Strategy is like the ocean; it’s a deep subject.

Author: Guy Smith, Vice President, Automotive Industry Business Development, Jay Advertising and Marketing Communications


There isn’t a dealer on the planet who isn’t trying to determine MROI (Marketing Return on Investment) for their campaigns and tactics. Compounding this understandable need (and anxiety) is that the line of site for most dealerships is 30 days maximum. Most dealers whom we speak with will say that they are unable to outlook let alone confidently predict “bankable” results with 85-90% confidence for any given month until it has almost run its course. So, it’s understandable that dealer principals wonder where to make precious marketing investments and feel confident in what they will yield.

Problem solving

So, let’s call the foregoing situation our “problem statement”. Problem solving begins with determining root causes. But, let’s begin with something you are not expecting – a simple definition of marketing. Why? Because it’s easy to confuse sales promotion with marketing, and even effective promotions backed by good go-op advertising still need a “compass” called strategy. Because strategy and marketing are so inextricably linked that they are inseparable, let’s define marketing as “exciting the market about the state of the possible with a brand and its products”.


Excitation can take many forms; generating awareness, building positive predisposition, driving consideration and preference . . . all the way to purchase. It takes good strategy to implement marketing that excites. However, it’s easy to think that you have a strategy when more common than not many businesses are operating with a simple “plan for a plan”. Simple goals and lists of activities easily get interchanged and confused with objectives and business outcomes, and without a properly defined strategy, a business will be selling in the suburb of reality.


Formulating strategy requires a good strategist? Strategists can be pretty unique animals. They analyze fact-based trends with an ability to see a world that doesn’t yet exist but will in time because they interpret and form likely scenarios based on tracking leading indicators of market change. To achieve their objectives they define and systematically deploy actions that are hard for competitors to match. Really good strategists are in another class. They are also big idea generators, builders, market makers, and transformers. They understand business models in totality. Their market lens and planning perspective begins from the customer back to the business, not from the business out to the market. They connect brands with target audiences much more relevantly.

Big M

Strategy is “Big M”. That’s Big Marketing. Big M is not sales promotion, but it eventually defines what sales promotion should be. Big M is about building brand belief systems and creating disproportionate amounts of “market pull”.

Strategy according to Michael Porter at Harvard is “the broad formula for how a business is going to compete, what its goals should be, and what policies will be needed to carry out those goals . . . usually under conditions of uncertainty”.

6 Major Questions

With this foundational structure of market strategy, we can define a specific strategic plan with answers to 6 major questions. The questions may look simple on the surface, but formulating solid fact-based answers is usually a challenging exercise. The exercise is important, and answers that are complete will put you on a good path of performance improvement.

  1. Who and what is “Dealership Name”, exactly?
    1. Defines the character, personality and core values of the dealership
    2. Defines the “promise” that the dealership brand name implicitly and explicitly makes to its market, and the extent to which the promise is consistently operationalized across all customer touch points
    3. Defines what the dealership won’t compromise
    4. Defines why the dealership has chosen to do what it does and the way it does it
  2. What are the core products and services of the dealership?
    1. Defines which products or services (in rank order) represent the best potential for profitable growth and competitive advantage over the next 1-3 year period
  3. Where will the dealership win?
    1. Defines the most lucrative and strategic target markets/buyer segments aligned to the dealership’s capabilities, products/services and expertise
    2. Defines exactly who realizes higher-than-average value from the dealership’s advantages
  4. Why will the market choose the dealership?
    1. Differentiates by buyers’ needs and opportunities that the dealership solves best
    2. Defines what the dealership does better and what better is worth to buyers
    3. Defines the rationale and evidence for claims of better and worth that are made above
  5. How will the dealership win?
    1. Defines all the specific marketing & sales tactics to be implemented
    2. Defines why the chosen tactics are better than the alternatives not being implemented
    3. Defines how the manner of executing the tactics will transfer confidence to the market and eliminate competition sooner
  6. What is the value of winning?
    1. Defines the evaluation criteria/performance metrics for expected marketing outcomes and overall business results
    2. Defines what success will look like over the defined strategic planning period (i.e. lays out the “end-point vision” in financial and market share terms)

Answers to these questions will not only define a strategy framework, they will be core to defining the dealership’s operating principles, brand image and overall value narrative. Really good answers will provide truths that can be believed by a market craving for truth more than ever.

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