Is your dealership the first dealership people think about when they are car shopping? Are the vehicles on your lot the first brand that comes to mind when car buyers begin considering SUVs, trucks, or sedans? Are you top of mind? Do you know how to become top of mind?


Back when I started out in advertising, I learned how to determine if a brand is top-of-mind. Ask yourself, or some random person, to name toothpaste brands. Chances are, unless you (or the random stranger) is a toothpaste savant, you will name 2 or 3 brands almost immediately but then you’ll have to think a little harder to name a 4th, 5th, or 6th toothpaste brand. Guess what? Walk down the aisle of your favorite big box grocery chain or drug store, and you might find more than thirty brands. The 2 or 3 brands you quickly named are part of what is call the marketing ladder in your mind. If a toothpaste brand doesn’t immediately come to mind, that brand is fighting an uphill battle to capture your attention. It has failed to be on the top three rungs of that marketing ladder.


How does this apply to cars and trucks? How does this apply to your brand? How does this apply to your dealership? If I ask a random stranger to name three luxury vehicle brands, what that person names first, second, and third are the brands already top-of-mind to them. One person will say Cadillac, Lincoln, and BMW, while someone else might say Mercedes, Lexus, and Porsche. When I, “family sedans,” or, “compact SUVs”, what are the first three that pop into your head?


Fun Fact: There are thirty-six nameplates in the Luxury Vehicle category.


This is where effective, intelligent marketing can change those lists. Good marketing and advertising will make you top-of-mind through awareness.

According to the recently released Nielsen Auto Marketing Report 2018, it turns out that not all brand awareness was created equal. Quality (messaging) is significantly more important than quantity. It points out, “seventy-five percent of all car buyers reported that they intend to purchase their top of mind brand, which as the name suggests, is the highest quality unaided awareness, brands they think of without being prompted, a brand can achieve. It has a serious edge over all others before the consumer ever sets foot inside a dealership.”

Sixty percent of all local dollars spent on auto advertising will be Digital, and the majority of that will be Programmatic, all designed to hit the right buyer at the exact moment that person is considering and buying a very specific vehicle, and by that point, their mind is made up. Price and offer is all that remains. 

It is time to rethink print, and tell a story instead of list and show deal after deal listed with pictures and “sale” as big and yellow as possible, and lots of fine print), with exactly the same ad from a competitor on the opposite page, and the page after that. Time to rethink broadcast advertising (mass media) with the shouting and the super fast disclaimer at the end. As the Nielsen report also points out, as a marketer, you need to build deeper connections with consumers—not simply awareness for awareness’ sake. High reach media—such as print, television and radio—should be leveraged to build awareness and fill the top of the sales funnel.

Let the digital do what digital does – find a Male coffee drinker aged 35-42 who enjoys hunting and has owned a truck in the past 24-months – but learn to use the other media for its strength, for branding and top-of-mind awareness, so the next time you ask someone to name their top three dealerships selling your brand, or to name the top three sedans, or the top three auto dealers in your city, they will name you.