The justification for a large purchase today is not whether someone can afford it, but whether they can afford the monthly payment. That means you are competing against anyone vying for your customer’s monthly budget dollars, especially car or pickup payments. 

Here’s the challenge for competing with that particular segment: Auto dealerships are years ahead of most equipment dealerships in terms of their marketing strategies. “The reason ag dealers are far behind is that car dealers have had to be so competitive for so long,” says Abby Ryan, account executive for Mudd Advertising. Mudd develops and implements marketing programs for both auto and equipment dealerships. She says ag dealers were able to count on a customer’s loyalty to a particular manufacturer even up until a few years ago, while auto dealers lost that loyalty years ago.

How can you catch up to how auto dealers are winning budget dollars? Borrow some of their most successful techniques. “It’s all about the car. Their goal is to lure them into the dealership with a good deal,” says Tim Brenden, a brand manager for Mudd. He says dealership branding is lower in priority over focusing on the vehicle and promoting the need to buy now.

Brenden says auto dealers are leveraging multiple, targeted “touchpoints” as opposed to broadcasting the same message over and over in traditional advertising mediums, such as newspapers. And, that message is now customized for each buyer, a technique that Mudd calls “Brandcasting.” For instance, Mudd helps auto dealers use their customer database to develop a marketing message that includes the customer’s name and even references their current automobile or pickup in a direct mail piece, email or video message. View examples at

Sounds expensive, doesn’t it? Not as much as you’d think. Ryan says that clicking on a Google ad, for example, costs 50-75 cents, compared with 85 cents-$1.15 per direct mail piece. And, with a Google video ad, the dealership may not be charged at all unless the customer views the entire video.

Ryan says another successful technique for auto dealers is to incorporate a contest or giveaway, such as an incentive for a test drive. “I would like to see compact equipment and lawn & garden dealerships be a little more ‘gimmicky.’ I think it would soften their image,” she says and help win over more female customers. 

Auto dealerships may be leading in terms of progressive marking strategies, but they face their own set of challenges. A recent Gallup poll, for example, ranks car salespeople just above members of Congress and lobbyists in terms of honesty and ethics.

Interest may be generated from marketing, but it takes much more to develop relationships. This year’s Dealership of the Year, Armstrong Implements, shows how they accomplish that through one-on-one relationship building. This single-store dealership in rural Saskatchewan has had 3 years of double-digit sales growth and dominant market share. Our judges ranked them the best of the best and we’re pleased to recognize owner Bob Talaga and his team. 

I encourage you to learn from the best, be it from a competing industry or a leader in the rural lifestyle market. Push your dealership to take advantage of the latest marketing techniques, but don’t sacrifice your authenticity.