TAMPA – Marketing doesn’t sell cars; it gets customers into a dealership so the sales people can sell cars, says Larry Bruce, head of AIMData, a marketing firm.

“You are not looking for someone who wants to buy a car, you are looking for someone looking for a dealership from which to buy a car,” he tells dealers at the Ward’s Automotive Spring Training Conference presented by Autobytel here.

At a workshop entitled “Marketing to Your Data Base,” Bruce, who co-owns a dealership in Houston, offers new-age ways to reach customers.

“There will always be a place for mass media in a dealer’s ad budget,” he says. “But it is going to be flipped so that it’s 80% targeted marketing, 20% mass media.”

Targeted marketing requires building a data base with customer information from various sources.

Among those are auto makers that can provide dealers with 10 years of detailed customer data kept by federal law for recall purposes. Some auto makers are forthcoming with that information, some aren’t.

Chrysler (LLC) has a system where you can go on line to get it,” Bruce says. “Ford (Motor Co.) and General Motors (Corp.) will send you a disc. Honda (Motor Co. Ltd.) is a nightmare; it considers the information proprietary.”

But, he tells dealers, “If you look at your franchise agreements, it’s your data.”

A dealership’s service department is another place to garner customer data for eventual targeted marketing.

“The customers are back there, waiting for their cars to be repaired,” Bruce says. “Some haven’t bought a car from you in a while but have a great service relationship with you. Service is the No.1 place you can talk to customers.”

Mailing sales material is the easiest way to reach customers, “because you know the mail is going to be delivered,” he says. But mass mailings can be costly. So Bruce recommends limiting them to three zip codes where the most customers reside.

E-mailing is a low-cost way to reach customers, but it can backfire if done badly, he says. “If you blast emails every week with the same stuff, you are killing yourself.”

One way to build an e-mail data base is to offer free oil-change coupons to service customers and others in exchange for their email addresses and household information, such as the number of vehicles and their model years.

Text messaging is an “awesome” way to reach service-department customers to tell them of specials and such, but text messages are ineffective when sent to prospective car buyers, Bruce says. “Those people don’t want them.”

A dealership needs its own customer-contact system, using customer-relationship management software.

“Otherwise, it’s not the dealership’s customer, it’s the salespersons,’” he says. “And if they leave, the customer information leaves with them.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com