As children, we invariably learn the lesson that eating too much can make us sick. I vividly remember the time when I was six years old, and I ate a double scoop of chocolate chip mint right after finishing a hot dog with ketchup and onions. I mean, if a little treat was good, wouldn’t a bunch of treats be better? It didn’t seem like a bad idea at the time, that is until it ended as a “CODE PLAID!” for my poor aunt. Too much was too much.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, it’s my job to find out what works and what doesn’t work inside of an organization’s processes. I think of it as a vocation, possibly a Holy Order. As such, I’m exposed to the whole spectrum of operations, from benchmark to holy-crap-call-the-cops. Nothing screams kill an ant with a nuclear warhead, cure poverty with chocolate syrup, or telling customers how important they are after promising contact within one day, like Internet lead follow-up processes.

January 2017 capped off the most mystery shops we’ve conducted in one month. Over 80 retailers, all over the continent, including car dealerships and non-car dealerships alike. The email responses are inexplicably getting worse. From all images and no text to reams of text with no call, we saw it all. Don’t get me wrong; we found a lot of what we liked. However, from the looks of it, several stores locked onto a best practice, cranked it to volume 11, force-fed it foie gras, gave it an IV of Jägermeister, punched the “NOS”, and turned it loose on the masses.

There is too much of a good thing.

All of us have been guilty of not knowing when to stop. We can save the conversation about that time in Tijuana for later. I’m talking about the times where we read about a new tactic in a magazine, heard a how-to on a podcast, or energized by a speaker at a conference. We had that jolt of inspiration, and thought, if X quantity of technique works wonders, imagine what would happen if we tripled it! More often than not, what made the technique successful is that it was a tiny tweak to a broad strategy, geared specifically for a carefully defined market. It was that special ingredient that took the experience to a whole new level. Like a dash of salt in a caramel. Just enough to make it memorable.

If a pinch of salt is good, then a handful must be @#%$ing amazing!

In any retail business, not just the car business, what matters most is how the customer reacts. Frankly, the customer doesn’t have to always be right, as the adage goes. But, if you want to keep accepting the customer’s money in exchange for your services, then their opinion is the only one that ultimately matters. That’s why we at DealerKnows have long espoused thinking like the customer when any facet of your business gets called into question. Bearing that in mind, let’s take a look at some common mistakes:

  1. Branding overload: To paraphrase Scott Stratten, no one loves your logo more than you do. A small logo in your signature is more than sufficient. A giant header at the top may look nice, but it can be killing your deliverability, and thoroughly ruins your authenticity. Your brand is empty until your value is proven.
  2. Overly verbose autoresponses: Nobody has time to read a six paragraph instantaneous response, detailing the foundation of the business, and how important customers are. Divvy those up those verbose thank-yous and business mission statements for subsequent emails.
  3. One massive image: If you’re simply sending an email version of a bulk mailer, you’re doing it wrong. No one is going to take the time to scroll through it, nor appreciate the imagery unless their questions have been answered. 
  4. Too much information: Things like window stickers, detailed invoices, and granular product information take up time, add bulk, and more importantly, provide the customer ammunition to not proceed forward with the discussion.
  5. Premature campaign opt-in: So, you submitted a request for additional information. Then you get an offer for something you’ve exhibited zero interest in before your request was fulfilled. No one ever said “Look honey! We can get 20% off new tires for this brand new vehicle we haven’t purchased yet.”
  6. Saturation follow-up: Process be damned, we’re going to send as many emails, make as many phone calls, and have as many people be involved as humanly possible.

While these probably all seem like common sense, but for whatever reason, dealerships still can’t show any restraint.

Finding Balance

Everything is still good in moderation. A can of Coke every once in a while isn’t going to give you diabetes. Keep all emails concise, engaging, and human. The sweet-spot length for all your emails is between 50-125 words. It’s OK to share the history of your business. Just save that information after you’ve effectively addressed ALL of the customer’s questions, and you’re looking to spark further engagement. ‘

We certainly love the creative and supportive use of imagery. Developing distinction with branding in a commodity business only makes sense. But, those logos and sexy visual layouts should never prevent the email from being delivered in the first place. The best email is the one that hits the inbox. If it can’t be delivered, it can’t be read (#logic). Only 79% of commercial emails ever reach the inbox. Why gamble on deliverability? The generally accepted principle is 60% of your email should be text, while up to 40% should be an image. This is where showing restraint pays dividends.

While we’re talking about deliverability, we can’t ignore that the spam filter is a dealership’s most powerful adversary. According to Cisco, the people that make the hardware where your email flows through, 86% of email traffic is unsolicited. Multiple fonts and colored text, excessive links, all caps in the subject line, a barrage of exclamation points, embedded scripts and forms, along with a variety of other unnecessary things can trigger a spam filter. If it looks overly complicated, it probably is. Design should never out way deliverability.

Test. Then test again.

Understanding if your emails are overkill doesn’t need to be a mystery. There are a lot of great services out there that will check your emails for “spamminess.” HubSpot and MailChimp have a ton of resources, should you need some additional help. The easiest way, though, is to test it yourself. Create a fresh Gmail, Microsoft (Hotmail, Outlook), or Yahoo account and send your messages to yourself. This will effectively answer the question without having to guess, and doesn’t cost you a penny.

In terms of content, make changes incrementally. Add a little bit of something unique into your message, and measure the results. Are the images leading to a higher response rate? Are the video links correlating to increased web traffic? Establish a performance indicator, and discover if these changes are moving the needle for you over 90 days. If they’re not, add (or subtract) something else. The best processes take some time in order to calibrate for your products, services, and market. Adding too much at once makes it nearly impossible to understand what is actually working and what is not.

There can be way too much of a good thing (including hyperboles). Taking a great idea and adding more of it does not typically work. If it can’t be delivered, then it’s a total waste. Discover a balance that’s both interesting and executable. The last thing you want to do is invest time, energy, and resources on something sweet just for it to end up as an unceremonious pile on the floor. 

Bill Playford

Bill Playford

Vice President and Partner at DealerKnows
Bill is Vice President and Partner at DealerKnows Consulting. Bill is a proud father of three, a subservient husband, a veteran of the automotive/ecommerce/technology space, a TEDx organizer, and thinks funny and snarky can be used interchangeably.
Bill Playford

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