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Using Data to Segment Customers and Build a Customer-Centric Dealership with Gary LaDue

Gary LaDue

Gary LaDue is the Director of Marketing at Modern Auto Group. At Modern Auto Group, he drives their marketing strategies from their website to CRM, SEO, and events marketing. He has experience driving national and regional brands, and is a data-driven marketer in the automotive space who loves to find opportunities and build relationships between consumers and brands. Gary is also a Founding Member of Auto Genius, a community of high-growth automotive marketing professionals.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • How Gary LaDue entered the automotive industry

  • What has led to the success of Hanes

  • Gary talks about the value of collecting and using data in the automotive industry

  • Gary's advice on creating the right marketing message and content to create emotional connections with customers

  • The changes Gary’s made in his marketing strategies over the last two years

  • Gary's thoughts on upcoming trends in the automotive industry

In this episode…

Do you know and understand your customers' needs? Do you know how they like to communicate and what they hope to hear from your dealership? Do you have the products that can meet their needs?

While working in the consumer packaged goods industry (CPG), Gary LaDue learned the value of using data to understand consumers' needs and wants. He also learned that data can help a business segment its customers into different personas for a more efficient marketing strategy. After moving to the automotive industry, he started using that same knowledge in his data collection, analysis, and marketing strategies to ensure that his company meets customers' needs.

Gary LaDue, the Director of Marketing at Modern Auto Group, joins Ilana Shabtay in this episode of the InsideAuto Podcast, where he talks about the value of using data to segment customers. Gary also talks about the need for brand consistency, how to communicate well with customers, and future evolutions in the automotive industry. Stay tuned.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode...

This episode is brought to you by AutoLeadStar, a company that helps car dealerships engage quality customers on the web and convert them into car buyers.

Co-founded by Aharon Horwitz, Yishai Goldstein, and Eliav Moshe, AutoLeadStar’s state-of-the-art software automates a dealership’s entire marketing funnel and provides around-the-clock service for dealers.

AutoLeadStar’s innovative technology helps dealerships automate ads, connect with customers, and discover ROI and performance metrics

Visit their website at to learn more about their around-the-clock marketing service.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:03

Welcome to InsideAuto Podcast where we feature everyone and anyone you'd want to talk to in and out of the automotive industry.

Ilana Shabtay 0:14

Ilana Shabtay here, host of InsideAuto Podcast where we interview top dealers, GMs, marketers, entrepreneurs and thought leaders in and out of the automotive industry. And before we introduce today's guest, this episode is sponsored by The AutoLeadStar platform is built on a technology so powerful and allows you to market, sell, and service cars as you would in the real world help scale and online making one to one matches between shoppers and inventory. I believe AutoLeadStar is the only platform that is powered by scale, speed, and specificity to change the way dealers do marketing today. And today, we have a very special guest. His name is Gary LaDue. Gary, how are you? I'm good. Thank you. Wonderful. Yeah, well, I'm so excited to have you on to hear all about your marketing expertise, specifically as it pertains to automotive but also previously. Gary is a data driven marketer in the automotive space who loves to find opportunity and relationship between consumers and brands. He has experienced driving national and regional brands and as Director of Marketing at Modern Auto Group, Gary oversees everything from the website to CRM to SEO to events, marketing, and more. So we'll hear all about that. Thank you again for joining us today, Gary.

Gary LaDue 1:32

Thank you. Um,

Ilana Shabtay 1:35

so before we dig into some of your your best practices and things that you've implemented at Modern Auto, and can you tell us a little bit how you got into the automotive industry?

Gary LaDue 1:45

Yeah, I stumbled into it was by accident. My, my background is really all CPG I worked with Hanes and Apparel I worked with meat and Office products. I worked with home goods for Hunter Douglas, just all window coverings. So kind of a very traditional product management, brand management marketing management background. My last role at Hanes, I ran a whole brand unit. So everything from inventory to communication strategy and BNL. So I kind of stumbled into this role, I just found it and applied, I was looking for a change. And I got a call from the owner. And we had a quick conversation that led to the interview, which I felt went really well. And I you know, we had really good chemistry. And he made me feel really welcome really wanted. So we just worked it out. And I started a few weeks later. So that was five years ago, this past December. So my, my automotive expertise is only five years young. And I say young, because so many people I've met in auto have been in auto for a really, really long time. Yeah. So I try to, you know, absorb the history and what everybody's expertise kind of brings to the table and merge that with, you know, my own kind of traditional marketing knowledge. And hopefully what comes out the other side is something really effective.

Ilana Shabtay 3:25

Yeah, and I actually think that's a huge advantage. Because coming outside of automotive, you're able to bring best practices that haven't necessarily come to automotive yet. And on the other hand, you can leverage the history of everyone who's worked in automotive longer, and you can bridge the two and come up with something really nice, which is, I'm sure what you what you've done. What are some of the things just on that? What are some of the things that you feel like? Really worked for a company like Hanes that automotive hasn't yet mastered?

Gary LaDue 4:02

Well, I don't I don't know that it's automotive hasn't mastered it. Um, you know, at the dealer side, there's so many different sizes of companies, right? You've got little small mom and pop one point businesses and then you've got giant groups like Lithia and Group 1 and AutoNation. You know, we're kind of mid size, we have 17 stores. Our most recent acquisition was last q3, our third Toyota store. So, you know, I think we're, we're we're big enough where we have to have some marketing horsepower. Um, but we're small enough where we still have a lot of latitude and agility to be able to execute our strategy. So One thing that I tried to instill when I got here was consistency. And our message regardless of where that message was showing up, so if we were running some kind of traditional media or digital media or something on the website, or an email blast, or any of the above, you wanted it to look, feel, sound, have the same tone of voice, as it would, you know, regardless of what medium that the brand should stand for, so we, you know, we buckled down and kind of refined our brand guidelines. There were guidelines here already, but we expanded on them, made them a little more formulaic, and a little more form formal. And we've been executing that ever since. So now it's, you know, the next steps are, how do we bring that voice out in a way that is going to help the business differentiate, and yet still, you know, communicate exactly what it is and has been for over eight years.

Ilana Shabtay 6:14

Yeah, and I think brand consistency is, is going to be extremely important. I mean, it has been important, but especially now, and when, you know, loyalty isn't as a brand loyalty and automotive isn't as strong as it used to be. So having brand consistency can really keep your customers close. So I definitely agree with that approach.

Gary LaDue 6:35

100%. And, you know, I think outside of that, um, it's funny, I was just talking to someone today about this. But, you know, in automotive, like, it's, sometimes it's really hard to harness to own harness and utilize your own data, right. So, you know, in the, in the world of CPG, you know, big brands, national brands, like, even if their direct consumer business isn't the biggest piece of their business, it's still big enough, where you have a giant database of consumers, and you have access to all that data. And on top of that, you know, most of those big organizations are conducting their own market research, their own consumer research. And they're pulling all those insights and trends together with what they see in their own transactional first party data. And they're segmenting it. And they're using that data to be really smart about who they go after, you know, any any big retailer, globally, or, particularly in the United States, like a target or a Walmart, they create personas for, you know, the people who they think are walking through their door, right? Yes, target might have seven different personas. And out of those seven, three might be the ones who have the propensity to spend the most money. And those are the ones that they want to market to in a stronger way. And while the others are kind of opportunistic or seasonal. So, you know, we we tend to target and an automotive, we tend to target and segment our messages based on where people are in the sales funnel, which is, which is fine, that's a really smart thing to do. It's just a very sales oriented strategy. It's not really a marketing oriented strategy. So you have to do both. And so that's something that I'd like to see start to emerge in automotive in a bigger way. And I, I know, there is some things happening. I myself personally, have literally started doing this on my own, where I could pull data out of the CRM, or out of the DMS and a flat Excel file, code it sorted, segment it and then look for common threads of information. And, you know, make my own segments. And that's really time consuming. Yeah.

Ilana Shabtay 9:13

It's so interesting that you bring this up, because this is something we talk a lot about, obviously, at auto we'd start but but I I've seen it in the industry in general is that the emerging trend for 2022 in automotive is going to be the data connectivity and orchestration. So figuring out how to break down the data silos, because it is so incredibly difficult right now in automotive to connect data, there's no real API's. And if there are API's, they're usually broken. I mean, you know, because you're, you're talking about this as a pain point as a marketer. So figuring out how to break that down, connect the data, and then actually automate segments so that you don't have to download lists and manually create segments and then you know, or do Straight really smart marketing campaigns on that. So that's, I think every single automotive marketer should be thinking about how they, they're going to achieve that. But I 100% agree, I think the industry must solve for your, your

Gary LaDue 10:16

list building. And you know, and the other piece of it is, you know, so what do you do, once you have all that data and you have it segmented? Well, you've got to understand who those people are. And then you've got to have the right content, that's going to resonate with them the right message, right, look, right, feel the right tone, but yet, it still has to fit your brand. And still be and be relevant to them at the same time. I mean, that's you're trying to build an emotional connection with people, you know, you're not just trying to say, Hey, I've got this car that I think you're interested in, it's $5,000 off, you're trying to tell a story in small snippets, snippets, on a digital medium, primarily, to get people interested in you and your brand, and what you have to bring to the table. And you know, that I'd like to see more of that happen in automotive?

Ilana Shabtay 11:12

Yeah, and I think the other piece of it, too, is not just, you know, what do you do with the data, but also, how is that data being updated in real time. So for example, if you are pulling that manually, and then your consumers, you know, the the status that they hold in the funnel that you that you've created changes based on the activity that you're putting out there, well, then if you're doing it manually, you can't then jump them to a different type of communication. Because, yeah, data in real time,

Gary LaDue 11:46

that's really applicable if you're talking about like, one on one personalized communication. But if you can think about, you know, 100,000 entries of data in a database, and then you segment those entries down to five personas. You don't care if those people are necessarily in the funnel or out of the funnel, they should be coming to you for service parts, and to buy and sell a car. So having a kind of steady line of communication, you know, a brand relationship with those segments is the long term play, the short term is the one to one communication, understanding where they are and what they need right now. And making sure you're serving up marketing that's going to fulfill those needs, I'll be a, you haven't been in for service in six months, or a year looking for a car. But in between all of those periods of time, you should still be having a brand relationship with those people. And so if you, if you can figure out what the common threads are to bucket them into those personas, then it allows you to kind of create, you know, content and creative to put in front of them that helps maintain that relationship. Yeah, that's, that's what big brands do. You know, that's what the CPGs of the world do.

Ilana Shabtay 13:27

Yeah. And that's clearly missing right now.

Gary LaDue 13:30

Yeah, I don't I mean, I don't know, I can't, you know, I can't speak for the big groups, because I don't work for the big giant group. So I see some of the stuff they're doing. I follow it, I'm pretty impressed with a lot of it. You know, Lithia his entire driveway initiative is really cool. Yeah, they're doing some great stuff there. Um, you know, I think smaller groups like, like ours, and ones that are slightly bigger than us and slightly smaller than us, we could all learn something from those big groups, you know, they, they have much deeper pockets when it comes to marketing and resources, and they can do more. So it's a mix of kind of, you know, understanding the fundamentals and looking to see you know, what's around you it's, it doesn't hurt to build a better mousetrap, right? Yeah. For sure.

Ilana Shabtay 14:24

And it helps you just stay competitive. Because if you know, the best technology for your dealership, then you can hopefully outperform in your market. So I agree and there should really be technologies out there that help you know, the medium sized groups like marinara although 17 stories is pretty impressive. I call it

Gary LaDue 14:46

the what it is, it's fun. We have a lot of fun.

Ilana Shabtay 14:52

And yeah, I'm sure you do now, I know that obviously 2020 was all about the although we're still living But 2020 was all about COVID 2021 was all about inventory shortage, who knows what 22 inches is going to be about? But were there?

Gary LaDue 15:08

Was there anything now it's both right now both, which

Ilana Shabtay 15:11

is crazy, maybe we'll get something else I'm so excited. But was there anything specific or anything that comes to mind that you changed in marketing strategy that you feel was super productive, efficient, something that you'll obviously adopt moving forward? That was a result of these crises? The reason why I'm asking is because I feel like when these things happen, a lot of times our gut feeling is Okay, shut off all marketing, when really, it's all about just making it way more efficient, and figuring out how to use resources to get to the right people faster. Is there anything that you change that you think, is worth talking about, and teaching our listeners,

Gary LaDue 15:55

I mean, you know, it was been an interesting process. 2020 was updates constantly on social media websites to let people know, if we were open or not open, what our procedures were to keep everyone safe. And just getting out there as you know, as loudly as we could to make people feel comfortable coming into the store. So that was my, that was months of that activity. And then as the I guess, the virus situation, kind of, I want to say calmed down a little because the, the vaccines were made available, and the numbers dip, and then inventory was the issue. And so the focus changed. And, you know, for us, we did reel back our budget quite a bit. Because we were certain that through the shutdown, you know, we would have just been spending wastefully. So we came out of, you know, I don't know, I guess, a one bad month of shutdown. And things ended up okay. But we did not race to increase our budgets back to 100%. They're still not back to where they were in 2019. But it just caused us to really take a very hard look at kind of what works, what doesn't, you know, what do we need to spend? What do we not need to spend? Now fast forward to the end of 2021. And we're like, okay, inventory, still an issue. But we need to be out there, we need to own some space, in the airwaves, right. And in the consumers mind, we need to be there. So let's start a little bit of a brand initiative. During 2020, we launched a digital retail tool, just like a lot of dealers did around the US, we had already started down that path, I believe back in October and November of 2019. And so fast forward to February 2020. And I think we had three stores running a tool that we were testing. And by the time we got into April, it was like, Okay, let's get it ready for every single store. So by the end of 2020, we were active with a tool that we were starting to integrate into the stores change our processes, it the BDC is more involved with using it. And then we rebranded it. And so now our digital retail platform on our websites is called GoModern, which obviously ties very tightly with our name. Yeah. And we've changed. Now all the content and assets associated with our Dr tool to be called GoModern. And our message isn't, hey, go buy online. Like we know, we're not Carvana. And we know that not everybody wants to buy online. But if you want to, we have a tool that will allow you to do that. So our message is really more about flexibility. And just being able to give the consumer what they want, you know, and nobody shops the same. This is this is to me, this is why segmentation is so important. So if you go into your data, and you split that apart by demographics, you're probably going to find very different behavioral characteristics on one versus the other. You know, meaning that an older generation is probably more likely to poke around online a little and then still come into the store to make purchase. Whereas maybe a much younger generation. They're like well Carvana has been selling cars online for three years now. I'm just these guys are right down the street. I'll order from them online. Right And maybe they'll have the car delivered to their house. You know, our goal is to be able to accommodate whatever somebody wants, you know, we're not pushing it one way or the other. But so that was the big thing for us that came out of the whole situation with the pandemic. And the inventory shortages, that allowed us to kind of take a step back. If this tool integrated, rebrand it, get the right content in the right place. And now we're starting to push that brand message and that value proposition for that tool, in paid media, you know, various places in all the markets we're in, and we'll probably continue to ramp that up. In 2022, even after inventory comes back up, it will still be a piece of our overall marketing strategy and our overall spent. Yeah, and I think

Ilana Shabtay 20:53

it will always be a piece of your strategy, because of the way you're implementing it, which is very smart. It's not, here's a digital retail tool where you can buy online, it's, we're being customer centric, we're allowing for any customer to buy however they want. And so regardless of the crisis, that's any crisis that's going to be relevant. So I think that that's really good advice for people listening here. And also, just for us to think about consumers and other marketers in the industry as well. It's all about being customer centric. And so that that's a great example of I can do that.

Gary LaDue 21:32

I love that term, actually. Yeah. Consumer customer centric, like those are. That's I'll tell you thought about everything. In the world of CPG. You know, every decision you made, the first question you asked yourself was, is this what the customer wants? Just what the consumer wants? You know, is this how they want to hear things is how they want to see things? Is this the product that they want? Those are the things we should be asking ourselves with everything we do in automotive. Yeah,

Ilana Shabtay 22:02

sure. And before we before we sign off here, what, um, I would like to hear from you what you think the next evolution auto tech would be? We don't have to go, you know, years in advance, but what are your predictions for, like, the next real evolution that will, that we'll see. In the near future?

Gary LaDue 22:25

You know, I think, um, I think we're gonna see a lot of people start to focus on marketing to audiences, you know, as opposed to dumping a bunch of money into reactive tools and media, like, like paid search, which is still very effective. But, um, you know, paid search is pretty limiting. Um, there's, there's a lot of things emerging right now, that dealers can tap into, to get access to really robust data sets, audience datasets to market, you know, to the right people. Yeah. You know, and, you know, I think one of the most important questions a dealer can ask itself before it pulls the trigger on, on any campaign marketer, and in any dealership is who, who am I really trying to talk to? You know, you can't, you can't boil the ocean. So, if you have a broad, you know, general brand message, you still need to pick an audience, you know, and more specific messages are gonna resonate better with one audience versus another. So trying to figure that out, I think is going to be really, really important for all dealerships going forward.

Ilana Shabtay 23:50

Yeah. And I and I, so I 100% agree. And I also think what you said was important, it's not about I think the focus when dealers think about marketing budget goes straight to paid search all the time. And it's just not. That's of course, important, but it's only such as it's, it's such a fraction of the journey, that there's so much more that they have to invest in. So I really like that. And I think that should be emphasized here. Because when we think about marketing budget, it's more than just paid search. Yeah, you need a media mix. Yeah, it's got to be a mix. It's got to hit on the entire funnel. Well, thank you so much for joining InsideAuto Podcast, your expertise, and your experience in and out of automotive is obviously helping you drive the Modern Auto Group, and I'm excited that you shared with our listeners today.

Gary LaDue 24:41

Yeah, thank you for having me. I appreciate the time.

Ilana Shabtay 24:44

I dropped everything here.

Gary LaDue 24:48

But thanks for having me. I appreciate the time, and I look forward to talking with you again.

Ilana Shabtay 24:54

Yeah, thank you so much.

Outro 25:00

Thanks for listening to the InsideAuto Podcast. Check out our other episodes with top entrepreneurs and industry leaders.

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