Building a high-performance marketing engine

Four concepts that will help you outpace the competition

Jeff Alford, SAS Insights editor

When you’re considered the largest US retailer of new and preowned vehicles, there are lots of organizational parts that need be maintained if you’re to achieve peak performance. For AutoNation, with more than 280 dealerships in 15 states, it required unifying its marketing approach as the organization rapidly grew and new dealerships were acquired.

Prior to 2013, the company was a collection of dealerships operating in regional groups. After coming under the AutoNation brand, the company launched an awareness campaign that included elevating the marketing department under a CMO.

To further build and support the brand, AutoNation identified some core marketing concepts that could be clearly and consistently implemented at its stores across the country. The advice that follows based on a discussion that appeared in Argyle Conversations between Karen Joslyn, vice president of manufacturing and energy at SAS and Greg Revelle, former CMO of AutoNation.

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Concept #1: Focus on the external

What AutoNation inherited was lots of individual websites that were mostly third-party managed and bore little in common – except displaying vehicle inventory. The marketing office helped develop a common website approach that also fostered a stronger brand presence.


AutoNation brought in experts were focused on the digital marketing and knew how to use data and analytics to better understand its customers and their shopping behaviors.

Concept # 2: Be a customer advocate

In the early days of AutoNation, it was more important to sell inventory than establish relationships with car buyers. That quickly changed as the marketing department’s organizational influence grew. As a result, AutoNation became a more customer-centric company that thinks about the needs of its customers and they built the company’s value propositions around meeting customer needs.

Concept # 3: Bring diverse experts to a complex problem

If you’ve ever bought a vehicle, you know what a challenging, and sometimes mysterious, process it can be. Adding to that challenge for the company was helping buyers through the purchase process online. To help eliminate the mystery and complexity, AutoNation needed expertise in building an ecommerce presence from scratch. That included bringing in web designers, user-interface experts and gurus for all of the other technical pieces that needed to be in place to launch an easy-to-use website that helps guide customers through their purchase decision.

Concept #4: Strike the right balance between short- and long-term goals

The monthly and quarterly auto sales goals have to be the driving, short-term goal for the company. The trick for the marketing department is putting the right amount of energy into that effort while keeping enough resources in reserve to use on longer-term investments like e-commerce and analytics. Former AutoNation CMO Greg Revelle said that it’s a constant juggling of priorities.
“That’s the biggest pressure for me on a day-to-day-basis: When there’s a small fire burning, how much water do we want to put on that fire if it jeopardizes some of the big picture things we’re doing?,” Revelle said.

So far, it appears AutoNation has made the right trade offs.

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