[column] The Challenges of Dealer Marketing

Dutch dealer groups are among the most professional car companies in Europe. Showrooms look beautiful, the scale makes the business profitable, multi-brand approach spreads the risks and digitization is much further than in many other European countries. Nevertheless, it is quite challenging for dealerships to set up an effective marketing device and to adapt it in time to the rapidly changing Umfeld. On the one hand there are the importers with their brand policies and guidelines, on the other hand there is the need for the dealer to continue to put itself on the map as a local retailer. Often with multiple brands, because in order to be less dependent on the lifecycle management of one specific car brand, many dealerships have become multi-brand dealers in recent years. The question remains: how do you put yourself on the map as a multi-brand dealer and how do you keep the balance between marketing investments and multi-brand results healthy? A deep dive into the world of dealer marketing and the changes that are taking place within this dynamic field.

Street festivities with Scorpios

A few decades ago, the dealership was the local supplier of a particular brand of cars. I remember from my childhood that the local dealer was located in the shopping street. Turning right at the bridge in my hometown you came to the Ford dealer and left brought you in front of the showroom window of the Peugeot dealer. Back then with Talbot as a sub-brand. In the 1980s there were Peugeot 505s and Ford Scorpios there. Both car companies advertised in the local newspaper and during the annual street fair parade, those 505s, 605s, Sierra’s and Scorpios added extra to the street festivities. Marketing was wonderfully clear and the dealer ensured that the market share of his brands in the village rose to unprecedented levels with his print ads and social involvement. After all, the village drove a car from the local showroom and did not think of buying another brand further on.

In the 1980s there were Peugeot 505s and Ford Scorpios there. Both car companies advertised in the local newspaper and during the annual street fair parade, those 505s, 605s, Sierra’s and Scorpios added extra to the street festivities.

Nostalgic times that you sometimes encounter in old village garages abroad, but in the Netherlands since the turn of the century have slowly but surely been exchanged for merger companies and thus for professional large-scale with clear branding and a mature organization. But also exchanged for a company that has to conduct marketing in a completely different way to stay in the race. A dealership that has to do everything possible to remain visible, that has to set up numerous channels of communication in order to get the attention of its customers in the first place and that, like many other companies, is struggling with the unprecedented possibilities that the contemporary media landscape offers consumers.


In addition to managing a whole battery of channels, today’s car dealer has another challenge. On the one hand, it pays off to “extend” the national campaigns of the importer locally, usually this is even stated in the contracts, and on the other hand, the dealer must also secure his place as a local retailer. In other words: marketing its own automotive activities. And the latter is not always by definition in line with the policy of the importer, because he (of course) only wants to pay attention to his models and actions. However, the local retailer often carries several brands, often has its own damage branch or occasion hall and also wants to arrange communication for this. After all, the dealer looks at the total operating result and that one brand with that advertising importer is only part of the total business plan of his company. It is therefore also important for the dealer himself that his other used cars, services, activities and brands are visible.

After all, the dealer looks at the total operating result and that one brand with that advertising importer is only part of the total business plan of his company.

For a healthy return for the dealership, marketing is necessary for all activities and that requires a critical look at productions and media investments. Yet a dealership with guidelines and schedules from different brands often ends up in a dilemma, because which activities of the dealership receive the most marketing money and how can a mode be found between the requirements of the importers with their guidelines and the priorities of the own company? Choices that dealerships need to consider carefully, because, as with national marketing, it is also crucial in local dealer marketing that promotions build up sufficient reach and thus reach the target group’s ears. Prioritizing media money and strategic planning is therefore part of today’s dealer marketing and ensures, for example, that we as a consumer regularly see multi-brand promotions on our timeline. In short, many of the dilemmas that major brands have to deal with are also reflected in the marketing policy of today’s dealership.

Dedicated marketing

Most large dealerships nowadays work with a dedicated marketing manager to achieve sufficient brand awareness. Motivated marketers who ensure that the dealership remains visible in all local media and that storytelling takes place optimally on the social media channels. Also a professional who takes a critical look at the prioritization of budget based on the relevant activities of the company. Someone who, for example, divides the budget per brand of car used, focuses on the more generic activities of the dealership or invests in an action that generates traffic to the workshop. The visibility of large dealer groups is safeguarded with the deployment of marketing managers, but in the current digital landscape with all its social media channels, trends and algorithms that are adjusted almost every week, major challenges remain.

Because it is precisely the latest developments in the field of social media channels, data technology, YouTube, SEO and SEA that actually require specialist knowledge and frequent further training from that marketing manager. And now most marketing professionals within dealerships are enthusiastic employees who eagerly follow the latest tech news, yet optimizing all those digital channels yourself is a lot of work, to say the least, and keeping the knowledge up-to-date requires more than everyday reading portals like Frankwatching. Marketing at dealer level therefore requires a vehicle with specialists who can be deployed by a marketing manager if necessary.

Next step in dealer marketing

A challenging circumstance. In the past period, I have therefore thoroughly studied the marketing processes of car dealers and examined what is needed to continue the professionalization process that the Dutch dealer groups have undergone in the field of digital marketing in recent decades. Because as mentioned, Dutch dealer companies are often much further ahead with digital communication than in other countries. The mission of digital expertise has become even more relevant when earlier this year during the 1e COVID phase The importance of a solid digital alternative to the automotive business model was further emphasized. Companies such as Ikea serve as a source of inspiration, because they also work with a limited number of large brand stores throughout the Netherlands, linked to a digital sales & marketing channel for those who do not want to travel further than his or her own device. A different product, but a comparable process and therefore a relevant example for the automotive industry.

In order for dealer marketing to have maximum effect, prioritizing media investments is very important for success first.

As a company, you cannot do everything with a limited budget, so it is worthwhile to look at the core activities and focus the media budget on that. Focus is reach and you do something right or you don’t do it at all. Because it does not pay off at dealer level to put a small budget on all activities. This leads to fragmentation and by properly supporting a few priorities, you as a company achieve sufficient reach and a good result on the main activities. With that, the first profit has been taken.


Another benefit within dealer marketing is flexibility when it comes to flying in digital expertise. Cost-wise, it is not convenient to hire all these digital FTEs yourself, but on the other hand, specialists are needed for a few hours a week. Through collaboration or collective solutions, dealers can benefit from digital knowledge, but they do not encounter the disadvantages and high costs. There are also many opportunities in the field of the YouTube channel at car dealerships. Like many car brands, dealer groups are only moderately visible and findable on YouTube, they can add a lot of service with the right (help) video content. With the coming changes in cookie legislation on the way, dealer marketing will also have to devote much more attention to data, data management and data driven marketing in the coming period. That requires tooling, software, a vision and (again) expertise. Technology in the form of a solid CRM and e-mailing tool, but perhaps also by means of a genuine E-dealer tool that includes chat, video, content sharing, sales tools, car configurators and stock overviews and with which a lead can be turned into a completely digital buyer.

Finally, many dealerships can often relevant improve contracts with agencies and suppliers. An average dealer group can lower the cost level by dealing smarter with the deployment of suppliers, sharing source materials or concepts and taking a critical look at the agency rates. A lot is possible, especially in the current market.

Tech management

Developments in the media landscape and consumer behavior mean that marketing management at dealer level will have to continue to develop significantly in the coming years. On the one hand, dealer groups are increasingly larger – many dealerships in the Netherlands are now larger in size than the importers of the brands they represent – and, in addition to extending national sales campaigns from the car brands, they will increasingly market their own, often very profitable, activities. going to do.

The marketing manager of a dealer group will thus increasingly become a manager who optimizes the funnel through flexible constructions, specialists and up-to-date technology.

Activities that do not always link up with the marketing of a car brand and therefore have to be developed alongside this brand marketing. Think of private lease offers, local partnerships, activities of your own lease company, self-developed services or attention for damage companies, for example. After the scaling-up from village garage to multi-brand dealerships that has taken place in recent decades, a period will also follow in which the precision of dealer marketing will determine the results. Specialist knowledge and exact data are more important than ever, in addition, dealer groups also increasingly need online sales tools with which other retailers are already generating a lot of (E-) business, but with which an increasing number of cars can also be sold online.

The marketing manager of a dealer group will thus increasingly become a manager who optimizes the funnel through flexible constructions, specialists and up-to-date technology. The increasing number of activities also ensures that cost control remains essential. Clever use of specialisms and the latest tooling can, however, ensure that the fees that are still paid to agencies can be further reduced. E-dealer tools can generate extra turnover and good database management makes customers immediately accessible as soon as other data sources can no longer be used.

In the coming years, marketing at the car dealer will increasingly become optimal tech management and flexible approach to specialisms. If you look at the developments in both the media landscape and within the automotive business model, the developments in dealer marketing will certainly continue in the coming years. Interesting trajectories to follow or to guide as a professional, but very different from placing that Peugeot 505 ad in the village newspaper 35 years ago or showing that then so aerodynamic Ford Scorpio at the annual fair. Today, tech, videos and marketing to individuals solutions that enable the dealership to present a mobility proposition relevant to the customer on stage. And that mobility solution no longer has to be purchased in the home town, because more and more often the car is simply delivered to the buyer’s door.

Jos van den Bergh (1973) worked for almost 20 years in various PR & communication positions in the automotive industry and nowadays advises with his company MediaMondo automotive and media parties in the field of marketing communication, PR and media. He is also a dealer marketing advisor to BranchePartners in Houten. For MarketingTribune he critically follows the developments in the automotive world. Do you also need marketing advice? Mail Jos without obligation at

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