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AM PROMOTION Dealer insightBy Tim Smith, commercial director of GForces, web manage­ment and marketing specialistst has been a long-held view that motor retailers in the UK are a few years behind the US when it comes to exploiting digital tech­nology. The USA tends to embrace new technologies more quickly, and to a greater extent. After all, Amazon, iTunes and Facebook were all thought up and developed there. However, research undertaken in January by GForces highlights a rather different trend. A review of the top 50 auto retailers in the UK and the US showed that, taking into account 10 core digital technologies that a consumer might expect - such as Live Chat, video and eCommerce - the UK top 50 significantly outperformed their US counterparts in all but two. The two areas where the UK lags behind the USA are video (66% in USA vs. 48% UK) and blogging (20% USA vs. 10% UK). In all other instances, the UK is at least 4% ahead of the US, and the gap is a substantial 32% for eCommerce. This speaks well of the leading UK dealers, but the reality is that many still fall behind the US example. Furthermore, deployment is only part of the picture. UK dealers must think more about the cultural acceptance and effective utilisation of these technologies. Providing the technology does not automatically give a dealer an advantage; quantifi­able success will only occur when dealers develop, market and use technology properly. One of the clear things exposed at NADA 2012 was the focus on 'digital'. In the USA there is a higher level of understanding about the interaction and widespread impact of technology.  As a result, US dealers are ahead of their UK counterparts, the pendulum of marketing expenditure from offline to digital having swung further. US consumers are even more likely to use the internet throughout the buying cycle, espe­cially when it comes to social media, and as a result, US dealers are funneling more of their marketing budgets to online channels. For instance, in the USA the Auto­Nation group has exploited Face­book - their Chevrolet arm building 14,000 'likes'. In the UK, such figures are unheard of for dealership chains, with even the top performers having less than 9,000 'likes'. Concise and focused social marketing strategies in the USA have helped, but tech­nology has played a crucial part. Comment syndication tools that allow marketing departments to post messages on individual fran­chise pages, and centralised social media control for automotive OEMs or multi-franchise chains, are yet to Embracing the internet - it's a cultural thingtruly emerge in the UK. In the USA they are widely used in order to better focus marketing. The Ford Explorer was the first vehicle to be marketed solely online, and further campaigns with the Fiesta where owners blogged about real-world experiences have continued this trend. In fact, Ford's social media pres­ence, led by Scott Monty, is legendary and is an example from which dealers can learn. Additionally, the US has a much better grasp when it comes to integrating internet sales opportunities into real world show­room experience by passing data seamlessly between websites and DMS or CRM systems. Although there are numerous digital software providers in the UK, very few look at the big picture of how dealership systems (web, showroom, DMS, etc) should interact to enhance the consumer experience.  In the USA, the creation and implementation of dealership systems that are mutually compat­ible, sharing information effectively, is far more advanced. Mobile technology has also been embraced by US dealers in a more effective manner. The 'always on, always available' nature of the mobile device is the underlying characteristic that has fuelled its success as a communication tool, and there is a widespread under­standing of the importance of this in the USA's car retail space. In the USA this maybe due to the three-tier (OEM, Region, and Dealer) hierarchy and enormous geography, but mobile search and the drive to localised search has been a hot topic there for a couple of years whereas the UK is only just coming to terms with this concept. This is made all the more relevant when it is realised that 91% of UK adults have a mobile phone (Ofcom), whereas the figure in the USA is 85% (Pew Internet), and an ever-increasing number of mobile owners have smart platforms (42% in the US and 51% in the UK). This opens up opportunities for advancing social interaction and, given the access to App stores, there is likely to be a revolution in how mobile automotive technology is bought and used. UK dealers have deployed the technology perhaps faster and more aggressively than US dealers which is probably due to competitors being in much closer geographical prox­imity to each other. However, the effective utilisation of the internet and its associated tools comes down to a cultural acceptance throughout all levels of a dealership that these tools need to form part of everyday working life. This is where the US has a lead over the UK.In association withTim Smith is the commercial director for GForces Web Management, who deliver the most effective digital strategies for market leading dealer groups and manufacturers. Tim is responsible for defining GForces' company strategy, marketing activities, product and service innovation. Tim has an extensive knowledge of IT and its applications to business having worked in the industry for 20 years. Over the past seven years he has helped shape GForces to become one of the most prominent providers of digital solutions to the automotive industry.ABOUT THE AUTHORUK dealers must ensure internet technology is part of their everyday working lifeI

Dealer profile Vindis Groupike all children that are told not to do some­thing, Jamie Vindis is back at the VW Group specialist business his family has run since its inception in the 1960s after specifically being told not to.At first he followed his parents' advice to go and do something else rather than join the business which has 19 franchise points across Cambridgeshire, Bedford­shire and Northamptonshire, representing VW, Audi, Skoda and Bentley. He spent almost eight years working in the City achieving his own success, but the urge to come back was too appealing.He said: "If you're told not to do something it just appeals more. The more I explored and did different things in the City, the more interested and appealing coming back to Vindis Group became."It absolutely worked in my favour because if my path had been set from a very early age, there's a chance I would have totally rebelled against it."After the City he took a year out to complete an MBA at Cardiff Business School before joining the group. He said: "I was in a very fortunate position after that year, the directors allowed me to start working in the business with no particular role."I spent three months going through all the sites, every department, learning the whats, the whys and the hows. It was fantastically beneficial."How loyalty has brought success for Vindis Group Operations director Jamie Vindis on the issues and values that are important to the family business. Tom Seymour reportsContinuesLA head of business position became available at one of the group's Volkswagen sites. Vindis was then asked to run a site. It taught him a lot very quickly.He said: "The circumstances I went in with were fairly stressful and the business needed some assistance."All of the theoretical training in the world doesn't prepare you for the job itself. That first head of business role, walking in and knowing how to analyse accounts and KPIs and how to structure my thought process, was just a world away from what you can do when you stand in the business and everything is just happening around you. It's so frantic and it's so busy, I don't think anything can really prepare you."Vindis spent three years running the VW site and then the group decided to run with brand directors.The group went up to six VW sites and Vindis took on the brand director role for VW.He said: "It was interesting to see the day-to-day operation within the business and then the transition to sharing goals and working as a coherent single entity."Working as a group is something we really focus on."The brand managers that are still in place understand Vindis' ideas on the direction of the business.He said: "Much of my role is coaching and help to develop them, so we all grow stronger and become a better group."