Photo courtesy of iStock.

Photo courtesy of iStock. 

With dozens of new online marketing channels, outreach via email can seem like plain ol’ vanilla nowadays. However, to overlook the power and efficacy of email would be a mistake. According to the results of a recent SalesForce survey, 77% of respondents “still prefer to receive permission-based marketing communications through email.” I’m here to tell you that, as a marketing medium, email isn’t going anywhere.

That said, car buyers are rapidly evolving in response to the proliferation of online marketing tactics, improved spam filter technology and a growing desire to control the conversation. But email marketing can still be extraordinarily effective and really doesn’t have to be complicated. To reach more in-market shoppers and communicate effectively with sold customers, start by avoiding the following common missteps many online marketers are making every day.

1. Relying on HTML

Among marketers, the practice of adding HTML and images to email is bitterly divisive, and is debated in forums, coffee shops and boardrooms the world over. Some point to results from surveys conducted by Hubspot — an inbound marketing software developer — that show that more than 65% of customers prefer HTML emails; others point to results from real-time testing that shows HTML emails underperform their plaintext counterparts by margins of 25%.

As it turns out, they’re both right. See, while people prefer HTML, their email providers do not. Apple Mail, AOL, Outlook, Yahoo and Android Mail block HTML/images by default. The market leader, Gmail, prompts users to manually enable downloads, which only 57% do, according to Litmus Inc., an email marketing analytics firm. Resisting the urge to be flashy may be difficult, but the benefit in click-through is undeniable.

2. Baiting the Customer

With more than half of all Internet users receiving at least one phishing email per day, according to, it’s no surprise that people are wary. And while marketers race to outdo one another with ever more extreme subject headings, consumers just shrug their shoulders.

Subject lines like “Hi, You’re Fired” and “I’ve noticed you before but haven’t said anything” have been used and overused by rogue advertisers and venerable media brands like BuzzFeed. Dirty tricks might bump up open rates in the short run, but they’re a good way for your emails to land in spam filters and boost your unsubscribe rate as well.

So rather than optimizing open rates, the goal should be to keep your open rate consistent with industry averages, which, according to email marketing service MailChimp, can be as low as 13.98% for daily coupon sites and as high as 29.4% for niche hobby and personal interest sites.

3. Sending Too Often

According to a study involving eight million MailChimp users, “Frequency and engagement are negatively correlated.” Researchers found a significant decline in click-through rates with each additional email received. A regular emailing schedule is only worthwhile if the email truly brings value to the customer. Anything less could result in opt-outs and a gradual decrease in campaign profitability.

4. Forgetting to Segment

Email offers dealers a high degree of segmentation: Parsing information such as where customers live, what time they wake up, what keywords work best, and even identity correlation (cross-referenced to social media and DMV records) is quickly becoming the norm.

Most of these features are baked right into your email marketing tools and products, but they sit unused because you weren’t willing to watch a 20-minute tutorial. With the right information, email marketing is iterative; each round becoming more optimized until your campaign exceeds industry averages.

Photo courtesy of iStock.

Photo courtesy of iStock. 

5. Not Connecting With Real Business Processes

Having massive open rates and subscriber lists doesn’t mean much if you can’t find a way to convert the activity into cash. All too often, online marketing lives in a bubble of facts and figures, disconnected from real-world business processes.

One effective strategy to turn opens into leads and appointments is to equip your sales team with software such as Sidekick or Streak that alerts them every time an email has been opened. Placing a sales call shortly after opening a promotional email improves answer rates and allows you to pitch in conjunction with the email.

6. Using Paid Lists Improperly

Google “paid email list” and the first thing that comes up is “Why Buying Email Lists Is Always a Bad Idea.” Any executive you meet from HubSpot, MailChimp, Constant Contact or Aweber will all tell you they oppose paid lists. So buying them must be a bad move, right?

Wrong! If you’re planning to import your paid list into a commercial email marketing client, then good luck. Auto-verification programs such as Omnivore ping the email servers of each account and stop you from contacting those addresses. However, inexpensive lists can be purchased on open lead markets, such as Integrate, or on a per-lead basis from providers such as Salesgenie. Scrub the list with a service like BriteVerify and upload into a bulk mailing client such as SendBlaster. While this shouldn’t be tried at the expense of an organic mailing list, it also has the potential to drive revenues.

The good news is that if you’ve been putting off email marketing, there’s never been a time with cheaper tools or more accurate segmentation. Most dealers can purchase a list and sign up for an email marketing client for less than $500. Whether you fail or succeed your first time around will largely depend on how closely you listen to your customers — and avoiding the common mistakes that cause emails to go unread.

To Be or Not to Be

Dealers across the nation are trying to figure out how to grow their operations through online channels amid aggressive competition. Unfortunately, the overload of messages and brands sending those messages is the new normal in our digital culture. So is it possible to get noticed and ultimately grow your company amid this stiff competition? Well, not only can it be done, we’ve seen it done very successfully by doing the following:

  • Be Ready: In order to build your business online, you must start with the foundations to get your company set firmly before moving to the next level. If you don’t have your foundations of branding — a solid website and social media profiles — you’re not ready to make a dent online.
  • Be Consistent: Whether you blog, post on social media or advertise once a month, once a week, or once an hour, stay consistent. It takes time to build authority and rapport with your audience and search engines, and consistency helps you build that rapport. Start with a few main digital channels like email and social media. Then, when you are consistent on those, you can add other digital advertising channels.
  • Be Alert: So many dealers are yelling their message online as loudly as they can, plastering their message on every pop-up ad and social media profile they can. How do they even know anyone wants to hear it? They don’t, because they aren’t listening to the response that initial message gets. If your store is on social media or has a presence on one or more review sites, you have to review the responses. Dealers who re-engage on these platforms stick out from the crowd.
  • Be Adaptable: One thing you can count on in digital marketing is change. New technologies, new generations and new behavior trends force digital marketers to adapt or get left behind. You have to be willing to change if you are going to succeed in today’s digital world.
  • Be Proactive: In a digital world that is constantly changing, marketers need to be proactive to find the latest and greatest opportunities. Those who embrace new digital channels often build stronger, more visible presences because they were there first. You can obviously wait until it’s a tried and true digital channel, but you risk getting lost in the sea of marketers who started too late. Dealers who embraced YouTube when it first became popular now have tons of content on robust channels that draw real traffic.

The digital marketing landscape makes it very easy for marketers to broadcast their message and be quite proactive in their marketing to consumers. Unfortunately, this means that the marketing landscape is very competitive and often aggressive. Embracing a few key perspectives is essential for any brand to grow their business with online channels today.

Kevin Layton is CEO of Data-Dynamix, a premier source of demographic data, and author of “Building Your Digital Marketing Machine.” Contact him at [email protected].