used car dealer who screwed you over in the past, I’d love to hear about that too! Misery does love company.

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