Digital Air Strike Makes Bold Moves in Auto Marketing – Alexi Venneri, Co-Founder & CEO

Digital Air Strike

During this year’s NADA Show, CBT News spoke with Alexi Venneri, co-founder, and CEO of Digital Air Strike. Alexi and Jim discussed the origins of Digital Air Strike, social media marketing, and the importance of online engagement between dealers and their consumers. Check out this interview to find out more. For more great interviews from the 2019 NADA Show, visit us here!


Jim Fitzpatrick: For those dealers that are not as familiar can you give us the one on what Digital Air Strike’s all about.

Alex Venneri: Absolutely. Well, thank you. We started Digital Air Strict nine years ago when the social networks were really just exploding. Even pre-social advertising, believe it or not.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Really?

Alex Venneri: And we just saw an opportunity. There were consumers going to a lot of these sites, Facebook, YouTube, review sites are actually social networks, having questions, leaving comments, and we thought there was a way to monetize that. How can we help dealers get in those conversations? And instead of having one website to engage with consumers, engage with them on 30, 40. With business listing sites, there’s over 300 places today. We help dealers with those conversations and market to those consumers. So that’s where we started.

But we’ve really evolved. So there’s lots of places that you can engage with consumers these days and we’re focused on finding the best in class and building the best in class technology to really engage those consumers, give them the information they need, automate a lot of those things, and then convert the leads into true real prospects for the dealers so they can sell more.

Jim Fitzpatrick: And I don’t know your background has been in the marketing for dealers and big dealer groups, right? I mean-

Alex Venneri: It has been. This is my 19th NADA in a row.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Wow. That’s incredible.

Alex Venneri: Yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick: But I think that means something because for the marketing managers, the ad agencies, the dealers out there, you have sat where they sat-

Alex Venneri: 100%.

Jim Fitzpatrick: And you’re trying to get the most ROI you can on any kind of an ad spent, especially in social and digital.

Alex Venneri: That’s right.

Jim Fitzpatrick: You feel the pain that they have felt right? There’s not a car guy or car girl listening to us right now that doesn’t have what I call DMA, which is digital market and anxiety, right? That they’re like, “I want to sell a car, service a car.” I’m not the specialist in the area of digital marketing and social marketing and following those analytics and it can get so mind numbing. But we spoke to a couple of your clients in anticipation of this interview and you kind of take it off their back, unhanded.

Alex Venneri: We do.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right?

Alex Venneri: We do.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I mean it’s got a nice clean, simple and the results are there, which I think is pretty cool.

Alex Venneri: That’s right. Thank you. And Digital Air Strike isn’t like an ad agency. We’re not out to sell you some big media buy. We actually want you to spend way last and be more targeted in your campaigns, but then use our technology to convert those consumers and it actually helps any of your other advertising spend as well.

Alex Venneri: It’s been pretty cool. A lifelong market on automotive. I love it. I love helping our dealers grow and that’s what we’re most excited about.

Jim Fitzpatrick: To bring that expertise to the forefront with dealers means a lot to dealers. I use to be a dealer myself.

Alex Venneri: Yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick: And when you had somebody as a vendor that knew your business, that is the game changer, right?

Alex Venneri: Absolutely.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about the business. You’ve built an incredible business over the years. You’ve got hundreds of dealers all over the country and you just have new acquisitions. I think you said two or three this year or in 2018.

Alex Venneri: That’s right. We did have three acquisitions in the last 10 months. And we’re actually up now to 5,000 dealers nationwide.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Oh my gosh.

Alex Venneri: Yeah. We’ve got about 250 team members.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Wow. Are you going to leave money for the competitors?

Alex Venneri: There’s room for all of us. We actually collaborate with a lot of the other companies. Like I said, there’s pieces of what we do that can enhance any kind of advertising campaign that’s out there. But we were excited so we were actively going to find kind of the better technology best in class. Last year’s acquisition at [inaudible 00:03:17] just 10 months ago was around, we bought an artificial intelligence messaging company that wasn’t actually not an automotive. But they’re doing great things in like healthcare.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Okay.

Alex Venneri: In the last 10 months we’ve completely created a brand new AI intelligent messaging platform-

Jim Fitzpatrick: Okay.

Alex Venneri: That isn’t just chat, but it’s omni channel.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Wow.

Alex Venneri: Wherever consumers go to the website, Facebook, Google-

Jim Fitzpatrick: Very cool. Yeah.

Alex Venneri: We actually have these automated chat bots that are like your best salesperson and can really supplement everything that you’re doing and make sure your team’s activities are spent on the higher value. When that person is ready to take that phone call, that’s when the team can jump in. You don’t need the managing chat.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right.

Alex Venneri: That was the first acquisition. It’s incredible love of the product.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s number one.

Alex Venneri: That’s number one. Then now we recently bought a Target Media Partners Interactive, which has some really cool technology to actually automate and target ads to consumers based on an inventory feed. It’s incredible. And it’s really leveraging very low cost buys because it’s so targeted and real inventory in real time to serve up the right vehicles to the right consumer.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Very cool.

Alex Venneri: Yeah. So that’s cool. And then we also … My background was also with a Dealer Track back in the day. So as a part of helping consumers, you have to be able to quote them and get them accurate payment information.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s very important now.

Alex Venneri: We picked up Libra Systems that was developed by a couple of car dealers.

Jim Fitzpatrick: No kidding.

Alex Venneri: Because sometimes 40% of your leads have subprime credit.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right.

Alex Venneri: A lot of the tools out there and love my friends at Dealer Truck and other tools, but they’re almost anticipating you have to have perfect credit. What about people that don’t? And that’s a tool that in that conversation is we’re engaging with the consumers. We can get them better information and better quotes, they have a better experience.

Jim Fitzpatrick: And if you don’t have a mechanism to take care of those, I don’t want to say sub credit people, but for the lack of a better term, you’re leaving a whole lot of dough on the table as a dealer.

Alex Venneri: 100%. Well, and it’s also not ideal experience for that prospect.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right. Good point.

Alex Venneri: And it can waste your time if they can’t go qualified as the dealer. But if they think they are, they think there’s bait and switch on the financing, that’s where we’d see all those bad reviews.

Alex Venneri: Remember we started in listening and responding to reviews. We know what’s broken at some dealerships, so we want to help them and we always focus on what’s going to help the consumer and that helps our dealers.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right, let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about a digital retailing if we can. When we talked to many dealers and many experts and vendors and seems to be kind of the buzzword here NADA. What does it look like? Are dealers ready for it? Where does it actually start? Does it start with the shopping experience or does it start when the customer says, “Okay, I want to buy the car. And how’s the easiest way to do that online?” Where do you see that going and how long before the majority of vehicles will be sold completely online kind of like a Carvana model?

Alex Venneri: And I love Ernie. Hi Ernie if he’s watching Carvana. So basically we think it’s really way higher up in the funnel. Consumers today do a lot of research and the more tools you can give them to almost sell themselves to the process that is here now and that’s a lot of what we do. So we’re trying to convert them, get them right payments and quotes, answer their questions.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Okay.

Alex Venneri: There are still pieces, there’s not going to be full digital contracting retailing for a little while. There’s some legal loopholes and things. But the more you can let them take it almost to that point of delivery and then if they just have to come in and sign one form or two and flash that ID, I know there’s a lot [inaudible 00:06:32] of ways to do that too, but the reality is they’re going to come in, they do want to kick the tires.

Alex Venneri: You can have a concierge service and bring that vehicle to the consumers. That’s what we’re seeing as realistic in the next couple of years. Background in financing myself, I know there’s a lot of those pieces that can’t be automated 100%. But there’s also some aftermarket opportunities. You can be selling warranties digitally online, even for prion, right?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah.

Alex Venneri: I don’t think we have to like … How do you … The elephant, one bite at a time.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right.

Alex Venneri: I think that there’s a lot of those pieces we can do today, but some of the systems are very disparate so we’re looking for ways to simplify it first for the consumer and then make it simple for the dealer so we can bundle it up and give it to them in a way that they are just having to do those high touch pieces, which by the way, that’s what dealers are great at.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right.

Alex Venneri: They’re great interacting with people. Let’s stop making them admins. Let’s stop the paperwork. Give them more ways to connect with those consumers and build those relationships.

Jim Fitzpatrick: For some of the dealers that are watching this, say, “Social media. I don’t think we need to advertise on social media to sell cars.” What do you say to those dealers? Because they’re still out there.

Alex Venneri: It’s where the consumers are. What I usually find when dealers say that is they don’t want to mess with it themselves. And we do now a lot more than social media. We do display, we do switch into marketing. So let us find those consumers for you. Why do you care as long as we’re bringing you those leads and helping answer those questions? In fact, you shouldn’t waste your time on that. You’re running a big business. Knowing dealers working for dealers’ group, it’s amazing what dealers do. Like do that, you’re busy, let us do … And we’ll take that off your hands.

Alex Venneri: You probably heard from our dealers, they love that we just do it for them. They don’t need to know. And we always stay on top of the latest trends and we don’t nickel and dime. We’re like, you know what? It’s bundled. We’re selling new media buys, we’re giving you a solution to multiple pain points where you can have breakage, like after hours leads. Ask a dealer what happens with her hours, leads they don’t know. And then ask them, “Well, when you are looking at leads, what do you consider a lead?” And they might think it’s an email web form. “What about market place? What about comments on dark posts on ads that you’re running? What about Google My business, who’s taking those calls? Oh you didn’t know they can text you?” Go down this list. And they go, “Oh my God.” I’m like you know what-

Jim Fitzpatrick: All the dealers thinks is how many thousands of dollars did I just lose because I don’t know those things?

Alex Venneri: Right. That’s exactly what it is. And you don’t, you don’t need to. Then I go, “We’ll take it off your plate. I’ll help you have a few less gray hairs there. Let us get those. We’ll do it for you.

Jim Fitzpatrick: If a dealer’s watching right now, and he says, “Man, I love what Alexi is saying right now.” And they want to have you come in or maybe one your staff come in and give him like an analysis, like a benchmark, “Here’s what we’re currently doing Alexi. How can you help us and where are we falling off?” Do you guys do that? Will you go into dealerships and-

Alex Venneri: I love you. And we just practiced this. Yes.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I’m just putting my dealer hat on right now to be able to say, well, come on in and you tell me and then I’ll make a decision at the end of it if I like what I see. But I think that’s a huge service that you guys can do for dealers and under no obligation. If you like what you see you hire us. If you don’t like what you see, don’t hire us.

Alex Venneri: Go to our website right now. It says get an Intel report and that’s exactly what it is.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Is it really? Okay.

Alex Venneri: We have it right now. Yeap. So you can go on there, any dealer-

Jim Fitzpatrick: Okay. Oh, that’s phenomenal. Yeah, what’s the website?

Alex Venneri:

Jim Fitzpatrick: Okay, Perfect.

Alex Venneri: We will do that. You can select all the things [inaudible 00:09:36]. Secret shop your competition, we’ll show you where you rank.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Really.

Alex Venneri: We’ll give you a free report, no obligation. And you should be good on all the ways that we can help you through that consumer engagement with some of your online advertising.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I’ve spoken to, I can’t tell you how many digital marketing companies and I’ve never heard anybody say, will shop your competition and see how it comes out.

Alex Venneri: 100%.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s pretty cool.

Alex Venneri: Usually they all need help though.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I know. That’s exactly right.

Alex Venneri: But it’s insightful for the dealers in that fact. Moving forward once they’re clients, we continue to benchmark. So in our technology automation, we will track how they rank against our clients, which is cool.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Well you are certainly not going to find anyone in the auto industry that’s more passionate about helping dealers and also you got the street smart. I mean you sat, there where these marketing managers have been. Alexi Venneri, CEO, Co-founder of Digital Air Strike. I want to thank you so much for taking the time.

Alex Venneri: Thank you so much.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Your booth is on fire over there so I’ll let you get back to it, but I appreciate it very much.

Alex Venneri: Oh, we appreciate the time. You have a great show.