Customers are getting hit with advertising messages from every angle — TV, radio, print, social media and even in their email. “People are being absolutely inundated with messaging. So you’ve got to be able to break through with something else,” says Tyler Musson, corporate marketing manager for Washington Tractor, a 12-store John Deere dealership in Washington state.

Musson and Washington Tractor are trying to get out ahead of the changing landscape for marketing messaging. “At some point, society in general is going to start massively rejecting so many of the places that they’re being targeted 24/7 with advertising unless it’s authentic and real and it’s connecting with them on some kind of emotional and relational level. When information is cheap, attention is expensive. In today’s ‘always on’ culture, the smartphone is the centerpiece of this shift in information consumption. At the end of the day the smartphone is the TV of 1964,” he says.

The way Washington Tractor is aiming to connect with customers emotionally is through a series of branding videos, which it kicked off in January. Musson says there’s been a paradigm shift in how we consume information and what we pay attention to. “That means getting in front of people on their smartphones and thinking of them as TV, radio, print and social media combined. It’s everything right there in the palm of a customer’s hand,” he explains.

Musson says with most traditional forms of marketing — TV, radio and print — once the ad runs or the offer expires it is gone forever. Video hosted on the Internet has a more lasting effect, though. “We make these videos and we don’t use actors, we use real customers, real employees, real people, real stories and they last forever. We can use them as a tool in many different applications. I told our management team that video is the future. Video is capturing a moment in time that you can play over and over that never says the wrong thing or does the wrong thing or offends,” he says.

Musson says the videos make up about 5% of Washington Tractor’s total marketing budget, but their value goes beyond that. As of March, the first video had been viewed more than 275,000 times. And, Musson says the views were highly targeted views. The first video was released in January and the second in February. “The total between the two videos is at around 350,000. Now think about how many people fast forward through commercials and never see the ads,” he says.

Changing Access

Musson says the change in how customers are accessing information has already started for some demographics. For customers in the 34-44 age range, a lot more are using mobile devices compared to those in either the 45-55 or 55-65 ranges. “But, when you look at our data and analytics, the 45-65 male demographic is rapidly changing to mobile devices, social media and consumption on a smartphone, and we have the data to back that up,” he says. “In the last year, we’ve had a 20-25% shift to more mobile engagement in the 55-plus range than last year. It’s a staggering and rapid change. Oddly, our most engaged Facebook user is a 55-plus, male on a smartphone.”

Dealer Takeaways

The way customers consume information is changing. Videos allow you to reach them when and where they want to watch, most likely on a mobile device.

People buy from people. It’s important to establish a brand identity for your dealership beyond that of your mainline without alienating the relationship.

Videos can help you communicate your vision and mission to your customers and connect with them on an emotional level.

At the end of the day, the reason for the changes in technology use and how people access information, Musson says, comes down to convenience and reducing the possibility of error and conflict in interpersonal contact. And that can be both a positive and a negative. According to Musson, the biggest negative about technology is it takes us away from personal relationships when it’s actually marketed to bring us closer. “But it can also segue into new ones, which is positive. And it also allows you to communicate to a much larger group of like-minded people from a centralized source rather than hundreds of one-to-one interactions. You’re leveraging a mass audience with a similar problem to solve,” he says.

On the positive side, online inquiries represent a new connection point from customer to dealership, but Musson says many dealers don’t recognize that it’s as valid as someone walking through the door. “If someone requests a quote online, that person made the effort to find that piece of equipment on the website, do their research and fill out the information. He’s essentially saying, ‘I do want this,’ but he’s also saying ‘I don’t like driving 30 miles and I don’t feel like picking up the phone and increasing the chances of an inconsistent experience. Now, I want you to take what I’ve given you, do your research and get back to me and reduce any friction and inconsistency in the potential transaction,’” he says. “Like it or not, people want convenience, because it comes down to time, which is finite and non-replaceable.”

Creating Your Own Brand

The video project is a way for Washington Tractor to unite under one brand. The dealership was formed in 2010 when Liberty Farm and Lawn, North Washington Implement and Barnett Implement merged to form a 7-store John Deere dealership group. Since then, the dealership has added 5 more locations through additional mergers and acquisitions. With all that growth, the dealership realized it needed to bring all the stores together under one brand identity.

“You have to have an identity. You have to create a brand. That’s really where the video project came from as well as from a marketing standpoint,” Musson says.

Washington Tractor is using storytelling as a marketing tactic to reinforce its brand. “The goal behind storytelling is taking a complex process or relationship and communicating it simply,” he says. “Marketing a story is really creating equity with your customers and potential customers, but it’s a different form of equity. It’s a relational equity. Once you build up enough relational equity, you can actually take a withdrawal from that equity account through the sales relationship. So part of the video project is connecting with a specific audience emotionally and building relational equity for a future withdrawal and transaction.”

You have to have an identity. You have to create a brand. That’s really where the video project came from…

Musson says it’s been hard for dealerships to create a brand identity because for years marketing-led organizations — the OEMs — have been dictating the direction of sales. “That relationship worked great, I think, until the OEMs started the consolidation process, creating mega-dealers, which in turn means the dealers need to be a lot more sophisticated because there’s a lot more risk on the table,” he says.

“We’re in this weird place as dealers where we’ve been driven by a specific brand that has helped us with identity and now we’re saying, ‘We want our own identity and our own brand.’ But, we know we didn’t get here by ourselves. How do we do this and satisfy both parties? I think telling that story through video is the way to do it. The cool thing is you can tell your story with words and not even say the name of the mainline. As long as you’re using their equipment and their color in the background and using it as a centerpiece of the theme, the message is communicated. We’re obviously a John Deere dealer.”

Logistical Challenges

Washington Tractor is working on the project with a local production company, Voortex Productions of Wenatchee, Wash. To get the dramatic, cinematic style they were looking for, Musson says it was important to work with a production company rather than trying to accomplish it themselves. To help the creative team understand Washington Tractor, the dealership explained their mission, vision and values. “To simplify it down for the creative person to understand the 1,000 foot view and know what they’re working with, the best place to start is with your mission, vision and values,” he says.

In total, Washington Tractor will produce 14 videos this year. There will be two brand videos that Musson says serve as anchor points establishing their philosophy. “In between those two we are doing vignettes or short stories that will fill in the gaps on a deeper more personal level, per customer, per demographic, per employee. They take us from mission to vision, they communicate how we accomplish that philosophy” he says.

Topics covered by the other videos include: forage harvesters, precision ag in the Pacific Northwest, farm family stories, turf and consumer products segments, product walk-arounds, the importance of having a staff agronomist, technician recruiting and the Washington Tractor heritage (focused on long-term employment with the dealership).

So far, the dealership has released two of the videos, and Musson says the biggest challenge so far has just been working around everyone’s schedules. “We’re all busy, every department is busy. We’re doing our best at educating everyone on the value of the project, why we are doing this and why it’s important to be a part of it and juggling their schedules and not impeding business as usual,” he says.

Weather is the other big challenge. To make the most of good weather, Washington Tractor spent the winter months planning and shooting interviews. “We did a lot of our planning for the series this winter. We put together all of our interview questions, the purpose and goal of each video, right down to the demographics it’s aimed at connecting with. The specific equipment it’s supposed to communicate about or services. We’ve got all that together so we’re ready to go,” Musson explains.

With the prep work done, the dealership will spend the spring and summer shooting the outdoor footage, equipment in the field, specific scenes and some B-roll.

While Washington Tractor enlisted the professional assistance of a production team, Musson says there are ways for a dealership to take advantage of the benefits of video on a lesser level. “You can start with just video testimonials. Ultimately, people buy from those they know they can trust. A video testimony is more or less just a short story of a customer communicating a level of trust. I think that’s the best way to start if you’re on a small budget and you want to get a video project going, that would be the way,” he says.

Musson says he hopes this new approach to marketing catches on with other dealers.

“I think a lot of eyes are opening about the value of telling our story and building a brand for the future. The OEMs helped us build it, and they will always be a huge part of our identity, but communicating our unique brand story on the support side is just sound business practice.

“We’re too big to be focusing on too many shiny objects. When brand is the focus, equity in hearts and minds is built, which is value in the bank. We’ve got a lot more on the line now,” he says.

April 2016 Issue Contents