UNCERTAINTY Is The Worst Environment For Any Industry


Historical data indicates customers sit on their hands during uncertain times. We have been through these times in the past. There will more times of uncertainty in the future.

As some people will say, “The decisions we make in the good times, carry us through the bad times.” This has proven factual more times than not. What are we supposed to do in the bad times? Sit on our hands? We think not.

Often, changing business practices in the bad time is driven by an act of desperation. But organizations that change their practices and adopt innovation in bad times will lead, be creative and march forward into the good times with guns blazing. They position themselves for the next wave of retail growth.

Unfortunately, there are organizations waiting for things to return to normal. They do little to help position their dealerships for the future. As others thrive, they struggle. It’s not that some dealerships backup, rather they just stall in place as the competition moves forward.

Dealerships can easily differentiate customers who move their businesses forward from those who don’t. Conversely, customers can easily differentiate the dealerships that are moving their operations forward from those who don’t.

A Dirty Thirties rewind?   

The Dirty Thirties (or Dust Bowl Days), which contributed to the Great Depression, were just about comparable to our current economic climate. Let’s review some of the marketing initiatives born during the Great Depression and see what we learned or can learn.

Companies that maintained or increased their advertising spending in the 1930s grew to become household brands in the following decades.

Almost 100 years later, many of these brands are still recognizable today, such as Nabisco, General Foods, Coca-Cola, and Proctor & Gamble. Not all companies survived. Experts believe the failures were, in many instances, the result of senior management decisions not to change their branding/marketing/advertising strategies.  

As you read about the following 1930s advertising strategies and initiatives, be thinking of your website in terms of triggers, data/material, ease of use, functionality, tracking analytics, and your overall focus/energy regarding your dealership’s online presence.

Outside of the dealership, are your employees involved in their communities? How deep is the dealership’s community involvement? During a radio interview with Rolling Stones’ frontman, Mick Jagger, he said, “If you are not a hero at home, you cannot be a hero anywhere.”


There were many families in the 1930s with little or no money. Bread was five cents a loaf and newspapers were two cents. It was down to eat or read. Newspapers took the hit and newspaper sales decreased. On the other hand, radio reached a wide audience. It was free, providing you had a radio. Throughout the 1930s, spending on radio advertising increased four-fold.

While print advertising is still viewed as a highly professional and respected medium, it could lose steam with future generations of consumers who turn to the internet before the Yellow Pages. Most consumers dismiss the cost of businesses having an online presence and they’re even passive about their own investment in being online. Simply, many people see the internet as somewhat free and accessible to all.

Online is where we spend our free time. At any time of the day and at nearly every event, you will see people on their phones. Therefore, it makes sense that maintaining a better website than your competitor will have consumers and prospects coming back.

How does your website appear and function on mobile devices? The industry is finding that almost 100% of new customers will visit a dealership’s website from their phones before visiting a physical location.

Writer’s note: Just in case you were wondering, toilet paper in the Dirty Thirties was 20 cents for a three-roll package.

Advertising Firms

Surprisingly, the 1930s saw growth in the number of advertising agencies, something which can be linked to the appeal of radio.

According to AdAge, “Among the agencies founded in this decade that established a strong radio presence for their clients were McCann-Erickson, handling Nabisco, and opened in 1930; William Esty & Co. (Camel cigarettes), D.P. Brother (Oldsmobile) and Campbell-Mithun (General Mills), established in 1933; and Leo Burnett Co. (Minnesota Canning Co.) and Kudner Advertising (General Motors Corp.), founded in 1935.”

Prior to the 1930s, most companies used in-house advertising departments. In-house worked as long as other companies kept their advertising in-house.

Progressive companies realized a good firm, working with many clients from various industries, could bring a wealth of knowledge and cutting-edge ideas. As with advertising, some is trial and error. The plus with using a firm is they’ve had successes and failures on someone else’s dime.

As the complexity grows for maximizing your current online presence and trying to navigate through the next great online strategy, are dealerships ready to enlist the help of professionals? You basically have two choices: 1) keep advertising in-house to save pennies, or 2) spend nickels on creative and targeted advertising to market your brand and make dollars.     


Ninety years ago, Gillette became recognized as one of the largest sponsors of sports. The company targeted specific events. Many of the strategies Gillette initiated are still being used today. They were able to market to large audiences using product-specific items.

The strategy in this type of branding is about being front and center when consumers are about to purchase. They may not be buying on a particular day, but when they do decide to make a purchase, your brand becomes top of mind. Repetitive marketing messages accomplish the goal of being front and center.

Three years ago, a study by Clutch found that “advertisements influence 90% of consumers to make a purchase.” Since consumers see about 10,000 advertisements a day, being “front and center” makes sense. 


A progressive 1930s marketing agency identified 27 motivational selling codes used in advertisements. With this, the company developed a process to individually measure the 27 factors. A number of companies embraced the analytics and began using what was referred to as a “scientific system of selling.”

Companies submitted their potential advertising materials or scripts to the agency, which generated a report that evaluated how effective the admat/script would be. The client could decide whether to change the advertisement or run the advertisement while scaling back the investment depending on the projected effectiveness of the promotion. All of this was to help maximize the Return on Investment. Measuring our advertising Return on Investment is still a challenge for most dealerships.

Today, online systems allow detailed, real-time analytics. This provides awareness to the effectiveness of a website or individual online advertisement. Having the data regarding customers click-through rates, time spent on a website, traffic volume, etc., allows dealerships to measure their branding and advertising, but moreover, make daily adjustments as necessary.

During a recent webinar conducted by ARI Network Services for Rural Lifestyle Dealer, there was a noticeable online thud when people were told to “shelter in place” because of the coronavirus. However, in the past few months, the increase in web traffic has exploded and both website visits and leads generated have nearly doubled.

The Western Equipment Dealers Association understands these are difficult times. Every market served by WEDA is struggling.

With lockdown orders, people are discovering how much can be done online. The dealerships with a great online presence are getting a crack at the limited business being done. Being online is more than having a website. Social media posts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and other e-commerce sites can also be a big part of your image and their use costs just pennies.

Every dealership is trimming costs, but play online offense to win – it’s just good business.

Editor’s note: For more information about Dealer Institute programs, podcasts or trainer videos, visit www.dealerinstitute.org or search for Western Equipment Dealers Association on YouTube.

Written By Trent Hummel

TRENT HUMMEL is a lead management consultant and trainer for the Western Equipment Dealers Association’s Dealer Institute. He provides onsite dealership training and conducts courses to improve inventory management and business operations.


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