Integrating Your Online Reputation Strategy into Your Dealership’s Marketing Plan


In the automotive industry, positive consumer reviews are crucial ways dealers can attract new customers. Recent studies have shown, 59% of consumers say dealer reputation is the single most important factor when deciding what dealership to buy from. Joining us today to discuss how dealers can better manage their online reputation, is Erica Danford, Vice President of Managed Services at

digital marketingVIDEO TRANSCRIPT:

Jim Fitzpatrick: Hi, everyone, Jim Fitzpatrick with CBT News. Thanks so much for joining us today. Today, we are excited to have with us Miss Erica Danford. She’s the vice president of Managed Services for Thanks so much for joining us, Erica.

Erica Danford: So happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. We’re going to be talking about a topic that is near and dear to every dealer’s heart, I think, out there. I know it was when I was a dealer. And that’s online reputation management. Why is that so important?

Erica Danford: Well, it’s really interesting because I think it has been important for a very long time, but as consumer behavior has changed and the importance of reviews and reputation has become that much more prominent, dealers need to be paying more attention than ever to this.

Erica Danford: One of the things we know is that 59% of car shoppers think the number one thing they’re looking for is a dealer’s reputation. As prices have started to compress, that’s the thing that’s really resonating with them. And we also know that just shoppers in general have learned to pay attention to reviews. So I have a question for you: when was the last time you bought something online?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Probably just yesterday actually.

Erica Danford: Okay. Did you take a look at the reviews for what you purchased?

Jim Fitzpatrick: I did. And I do that all the time. All the time.

Erica Danford: And that’s right. So wouldn’t you think for shoppers who are choosing to pick the second-largest investment of their lives, they might pay attention to the place where they’re purchasing it from? It’s extremely important right now.

Jim Fitzpatrick: There’s no question about it. My wife is like a fiend on reviews. She reads every single one of them. She tries to even pick out, if in the event that the business has their friends and relatives, the ones that look really, really good. Right?

Erica Danford: Oh, she’s a sleuth.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yes, exactly. And she’ll monitor them and see what’s going on and try to figure out the real story. Nevertheless, it is definitely part of the purchase journey for us, that’s for sure.

Erica Danford: For sure. It really is. And it can be a pain point for dealers to try to take care of this because it’s something that really requires a lot of attention, and they really should be focusing on selling cars and servicing cars. So to think that they can do that extremely effectively on their own is probably unrealistic at this point.

Jim Fitzpatrick: There’s no question about it. And to your point, you’ve got so many other things to focus on as a dealer or a manager, salespeople, a fixed ops director, or what have you, that fixing and working with your online reputation out there, the reviews is way down at the bottom of the list. Right?

Erica Danford: Right.

Jim Fitzpatrick: It might even be something that you look at on a monthly basis or have a meeting over and discuss it. Nobody really knows how to do it. And there’s been a number of reviews, I know out there from dealers, that go unanswered, which we’ll probably talk about here in a second, which is a major no-no. So how is specifically working with their dealer clients to improve their online reputation? What’s the magic sauce, and how are you helping them?

Erica Danford: We have a holistic approach. When you think about digital marketing and the strategy behind it, the reputation management is one part of it for sure, and it’s really important. But so is SEO, so is the creative that’s on the website, an integrated approach. And so is, actually, the social presence on Facebook or Instagram. All of those things really need to work together.

Erica Danford: So the team that I oversee, Managed Services, has all of those disciplines under one roof, and they’re part of the website package as well. So if you think about it, you can make one call and talk about this entire integrated holistic approach to digital marketing by the provider that is also your website provider. So we try to make it easy, and we also try to recognize that each one of those disciplines requires a level of expertise. So we have very different teams that are designing than the team that’s doing the SEO strategy, but we all work together to ensure what we are delivering is appropriate for what the dealer’s needs are and aligned across the businesses.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, for sure. As I mentioned, it’s so needed, and especially … As dealers, we do put this into the digital column like, “Oh, my website provider will do that.” Well, many of the website providers, with the exception of, actually play in this space, right? They’re kind of like, “Hey, go get a service to help you with that.” Right?

Erica Danford: Right. That is true. The other thing that we’ve done recently is we are now looking at reputation management and review response in a different way because of its importance, and we are the only solution that’s managing responses through a technology platform. And that’s really unique.

Erica Danford: So what we’re able to do now, and it’s actually brand new to us in January, and we’re going to be able to launch it at NADA, which we’re really excited about. But what happens is the technology allows us to aggregate all of the negative reviews so that we can respond to them immediately. And with our response, which is a consistent brand voice, which is also something you want, we can text or email that response to the dealer, they can quickly review it, press approve, and then we can address that negative review immediately, which really tends to limit the impact that it has when you respond to it.

Jim Fitzpatrick: No question about it. And especially when the other consumers see that you’re responding to it so quickly, that’s impressive as well. Right?

Erica Danford: Right. It shows you care.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. That’s right. How does this impact the profit centers outside of sales in a dealer’s business? We’re always so focused on variable ops and sales and sales, sales, sales, sales, but-

Erica Danford: I know. Fixed ops is more and more important in the dealer’s portfolio-

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yes. That’s right. That’s right.

Erica Danford: … for so many reasons. It’s a major profit center. F&I is also something that can be impacted by reputation management.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. That’s true.

Erica Danford: It’s a similar approach, right? You wouldn’t approach it differently. You would want to respond as soon as the review goes up. And the truth of the matter is almost 80% of all the reviews that are left are positive. So I think sometimes dealers are a little afraid of this, but the truth is most of them are positive. And the more information and content that’s put out onto the web, that’s how you improve rankings for organic search. So the more information you could put out there in responding to these reviews, that helps with the SEO organic search ranking.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Should dealers respond to both positive and negative reviews? I mean, you would think, “Well, positive ones, what am I going to respond to? It’s nice that they … We did our job”-

Erica Danford: Hundred percent.

Jim Fitzpatrick: They should?

Erica Danford: They absolutely should respond to both positive and negative reviews, and there are some best practices that people can focus on. So really listening to what was being addressed in the review, whether it’s positive or negative, educating the customer on your business, and then recommending a solution or thanking them. So you want to do that in a consistent, professional, and timely manner regardless of whether it is a positive or a negative review.

Erica Danford: And one of the things you do not want to do is you don’t want to get in an argument online with anybody who’s left a negative review because you want to keep your brand as squeaky clean as possible, and it doesn’t do anybody any good. So you want to address it and, hopefully, get them to call you immediately. And sometimes they change their sentiment when you do that.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. You kind of defuse the bomb, don’t you [crosstalk 00:07:26]-

Erica Danford: Totally. Yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Smother them with kindness and understanding and empathy.

Erica Danford: And empathy. It goes a long way.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. That’s right. Rather than defending the job your sales person did or the technician or the service writer or whatever they’re complaining about and-

Erica Danford: Correct. I mean, the other thing, too, that’s pretty interesting is we’re now able to take a look at reporting at the end of every month, and we can respond back to the dealers and say, “Look, in this area you are doing really well based on what the reviews are showing, and in this other area there’s some room for improvement.” So it not only helps with their overall rapport with their customers, it actually can help influence how they pay attention within the organization of the business.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. I’ve seen some dealers out there that will spend a ton of money on advertising. They’re everywhere that you touch on the web. Whether it be social marketing or Google or Yahoo, whatever it is, their ads pop up every place. And then when you go to their dealership and you click on to reviews or you check out the reviews on Google or other resources, they’re terrible. And you’re thinking to yourself, “My gosh, if the dealer just spent a little bit of time, money and perhaps got with a vendor like to say, ‘Help me in this area,’ you wouldn’t have to spend the hundreds of thousands a month in advertising just to get somebody to walk in or click on.” Right?

Erica Danford: Right. And I think that, again, it sort of tends to be at the bottom of the list of things that they’re trying to take care of, and that’s why it is a really beneficial thing to partner with experts in the area.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s for sure. What content should dealers include in their responses to customer reviews?

Erica Danford: This is a really interesting thing about reviews, and I think most people don’t know this, but reviews are the most prominent local SEO ranking factor.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Wow.

Erica Danford: So when you think about that, the things you would want to include when you’re responding is the location and the business name, keywords that would relate to the make and model if it has to do with a sale, and then products and services that you want to be promoting because it really helps boost the SEO ranking. And Google and the other search engines basically want to do business and direct customers to businesses they perceive are good businesses to work with. So if a dealer’s reputation is positive and well maintained, they will reward that dealer with higher organic rankings.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. What do you say to the dealer that’s listening to us right now that says, “No big deal on reviews. We had a record month last month in volume and net profit, and I don’t pay much attention to reviews”?

Erica Danford: I would say, “Congratulations on the record month. That is great, but it’s 2020, and you need to pay attention to reviews. They really matter.”

Jim Fitzpatrick: They really do, don’t they?

Erica Danford: They do.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. For dealers that are listening, do not buy into that. I don’t care if your sales manager told you that or your GM that, “We had a record month.” Believe me, there’s going to come a time when those reviews bite you in the butt, and you’re going to wish that you had a vendor in your corner that you can say, “Hey, fix this problem, and fix it as quick as you can.” Right?

Erica Danford: And who’s monitoring it every day, all day long, and does this for their profession. I think that’s really the key.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right. Right. There’s no question about it. And you guys have got at thousands of websites that you’re doing for dealers across the country. And so you’ve got your hand on the pulse of what works and, more importantly, what doesn’t, so you can help dealers navigate down this in this area. Right?

Erica Danford: We do. It is true.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, no question about it. Well, Erica Danford, vice president of Managed Services at, I want to thank you so much for joining us on CBT News. It’s been very enlightening. I’d love to have you back to talk more about reviews because it’s always a hot topic among dealers and our viewers.

Erica Danford: I would love to come back, and thank you for giving your time. Appreciate it.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Thanks. Thank you.

Erica Danford: Nice to meet you.

CBT Automotive Network, the number one most-watched network in retail automotive. This has been a JBF Business Media production.