Auto sales are up about 14% this year but are expected to settle down to 4% in 2013, according to WardsAuto data.

A lot of 2012 sales result from consumer catch-up, as people trade in their aging cars and trucks for new ones. It’s replacement business, not so much drivers upgrading their wheels. Dealers should think about what that means to marketing in 2013.

When the market is active and buyers are plentiful, it’s easy to forget about the marketing plan that’s in place. Many dealers fly on autopilot.

But when the market slows down, it is vital to develop a special message that draws customers. You don’t want salespeople staring out the front window in search of walk-ins.

In planning for next year, three points should help.

One, we’re in a “value” economy.

In other words, many customers still will buy cars, but they’ll want more for their money than in the past. So focus your TV or other media message on value.

Take for example those “free” services you give to existing customers. Have you thought about a way to get credit for these bonuses with new buyers and not just current ones?

We’ve seen dealers climb from worst to first in sales by creating a sense of added value for buyers.  Promote what you do for a new customer in terms of price and value.

Two, hire winners. My businessman grandfather taught me that winners find a way to win and losers find a way to lose.

It may be time to restructure your sales team with fewer, more expensive salespeople who can sell more cars and work those phones, emails and chats. The industry seems full of zombie salespeople who go through the sales- presentation motions humorlessly and emotionally dead.

Remember the last salesperson who made you want to buy? I do. They make the buying process fun and worry-free. I’ll bet on these people winning in any sales slowdown.

Three, win the price-perception game. Adjust your pricing tactics in your advertising. Of course, covenants with manufacturers have to be respected. But be as aggressive with your price perception as possible. Buyers used to shop five dealerships in person. The Internet has brought that down to just two or three.

Don’t wait for the consumer to figure out a competing dealership is low-balling a price in their ads. Many customers will not. Consumers can be highly emotional, not logical.

And don’t count on your new location or renovated facility to supercharge sales. It really doesn’t. Consumers are buying something from you that they can drive away in. They don’t care much about the color of your new floor tiles.

Americans shop price and buy value. It may seem a backward buying process, but that’s just us. So give them value and build market share in 2013.

Adam Armbruster is a partner in the ad consulting firm of Eckstein, Summers, Armbruster. He can be reached at or 941-928-7192.