LAS VEGAS – Sean Wolfington’s wife asked him a simple question: “Aren’t all marketing messages integrated?”

His response: “You’d think so, but they’re not.” At least they aren’t always in the auto industry, where messages in a single campaign can be as mixed as nuts in a bowl at Christmas time.

Wolfington, head of the marketing-firm Wolfington Cos., says he helped Paragon Honda in Queens, NY, develop an ambitious 10-tier marketing campaign. He lays out his case-study presentation for dealers at the Driving Sales Executive Summit Presented with WardsAuto here.

The Paragon Honda effort is strong on digital, but includes print advertising, direct mailing, point-of-purchase material and video messages. “They should all share the same message and imagery,” he says.

Among the pitches are customer lures such as employee pricing, teacher-appreciation specials, end-of-lease incentives and VIP treatment for repeat customers.

The campaign resulted in Paragon hitting record profits, despite the bad economy that particularly has affected the auto industry, dealer principal Brian Benstock says.

The dealership was “rolling along” until September 2008, when the nation’s financial sector tumbled, he recalls. “I admit I was slow to react. I was holding out for November.” False confidence also came from the thought that as a seller of a popular brand, “recessions don’t hit Honda.”

Ultimately, Benstock had to make operational cuts. But he realized he couldn’t cut to the bone nor “play defense forever.” So he hired Wolfington and went on the offensive. That included using computer technology to find, by zip code, “perfect prospects” sales-and-service customers who most likely would buy.

“We wanted to find more customers for less cost, drive them to the dealership website, get them to the store for a world-class customer experience and then retain them as customers,” Wolfington says.

Benstock describes his dealership prior to the campaign as a table with water falling on it. “We were keeping water on the table, but a lot was rolling off.” His customer-retention efforts were aimed at catching the runoff.

Towards that end, he now subscribes to a service that monitors dealership phone conversations and sends customer-complaint alerts to his mobile cell so he can take appropriate action.

Benstock is a believer in using social-media networks to stay connected with customers. One of the benefits is “it’s free,” he says, jokingly referring to it as “the f-word.”

His stepped-up efforts have lowered the cost of advertising per car from $450 to $250, he says, adding Paragon’s goal no longer is to sell the more cars, per se.

“It’s to create the largest data base,” Benstock says. “We like gross profit, too. But gross is easily attained by having 10 customers wanting one car.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com