Co-op marketing programs in the U.S. across various industries are estimated to offer over $50 billion in dealer resources. Yet, many dealerships do not use these co-op funds to their fullest — leaving “free” dollars on the table.

As you evaluate your marketing plans for fall or for your upcoming fiscal year, give your manufacturer’s co-op program another look. They can elevate your dealership’s marketing presence in a cost-effective way.

A first step is to develop a media plan that aligns with your business objectives, while keeping your specific target audience in mind.

“Our markets are very dynamic with different needs, as a one-size-fits-all media mix model does not work in our industry,” says Cleo Franklin, Mahindra USA’s vice president of marketing and strategic planning. “This is why Mahindra provides dealers a simple, flexible program that is customizable to their market needs and requirements.”

The best marketing plans are customized to a specific region and tailored to the needs of your store. As dealerships begin to cover a larger geographical area with a broader audience, marketing plans get more complex.

“You’ll see a dealer organization that has 15 different locations — from metropolitan to rural and spanning over several states. That’s a diverse market and each needs special attention,” says Brad Stover, manager of dealer advertising at John Deere. “We are seeing the trend where many dealerships of this scale have a marketing professional on staff or use an agency to help develop a strategic marketing plan.”

Stover adds, “Use your territory sales manager as your contact person because they truly understand company goals and how the company can help.”

Manufacturers can help you get started if you don’t have a dedicated marketing resource.

“Kubota regional sales managers assist dealers by providing simple steps to get started on a plan to increase sales,” says Martha Hennigan, assistant director, sales and marketing operations for Kubota Tractor.

Promote Your Brands

According to a 2015 survey conducted by Rural Lifestyle Dealer, more than half of customers arrive at a dealership with a brand or unit in mind either most of the time or almost always. Simply put, the brands at your dealership pull in about half of your customers and your dealership brand pulls the rest.

Joe Dykes, vice president of industry relations for the North American Equipment Dealers Assn. (NAEDA), agrees. “Elevating the equipment brand at the dealership is important,” says Dykes. “Beyond the equipment line, dealerships provide many other after-market services, so it is also important to elevate the dealership’s brand in marketing as well.”

Co-op marketing programs can help leverage the manufacturer’s brand while promoting your dealership. “The scale and scope of Mahindra’s co-op marketing toolkit that we have available to our dealers is broad,” says Mahindra’s Franklin. “The key is making the program easy to use, customizable and personalized to promote their brand in their local markets as we all benefit with effective advertising.”

Think Beyond Print

Dealers tend to use the standard materials for print ads, broadcast, billboards and point of purchase displays. However, other marketing materials can help you reach and influence your target audience.

“There is definitely a trend toward digital billboards and use of regional and cable television,” says Kubota’s Hennigan. “Many dealers work together to purchase these types of packages to realize cost efficiencies.”

Mahindra takes the traditional co-op marketing program one step further by adding customer relationship management (CRM). Pairing CRM with a customizable campaign helps Mahindra dealers manage their marketing strategy from the sales process through to ownership. Again, this success all starts with quality planning, an understanding of the local market and knowing what drives customers from awareness to purchase.

“It’s important to understand the relationship that the brand has at a local level and assist our dealers with tools to go beyond driving consumer awareness of brand, but also leading to purchase and eventually brand loyalty to repurchase,” says Franklin.

“Whether it’s your goal to increase market share or build awareness for a new store, the key is to have customization of your marketing plan around the target markets,” adds Deere’s Stover. An effective and cost effective way to achieve this is through your co-op marketing program.