What car dealerships should avoid with their email marketing

This car dealership used a general open day to add all the visitors to its eMail list. I explain why this is something to avoid doing

What car dealerships should avoid with their email marketing

The car dealership market is super competitive in Australia. Practically every brand is available for sale in one of the smallest vehicle marketplaces around the world. It means there is so much choice for consumers that marketing activations can be the difference between selling a vehicle or not. I attended a dealership ‘open to the public’ day and had the surprise of my life when I received an eMail from the premium luxury brand Maserati that wasn’t even personalised & more importantly not even qualified as a good lead. 

In this article I explain what the car dealership did with their eMail marketing and how it probably should be avoided.


  • Relevant eMail communication
  • Personalised information
  • Targetted information by location

In 2018 I was providing car dealership marketing consulting services for Simply Sports Cars located in Sydney.  One of the areas I spent a lot of time helping them with was improving the quality and relevance of their marketing communications. This included everything from social media content, website information and even the use of their eMail database. You can read the case study here.

One of the strategic areas that needed to be developed was their eMail database marketing. They had a first name and eMail address which was great. Although, it meant they weren’t able to customise or target any of their eMail marketing communications. Being able to market to your existing customer base with relevant information is one of the most cost effective marketing tactics a car dealer (or any business) can use.

So I developed their eMail database to have more information including the State the person lived in, what vehicle they owned and even what types of driving activities they enjoyed most. This meant eMails from the dealership could provide more specific information to the people in the database to then improve engagement rates.

car dealership email marketing samples


  • Dealer giveaway competition

  • Unqualified lead generation

  • Generic mass eMail sending


While I was consulting for the car dealership I would also undertake competitor analysis to see what could be learnt from other successful car dealers. I attended a Ferrari Maserati dealership ‘open day’ in Alexandria which was to celebrate ‘Ferrari Passion Day‘. I wanted to see how they executed this dealer-level event.

As expected from a premium luxury car dealer, the event was well managed with lots of vehicles to look at, displays and things for people to experience.

One of the attractions was a prize giveaway which the dealer used to capture leads for their eMail database. Keep in mind this was a general public open day, so it attracted all types of people including families with kids & people who may never be able to even afford a Ferrari or Maserati.

Providing your details for a competition is normal, although how that information is used by a business for email marketing should be carefully considered.

eMail marketing for car dealerships to get people to a website


Curious to see how the dealer would use my details I provided my eMail address. This is what happened after that;

  • No email sent to confirm I had entered the competition that gave me an option to opt-out of communications.

  • No ‘thank you’ email to acknowledge attending the event to check if I was interested in buying anything to help qualify the new database leads.

  • Complete silence after the event and not even an email confirming who the winner was – so was the competition even real or genuine?

  • Weeks later an email sent from Maserati (even though I never showed any interest in the brand)

  • The email wasn’t even personalised even though they had my name & details.

  • I was referred to as a ‘Guest’ – sometimes it can be better to not have an intro. Also remember this is a premium luxury brand.

  • It is introducing a car for the very first time using price and specs that I may not even be interested in vs more emotive, visual cues of what it looks like or how it can be used.


I unsubscribed of course, as would many of other people, who were just thrown onto the eMail database with little thought.


While this example is focussed on car dealers it can apply to any business really. Having an eMail database is great, but if the majority of people aren’t engaged and interested in what you are sending then it is pointless having it.

Quality vs quantity
The key priority for car dealers is to find good quality leads or prospects using Carsales, Facebook Marketplace, dealer walk-in traffic, referrals or even vehicle displays. There are lots of different ways car dealers can generate leads but the focus has to be on high quality ones that will lead to a sale of a vehicle.

Assuming the car dealer manages their database internally, it means their marketing team potentially didn’t spend any time really understanding the audience from the event. If they had seen the mix of people attending they would have seen it was probably 60% of ‘browsers’ who were curious about being able to get inside the dealership one of the most respected car brands in the world – not prospective buyers.

Even if they thought every person was a relevant prospect, there was no step in the qualification process to cleanse the eMail list by asking people if they were interested in getting information about Ferrar or Maserati. It may have been assumed by the T’s and C’s accepted on the competition entry form, but that’s doesn’t mean ‘send me everything’ 

Adding volume to your eMail database isn’t the same as adding quality. Even the brand awareness created by sending out the eMail communications would have questionable value.

Brand experience
If you are in the market for a $100,000+ luxury vehicle then you will wanted to be treated like royalty. So to send a communication piece that doesn’t have a first name (even though it was provided) demonstrates a level of laziness and lack of thought about who the target customer is.

Every touch point is important so a car dealer has to make sure they make the right impression immediately. This can be done by putting the effort into marketing communcations.

Brand credibility
Some people would wonder if the in-store competition was genuine. There was no mention of a winner and no notification received by people who entered. So when you then receive generic marketing communications it makes you question the intent. Then the next thought is what a waste of time and energy.

Wasted marketing budget
If the car dealership was paying a marketing agency on a retainer basis then the billed time for this activity is most likely a complete waste of the marketing budget. If the bounce rate on the eMails or response to the test drive request was low then it means efforts could have been spent elsewhere.

It also shows you have to question the quality of the agency or marketing staff who executed the strategy. Either way the car dealer is investing resources into activities that most likely are not achieving results.


Ok, it is stating the obvious but if people call, buy or enquire then your eMail marketing has worked to some extent. Although, just how well it is working can be measured by using data from your eMail software or Google Analytics.


MailChimp, Campaign Monitor and all the other eMail software management software services will provide detailed reporting on every piece of communication you send.

They will also give you information about your database including what people are engaging with your content the most.


Even if you don’t use the reporting available from your eMail software tools, Google Analytics can show you what traffic has come. from the eMail communication. 

Here you can look at how those visitors behaved in comparison from website traffic from other sources like Organic Search or Social Media.

What can the data show you?

When you use these tools together the data can show you just how well your eMail campaigns are working for you. These are the things you can see;

  • Size of your database; just how many people can you send to & who has already unsubscribed or has eMails that are bouncing or getting rejected.

  • What is the open rate of each email; this shows you what % of your database is even opening the eMail. If your % is below 10% then that is typically a problem. Either the information is not relevant or it may not even be getting through spam filters.

  • Click rate from each eMail; this can show you even if people opened it, did they click on anything in the email. It could have been to a product, service or special offer. Click rates will vary depending on the database, topic & what is in the email of course. If the open rate and click rate is low then people aren’t interested.

  • Links clicked; this can show you what they actually decided to click on. Sometimes this could be spam filters rather than people, so it is important to see what links are being used.

  • Location and device; you can look at where the person was located and even what device they were using. Maybe mobile phone users engage more than desktop or most people are in Sydney. The data can give you these insights.

  • Time spent on the site; when they arrived on the website how long did they stay for. If it was less than 30 seconds then it probably indicates poor content or they aren’t interested.

  • Bounce rate; did the people arrive and leave without viewing a whole page? If the bounce rate is above 70% then it means most people aren’t engaging with the site.

  • Average pages viewed; gives you an idea about whether they looked at a few different pieces of information on your site. If the value is 1 or less then they didn’t really engage with much.

  • Conversions; these can be set up and shown in the reporting if you are tracking enquiry forms, purchases and the like. It means you can look at total volume from the email and then what % took the action you were after.


This is just a high level overview of the data available from eMail marketing. This can be used to make smarter, educated, decisions on your marketing executions when building and using your email database. It applies to car dealers or other business types just as equally.


What this example illustrates is that a business owner can hold an agency or their marketing staff accountable for their activities. There can be a very clear thought process and strategy implemented to execute marketing activities that have measurable results.

As a marketing consultant, I can be contracted to audit your eMail marketing activities and see how well. it is being integrated into your general marketing strategies.

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Paul D'Ambra - marketing consultant

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