By Steve Murphy
Unless you’ve been living under a rock your entire career, you probably know that word of mouth is one of the most cost effective (and flat out effective) marketing channels for car dealers. In a recent survey by the American Marketing Association, researchers found that 90% of consumers trust peer reviews and another 70% trust online reviews. On the contrary, only 29% of people trust TV ads, with an even lower percentage trusting other forms of marketing.
The first step in generating business through word of mouth marketing is to build a customer centric dealership that employs knowledgeable, passionate employees and delivers exceptional value. You can read about this elsewhere. Today we’re going to talk about the next step in the process: converting influencers into evangelists.
An influencer is a member of the community whose opinions and recommendations carry more weight than the average person does. Almost all of us have friends that we reach out to for movie reviews, wine recommendations, or business advice. Oprah Winfrey is the ultimate influencer – when she approves a new novel in her book club, it instantly sells out. These are the people you need to reach to jump start your word of mouth marketing.
Here are some tips for connecting with influencers (both online and offline) that will help you build a strong reputation in your community:
Define Your Purpose
There are many different types of influencers in each community, and you need to identify the ones that are most likely to embrace your brand message and share it with your target customers. For example, the town preacher might have a large network of loyal followers, but it wouldn’t be practical for an adult video store to try to leverage this relationship. Write down the profile of your ideal customer, and use this as a guideline when building your network of influencers.
Do Your Research
The internet is an excellent way to begin your search. If you are a Chicago Audi dealership, search for local interest groups on social media, online forums, and in search engines. If you find a Chicago area car enthusiast that creates instructional YouTube videos about fixing Audi’s, there’s a good chance this person is well regarded by their peers as an influencer on this topic. Put this person down on your outreach list. (Also, create an outreach list.)
Forget your years of training on the sales floor. You need to turn this mechanism off. If you come off as a walking, talking advertisement, you can do more harm than good (remember, influence works both ways.) The best way to start a relationship with an influencer is to ask them questions about their craft. Ask them how long they’ve been in business, or even ask for advice. This is the most effective way to introduce yourself as a person (not as a business) and begin the process of connecting.
Give Them A Reason
Once you’ve connected, try to give the influencer a reason to recommend your brand. Unless they’ve recently bought a car from you, they won’t have enough exposure to your business to recommend you to friends. If you’ve recently connected with a local Corvette enthusiast, give them the opportunity to test drive the models before they hit the sales floor. Holding a charity benefit at your dealership might be a great way for the local preacher to see how kind and helpful your staff is. Whatever the notion, it should always be genuine (see the last step) and should never be a ploy to force recommendations.
The Fortune Is In The Follow Up
At this point, you most likely will be getting some recommendations from the influencers you have built relationships with. They know, like, and trust you as a person, and their willing to recommend your dealership to their friends and family. It is now key to continue this relationship over time. If the influencer sends over a lead (or sale), send them a thank you note or a gesture of good faith. Try to recommend your friends and colleagues over to the influencer if they own a local business. This mutual respect will help you create a referral network with a higher ROI than any other marketing tactic available.
Have you built a business around word of mouth marketing? What tips do you have to connect with local influencers?