It's noisy out there, and I'm confused

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Where is the bottom of the communications barrel? Has the media reached rock-bottom when we are reduced to reading Tweets from the Jersey Shore crew? Can we all really reduce our socially significant comments down to 140 characters or less? Really?

Add in the new optimally shortened YouTube videos, and pretty soon the written word will be a thing of the past. Single-purpose Kindle readers will bite the dust as visually enhanced iPads rule the world for attention-deficit techno-geeks (which I am admittedly becoming). SEO maximization seems to be some kind of new currency justifying huge quantities of meaningless “keyword-laden” comments in cyberspace. It doesn’t seem to matter if the societal consequence of all these knee-jerk blips, blabs and blunders come at the expense of more meaningful concepts. Smart or dumb, and dumber? Comments are like opinions and belly buttons — everyone has them. But do we need to read this stuff to build a long-lasting successful life, business and career?

And exactly what’s this got to do with your dealership? Everything! I write this column wearing the shoes of a retail customer, and right now I am confused. A confused customer is a tight customer. We don’t trust the government, banks, media, corporate America or even big dealerships. Big dealerships? Yes! When money was “cheap,” sales and service departments were notorious for “adding on” lots of extra undercoats, overcoats, extended protections, pre-paid services, doo-dads and thingamajigs for a few extra dollars a month — as I myself have suggested doing. Sure the unwashed masses said yes to much of it, but as customers, we still have to (albeit mistakenly) blame someone other than ourselves for our financial misfortunes. You’ve even seen the derogatory term “stealers” used for “dealers” in this magazine.

Misunderstanding? Maybe, but there is no denying the customers’ mistrust these days.

A lot of this misunderstanding is because Americans have cut down communication to its bare bones, leaving plenty of room for misinterpretation and even more mistrust. Family conversations have become data dumps. Best friends or customers receive texts, e-mails or abbreviated voice mails. Television, social networking and dot-coms feed on sound bites that have stifled our ability to communicate or think through deeper concepts — concepts that in the past have enabled our society to collectively envision a better future.

Previously our nation could be united with focused, wise concepts. For example, in the ’60s President Kennedy rallied the nation via a few media channels like Newsweek and NBC. Now we are bombarded by a constant stream of comments from 300 million self-publishing citizens using thousands of communications channels — 100-plus television networks, texts, e-blasts, mass faxes, e-zines, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. It’s noisy out here, and I’m still confused.

Our sound-bite society is becoming a sign of stupidity! Vendors and customers are communicating with you less than ever while also expecting you to perform a better job in selling and supplying. Welcome to the post-recessionary 21st century, where we all expect you to do more with less. This sounds old-fashioned, but perhaps we should consider retrenching to some communication fundamentals? Do you think the ancient Egyptians could teach the next generation to build a pyramid (or run a dealership) in a series of 140 hieroglyphic characters or less? Can we expect high school students to learn the concept behind the Declaration of Independence from watching a 45-second YouTube video while waiting in a Starbucks line?

“Self-expression is the new entertainment,” says Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post. “People don’t want to just consume information, they want to participate. Recognizing that impulse is the future of journalism.”

Engagement with your customer is the secret, but shorter, more frequent electronically delivered comments are not as engaging or impactful as old-fashioned full-page ads communicating a meaningful concept. So too for handshakes beginning friendships, eye contact breeding trust, and one-on-one conversations embedding lasting customer relationships.

Electronic substitutions may give cheaper total impressions, but they are of such low quality that they tend to be ignored or soon forgotten. Web or electronic advertising is cheaper for a reason — it doesn’t work as well! So be careful not to dedicate all your resources to this alleged e-gold rush. When is the last time you actually clicked on one of those annoying pop-up ads? That cheaper e-ad may register as an “exposure” but not as a meaningful or lasting impression. It’s only part of the clutter making up the cornucopia of e-crap I continually send to my spam filter.

Don’t get me wrong about cyberspace. Google has replaced the Yellow Pages, so continue to leverage all of your key words alongside your location (e.g.: ATV accessories Phoenix), but don’t dump the fundamental marketing and customer service principals that made you great. Keep reading articles in trade journals, attending dealer conferences, taking business courses and envisioning where you want to take your store.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to Tweet my peeps that Snooki from Jersey Shore just got busted!

This story originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of Dealernews.