what i’ve learned about digital 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 reminds me of the key players involved in search marketing. And like buying a car, deciding how to handle 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 wanted 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.

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 made for 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’s 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 as the DIY-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 speed bump. I’d have never had this problem if I’d bought from a dealer or garage.

Going it alone, I had to call the banks, the DMV, and research online how I could go about buying this car that in retrospect sounded too good to be true. After a few stressful days, I found a way to work around the situation with pay offs and transfers and complicated back and forth: a tedious process that you would never encounter from 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 DIY-er is like a small business or individual that would rather handle marketing themselves, learning and overcoming obstacles along the way, instead of outsourcing to someone who could could possibly screw them over or drain their marketing budget. The DIY-er runs the risk of ineffective or failed initiatives due to their ignorance or lack of bandwidth.

Translation: while the DIY-er may take more risks and fail more often than the Strategist or even the Guru, by taking on the marketing tasks themselves, they 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 DIYer 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: read online reviews and talk to former or existing clients if you plan to partner with an agency for your marketing
  • Don’t be afraid to trust your instincts
  • If you plan on doing things yourself, do your research, and be prepared to tackle quite a learning curve.
  • If someone quotes you a price that seems high, don’t assume that it means their 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 digital 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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