RV Case Study – The RV Buying Process
For most people purchasing an RV is a daunting task. There’s just so much to know, so many options, and so little time in our busy lives. If you’re considering purchasing an RV, in the RV industry, or are already RV owners this is a must read!!!
How it Started
Two years ago Danielle and I decided to leave Newport Beach, CA to move closer to her family on the east coast. I told her if I had to leave the beach and surfing everyday to move to Maryland, I wanted one last adventure before settling down, buying a house and getting corporate jobs on the east coast. Somehow I convinced her that we should travel the country camping for 6 months. We decided the best way to do that would be in an RV!
The thing is, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Neither one of us had ever stayed in an RV before. I actually thought that a Class A, B and C meant you had to get a special drivers license for each one. To make a long story short, we did online research, found the RV we wanted, found a dealership that had that type and had a positive social media presence, walked onto the dealership and bought an RV!
Fast forward 2+ years and we LOVE this lifestyle so much that we have decided to continue our travels full time for the unforeseen future. We upgraded RVs and went through the buying process again. In fact we were chosen to be on a TV show on a major network called Going RV that’s essentially “House Hunters for RVs”. We truly believe that traveling, camping, and the benefits of the RV Life far exceed living a “normal” life. For those who are tied down or choose not to full time, an RV is still a fantastic way to increase your quality of life for you and your family. You’ve probably heard a family that camps together stays together. The mental, physical, and social benefits of camping are just too great to be ignored and neglected.
Who am I?
I’m a full time RVer who has a HUGE PASSION for helping others to get out and camp with their family and friends. I’m also a businessman and professional marketer. I like making a big impact on whatever industry I’m in. I’m a grinder, I go all in, and work long hours with high energy and incredible passion. I’m telling you all this because I took that same approach when we decided to get into the RV Industry. Very shortly after starting our Journey we realized a few glaring things about this industry, and I wanted to make a difference!
When my wife and I decided to continue our travels indefinitely, we started brainstorming for the best way to make a positive impact and also earn a sustainable income. Being a Marketing and Social Media expert and the fact that most dealerships struggle with marketing; it was a no brainer that we would start a social media company for RV Dealerships to help them reach more people and share the benefits of owning an RV. It’s now grown to one of the premiere in the industry; where we manage the Social Media for over 25 RV Dealerships across the country.
Our niche is that we are not only Social Media experts, but we LIVE IN OUR RV!
That means we’re better and cheaper than our competition. Most RV Dealerships either do their social media themselves, or they outsource to a local or national social media company. There’s a few major challenges with this. For the rest of this post I’m going to refer to “Social Media” as “SM”.
Doing it Themselves:
- Usually the person doing the posts isn’t an expert in SM. They don’t know that if you publish something at 10am on a Monday you are targeting a completely different psychology then on 2pm Friday afternoon. Just because someone is young and spends most of their free time on Facebook, doesn’t mean they know how to increase sales.
- Hiring a real expert in house costs A LOT of money! Most dealerships can’t afford or won’t justify paying this much for a newer marketing channel versus something they’ve been doing for many years (ex. TV, Radio, SEO).
- Most likely the person doing their SM in house doesn’t own an RV. Yes they work at a dealership, but let’s call a spade a spade… There is a massive difference in working at a dealership and having real life RV Experience in connecting with your customers needs/wants/desires and most important, their challenges.
Outsourcing to a Marketing Company:
- Most of the time these companies really do know SM inside and out. They understand how to post, when to post, and have a track record with other companies they’ve worked with. Their biggest challenge is that in this industry they’re not very effective. Consumers today are sick of bland stock imagery and content. They’ll create an infographic with a picture of the grand canyon and say something like “follow your dreams”… That may have worked well in 2014 and early 2015 for some of their other clients in different industries, but today this isn’t working with the RV Industry. RVers can spot content that wasn’t written from an RVer a mile away. It’s insincere and ineffective. Consumers want authentic and real content. You can’t blame these companies for trying, but they just can’t compete with content that’s real.
- The cost of one of these companies is too expensive for what you get. It makes sense that it’s expensive when they have to pay their office overhead, their CEO, CFO, and team of employees. To do a post they have to research the topic they want to talk about and then to their best ability try to convey that to the dealerships’ prospects. Can you imagine the difference in authenticity when a company like this tries to write a blog post about dumping the tanks vs us who just walk outside and documents it as we actually dump our tanks? That difference goes for any topic you can think of related to this industry.
- I’ll often see these companies leveraging articles posted by other sites related to the RV Industry. Sharing articles from Buzzfeed, doityourselfrv.com, etc might be entertaining but THEY SEND TRAFFIC AWAY FROM THE DEALERSHIP!!! Why in the world would you want to send your hard earned traffic to some other website? Send it to your site or blog so you can touch that prospect again with value, rather than letting somebody else give value to your prospect!
I could go on and on with reasons why RV Dealerships struggle to get results on Social Media but I think you get the point. The need for education both for consumers and dealerships is huge, I also realized that if I was gong to be connecting with RV Buyers I wanted to understand first hand the RV Buying Process, which led to my case study.
My Case Study
I’ve heard from many people that the RV Industry is 20 years behind the auto industry. It doesn’t have to be this way. When manufacturers and dealerships don’t adapt their business and evolve quickly it effects everyone but most importantly it hurts the consumer. I wanted to understand the psychology and the buying process of people shopping for RVs because if I can educate dealerships on their customers behavior, they can adapt and make a better experience for them, thus helping more people to get out and camp!
Initially I studied over 1100 RV Dealerships websites and their Social Media channels. Then I started interviewing RV owners that we ran into at RV Parks. This evolved to getting permission from RV Dealership owners/managers across the country to physically be in the dealership all day interviewing people who did and didn’t buy an RV.
This gave me great hope because the owners/managers were more than welcoming for me to come into their dealership. They were willing to allow me to potentially hurt their short term sales to gain valuable insight that will help the dealerships serve their customers better. After all, if the dealership knows what the buying process of the consumer is (and many don’t have a clue, even though they think they do) then they can make the experience better for the consumer and sell more units.
Keep in mind I had a huge advantage, since I didn’t work for the dealership the consumers would open up to me and give me honest feedback. I’ve not been paid for this research or had any gain other than understanding how to make a difference for fellow RVers and knowledge to do a better job for my clients (actually that’s not true, one dealership gave me chicken for lunch, yum)!
Let’s briefly look at a few of the traditional marketing channels and how they have adapted. I looked at these trends against the results of my case study and found them to be spot on. Foot traffic at RV Dealerships is steadily declining across the nation but more people than ever are shopping for RVs.
Most of us record our shows and fast forward the commercials. If you’re under the age of 54 there is a high probability you keep increasing the amount of time you spend on netflix or hulu and you may have gotten rid of cable tv all together. Our society has changed the way we watch tv. We want to watch it on OUR TIME. Many of us will go on a marathon and watch an entire season in one weekend!
This has been taken over by things like pandora. With smart phone technology radio is quickly becoming the “newspaper industry” of music.
Things like signs and billboards grab our attention, but are becoming significantly less effective. Have you looked around at other drivers on the road lately? A few days ago I wanted to test this theory and paid attention to 20 drivers next to me on the road. 12 out of 20 were playing with their phones while driving! Forget about seeing your billboard, most people aren’t even watching the road!!!
Google Search (SEO – Search Engine Optimization)
To quickly sum up SEO, it’s when a dealerships uses keywords their website/blog/youtube so that when you type something into a google search they will pull up in the top three spots. I talk to a lot of RV Owners who talk about dumping more and more money into SEO. I’m not saying this is a mistake, because it’s far better than what many of them are spending their marketing dollars on. But SEO is significantly becoming less effective and more expensive. Most markets have become saturated from professional marketers like myself, which simply means they will be paying more to get less results. I do want to be clear, SEO is still effective, it’s just becoming more challenging and more expensive.
Word of Mouth
This is still the most effective form of marketing. If you take care of your customers and provide a good service they will tell their friends. Conversely if you provide a poor service they will tell everyone they talk to! The way we share our word of mouth has changed from talking to a friend you ran into at the grocery store, to sharing your experience on social media. With so much controversy over yelp, Facebook reviews are currently very popular for consumers to check out what people are saying about a company when making a large purchase such as an RV.
For those who aren’t familiar with Social Media it has to do with sites such as Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram. There are a variety of reasons social media is extremely effective and each channel is very different. How many people have you physically talked to in the past week outside of your work environment? With Social Media you can tap into word of mouth that can reach way more people than you could see in person, instantly! A recent example of this is we just had a great experience at an RV Park. We shared it on Facebook and it reached over 6,000 people! I probably haven’t talked to 1,000 people in person in the past year but through social media in the few seconds it took me to create that post I was able to share it with a huge amount of people. It’s a quick way to share and receive information from your peers.This is not only fantastic for marketers to present their products and services to a lot of people at a low cost, but for the consumers to get instant answers as well as exposed to products and services they want and need.
The Results of the Case Study
This post ended up being a lot longer than I anticipated and now it’s time to get to the point. It’s very clear how the majority of consumers are shopping for RVs. The process for the vast majority of RV Shoppers is as follows:
- Search online through google, RV Trader, and RVT for the type of RV or specific unit that they’re looking for. Many people find units and dealerships through highly targeted Facebook Ads which sends them to their website. For experienced RVers this can be a pretty detailed search and usually is determined by the floor plan of the unit and new features. For less experienced RVers they’ll often look at what’s cool and what general type of RV fits their needs (class A, B, C, Travel Trail, 5th Wheel).
- Search online for RV Dealerships who carry that type of RV or specific unit nearby. “Nearby” varied greatly depending on where they lived. I interviewed people in both large and small markets, at large and small dealerships.
- Head to 2-3 dealerships to touch and feel.
- Although a lot of people find or are reminded of nearby dealerships through Facebook Ads, I found it very interesting that many people visited Social Media AFTER they visited 2-3 dealerships that had similar if not the same unit they had interest in. They wanted to make sure that dealership could be trusted and see what others were saying about them. If a dealership had their social media built out and had authentic content it gave them a HUGE advantage in building trust.
So What does all this Mean?
Quite simply if a dealership isn’t focusing on catering to how their customers are shopping they will be left in the dust. As our society continues to shift towards instant information, RV Shoppers and Consumers want to be able to visit RV Dealerships and Parks remotely; from the comfort of their home. They don’t want to use up their weekend going from one dealership to the next. For the most part, those days are in the past.
Dealerships need to cater to these changes and focus on all of the following:
- Online presence such as on sites like RV Trader, RVT, SEO and Retargeting
- Social Media – Be Authentic and Be Social!
- Providing a quality experience
Trends and Things to Consider
- If a customer has purchased an RV from a dealership in the past and had a pleasant experience, there is a high probability they will return to that dealership.
- It’s not uncommon for a customer to be more educated on a specific unit’s features that they are considering than the sales person. With so many variations in the units, sales people aren’t expected to know it all but they are expected to get answers quickly. If a sales person isn’t sure of something and gives information anyways and the customer finds out they were wrong, the chance of them buying from that dealership drops significantly.
- The RV Dealerships that have links to their SM on their website have a much higher probability of a customer clicking over to their SM and getting that trust verification they’re looking for. The dealership needs to make it easy for the prospect to get the information their looking for.
- Customers ARE on social media channels. Someone mentioned that they felt posting a picture on instagram will never sell an rv…Did a billboard (before people were texting while driving) sell an rv? Or did it let people know who are in the market that you exist. The difference is with Social Media such as instagram is that you can market to people in the convenience of their home, or at anytime.
- Online reviews are very important. Negative reviews are actually a good thing. It’s generally assumed you won’t please everybody and a percentage of issues will come up. What is important is how you respond to these negative reviews as the prospect will assume that’s how they will be treated if they have an issue. On Facebook reviews a “4” or higher generally helps make a sale, whereas below that hurts a dealership.