It was actually a “Dear John” letter! No surprise, since that’s my proper name, and that’s how I registered my SRT-4 six and a half long years ago.
My name is (blah blah), manager of (blah blah) Chrysler Jeep Dodge and I am contacting you today to inform you of a special offer available designed just for you. Over the last couple of weeks we have had several customers inquire about purchasing a reliable pre-owned Dodge Neon…
It is not an exaggeration to say that I laughed for a full thirty seconds.
Most TTAC readers have received “personalized” letters like this, but where do they come from, and does anybody believe in them? The answer to the first question is a “dealership service company”. If new and used car dealerships are the sharks of the auto sales business, the “service companies” are the remoras which cling to their backs. Some of them fix cigarette burns, others repair curbed wheels, and still others conduct marketing campaigns.
As you have no doubt surmised, these service companies create bulk-mail campaigns, using publicly-available registration records, and sell them to dealers. What’s the cost? Between fifty cents and a dollar per mark, I mean, potential customer. Given that a local radio spot can cost ten grand for a week, and a quarter-page ad in the “Wheels” section can run as much as half that, reaching out to a “targeted group” of potential customers can seem like a bargain. If just one in a hundred of them comes in, it was money well spent.
Not that these campaigns are anything like one-in-a-hundred successful. Over the course of a few years working at various dealers who used direct-mail service companies, I saw one “up” who came in with a letter in hand. He was tragically upside-down in a leased 7-Series Bimmer and he left feeling actively misled by the letter, which more or less led him to believe that, upon arrival at our facility, he would be physically ripped out of the BMW’s cracked-leather seat by a mob of well-heeled people just dying to pay more than top dollar for a car nobody else would touch.
It’s easy to summarize the problems with these direct-mail come-ons: they are usually outdated, (I sold that SRT-4 in early 2006, after a thief trashed the interior and an utterly reprehensible State-Farm-approved bodyshop put 550 miles on the car, burned a quart of oil out of it, swirled the finish, and drove it so hard two vacuum lines came off the turbo piping) they make promises the dealerships can’t keep, and they serve as yet another brick in the wall keeping most customers from understanding the best way to purchase an automobile.
Worst of all, they are actively lazy. Most dealerships have complete customer records which would allow them to reach out to their previous customers themselves and enjoy a much higher success rate. It’s even possible for individual salespeople to employ such an approach, using their own “book” of customers acquired over the years. In fact, I know a fellow who did just that in 1994. He printed and mailed a letter to over six hundred customers at his own expense. Unfortunately, he happened to leave WordPerfect open at his desktop on a day when I was feeling particularly bored… but that, as always, is another story.