When shopping for a new car, the choices are infinite: Nissan or Honda? Accord or Civic? Atomic Blue or Galaxy Gray? And don’t forget about all those extended warranties and factory options.
The number of unique combinations, not to mention the odds of marketing the ones that will resonate with individual consumers, are mind-boggling. But that didn’t stop AutoNation, America’s largest dealer of new and used vehicles, from leveraging analytics and digital print technologies to create a variable content direct marketing program that consistently delivers customized and relevant communications.
As a result of its innovations, AutoNation has doubled response rates and generated a return on investment that is “enormous,” says Scott Zientarski, director of database and direct marketing. And it’s not just the incremental sales the program has generated, he adds. “It’s the fact that we’re holding on to our customers.”
What AutoNation Traded In
After joining AutoNation in 2002, Zientarski realized the company’s direct marketing efforts needed a bit of a tune-up. The company had 17 different vendors working on service marketing for 272 dealerships in 17 states. Their output primarily consisted of service reminder letter packages with very little copy. No segmentations were being applied.
Upon tracking the number of customers who visited AutoNation dealerships for service after receiving these notices, Zientarski found a response rate of 10.43 percent. Meanwhile, in a holdout group of customers who were not being sent mailings, 9.17 percent brought their vehicles to AutoNation for service. This poor incremental performance prompted a fundamental change.
AutoNation decided to consolidate all of its direct marketing under a single agency: Daytona Beach, Fla.-based DME. The two companies then began working to make relevance the foundation of a new service marketing program, which ultimately would help AutoNation sell more vehicles. Zientarski stresses that the link between sales and service is essential to AutoNation’s business. “Keeping that customer in a service relationship … increases the likelihood fourfold that they’ll repurchase from the store,” he says.