Mike Walden is on a mission. He tirelessly pushes his boss, Dan Pfeiffer, to use more social media and online advertising to promote Pfeiffer's Lincoln-Mercury dealership.
Walden, 49, is Internet sales manager at Dan Pfeiffer Automotive Group in Grand Rapids, Mich. He thinks marketing on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace will lure shoppers. Walden thinks Pfeiffer's store can revitalize its aging customer base by putting the vast majority of its marketing budget into digital media.
But owner Pfeiffer, 78, is skeptical. He doesn't understand how social media work or whether he would get a return on his investment. He admits that he has an old-school mind-set.
"I think I'm the only guy in this dealership who remembers using carbon paper," Pfeiffer says.
Like Pfeiffer, many other older car dealers are colliding with a new world. They see social media as unproven marketing venues. But younger employees argue for more use of social media.
The argument often comes down to balancing the allure of a new tactic against a verifiable return on investment.
"Embracing the new media for the older guys is difficult," says Volker Jaeckel, marketing ambassador with the automotive marketing company Cobalt Group in Seattle. "It's daily -- you almost see the resistance daily.
"The question is always: 'How much does it cost, and what is the return on investment?' "
That gets at a key point: It's difficult to measure social media's marketing effectiveness in dollars. It's more about "reputational gains via social media conversations" than sales that can be directly linked to social media, Jaeckel says.
Pfeiffer already does traditional types of soft marketing -- he sponsors youth sports, has raised funds for a new hospital and supports other philanthropic events. And he knows those can pay off.
"Residual value is best when you sponsor someone's children," Pfeiffer says. "I sponsored a soccer team for a few years, and a guy came in here 10 years later to buy a car. He said, 'I'm only here because you sponsored little Johnny's team.' "
Pfeiffer's 20-year-long advertising logo was "The bighearted savings champ." He stopped using it in 1990 and hasn't had a catchphrase since. But his dealership is well-known as a place that treats people by the golden rule.