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Cultural-Based Marketing and How To Leverage AI To Support Dealerships

  • May 11, 2023
25 min read
Cultural-Based Marketing and How To Leverage AI To Support Dealerships

Ilana Shabtay, Fullpath
VP of Marketing

Adam Dennis, SurgeMetrix
Founder and Principle

Adam Dennis is the Founder and Principal of SurgeMetrix, a company that has provided software and service solutions to automotive dealers for over 20 years. He helps dealers build fast, bilingual, Google-optimized websites that drive car shoppers into a dealership’s sales funnel. Adam entered the automotive space in 2000 when he founded a SaaS company that offered website, inventory, and lead tracking solutions to automotive dealers across the US. He is also an expert panelist at Dealer Marketing.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Adam Dennis shares his background
  • The history of SurgeMetrix and why the company focuses on the Hispanic market
  • Why should dealerships target a specific audience?
  • Adam’s advice for building mobile-responsive websites
  • How SurgeMetrix’s analytics tool uses AI to create audience-specific organic content
  • Adam’s future plans in the automotive space

In this episode…

How well do you know your target market? What strategies do you use to market to potential customers effectively?

According to automotive industry veteran Adam Dennis, having appropriate data about your dealership’s audience is crucial. He advises dealers to identify their target market and focus on creating customer-centric products that meet buyers’ needs. In addition, your marketing message should resonate with ideal customers. When you understand consumer preferences, you can leverage that to meet their expectations

In this episode of the InsideAuto Podcast, Ilana Shabtay interviews Adam Dennis, Founder and Principal of SurgeMetrix, about the dynamics of cultural-based marketing. They also discuss the benefits of building mobile-responsive websites and leveraging AI to create audience-specific organic content.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Fullpath (formerly AutoLeadStar).

Fullpath is the automotive industry’s leading customer data and experience platform (CDXP).

Fullpath enables dealers to turn their first-party data into lifelong customers by unifying siloed data sources and leveraging that data to create exceptional, hyper-personalized customer experiences.

To learn more, visit

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:03

Welcome to InsideAuto Podcast where we feature everyone and anyone you’d want to talk to you in and out of the automotive industry.

Ilana Shabtay 0:14

Ilana Shabtay here, host of InsideAuto Podcast where we interview top dealers, GMs, marketers, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders in and out of the automotive industry. And before we introduce today’s guest, this episode is sponsored by Fullpath is automotive industry’s leading customer data and experience platform (CDXP). Fullpath enables dealers to turn their first-party data into lifelong customers by unifying siloed data sources and leveraging that data to create exceptional, hyper-personalized customer experiences. To learn more, visit Today we’re welcoming Adam Dennis to the podcast. Adam, how are you?

Adam Dennis 0:53

Fine, thanks. How are you doing?

Ilana Shabtay 0:55

Good. It’s nice to have you to get to know you a fellow dealer marketing expert panelist coming from Antigua

Adam Dennis 1:06

Yeah, yeah, your outing me.

Ilana Shabtay 1:11

I’ll give you a proper intro soon. But yes, I have to tell you already. But it’s a great place to live. Yeah,

Adam Dennis 1:16

I grew up in Rhode Island, went to undergrad out in Wisconsin. And when I finished up there, I then went to grad school in DC. When I was in DC, I ended up getting involved in politics about crazy. And that’s a totally another story. And when I was doing that, I met my wife who was from a small island called Montserrat, in the West Indies. Long story short, we got married in 95. In 2005, I had a company that was actually an automotive company that I sold. And when I sold it, I turned to my wife and I said, Hey, you know, you want to move down to the islands. So we did we, you know, by the end of 2005, we moved down and we’re living in Antigua. And that’s how I ended up here. But as you can imagine, I have a lot of frequent flyer miles.

Ilana Shabtay 2:00

So why coming from across the world, I get it. But yeah, that’s, that’s, uh, that’s really interesting. And you actually covered the first half of your bio. So thank you. But now tell us a little bit about now what you’re doing SurgeMetrix, and you you also manage a nonprofit that’s really interesting. So tell us a little bit about that. And then we’ll jump into the combo.

Adam Dennis 2:22

Okay. Well, SurgeMetrix started in around the middle of 2019, the company that had purchased my original company, which was called exchange interactive group, which served auto dealers up and down the eastern seaboard, and out into the Midwest. That was sold in 2005. And you know, long story short is Dominion Enterprises, owned the company. And then somewhere I can’t remember somewhere in 2018, they asked me if I was interested in taking it over again. And as negotiations go, I bought back the company. And so we started in 2019, with just a footprint offering website solutions, which, as you know, in that space, it’s really, really competitive. Yeah. And so, I, in looking at the environment, I basically asked, the question is what’s been missed? Because there’s always gaps, right? There’s always gaps in the market where, you know, sometimes dealers don’t realize there’s an opportunity they could use to sell more. And because there might not be anybody filling that space. And so one of the gaps, you know, I realized was, you know, when you looked around, there weren’t many companies offering Hispanic marketing and not in a way of just, you know, taking Google Google’s translator and sticking it on a website. So you can switch it from English to Spanish, but more from the direction of understanding the actual culture and do cultural base marketing. Because if you’re trying to market to someone of Mexican origin, there’s a different conversation that’s important. And someone perhaps have a Cuban American origin. Right. And as you know, with this with the United States, there are concentrations of different groups around the country. So what we did was we put together a Hispanic marketing program and started selling it probably must have been around early 2020 or so that we started offering the services. And it proceeded ever since. And then we’ve expanded since then into offering now we have this, this data solution we call surgery con, where and that really, that was a complete accident. I can’t claim any genius. We designed a solution to analyze the digital environment around a dealership and the dealerships website because we wanted to understand when we’re going in to do any type of Hispanic marketing, what was the makeup of the community? How did it break down in terms of the different types of subcultures like Dominican Spanish, Mexican, Spanish, you name it? How did that break down? What was the medium income? What were the competitors doing all this stuff? And that turned into a product that now we sell to Ford direct. We sell a lot of our data to Ford direct and you know, not it wasn’t some GE Just like I said, where we said, we were going to do that, we just end up doing something that solved our problems with our dealers. And then in a roundabout way, we got in a conversation with Ford direct, and then they started buying data. And then as you jump forward, now what we’re doing is we’re bringing to market a, an AI solution, we can generate, whether it’s for one dealer or 1000. Dealers, within minutes, we can generate search engine, keyword rich content. Yeah, in quantity. What would cost

Ilana Shabtay 5:28

less or in Spanish? Or both?

Adam Dennis 5:30

Good question both, I mean, we can basically do an English version. And because we have the data also in terms of the surrounding community, we can then feed that data in to have a, say, if you have an area with a high concentration of people of Mexican origin, then we can convert it a mess Mexicans flavored Spanish, so for example, instead of caviar on for a truck, you would use trocar. So that way, someone who’s reading the the translated content would know, hey, they understand who I am, right? Now bringing that to market, because you know, dealers are spending a lot of money for paying people to generate organic content. And in this particular case, we can bring it to market significantly below what current costs are. So that’s kind of as a company, we’ve been evolving. And what’s what we’re trying to figure out right now is we have many faces. So it’s not like we can just say, Oh, we’re a website company. No, there’s this sort of, like, different faces. So we’re also going through our own I guess, coming to grips, I mean, think of us as a 16 year old teenager, in some ways, but run by people who have been in the industry for 20 to 30 years, right? So as a company, we’re a 16 year old, where we’re coming to Okay, here’s the combination of services that we can offer dealers to give them an edge in their competition in the market. So that’s, that’s SurgeMetrix.

Ilana Shabtay 6:49

Are there parts of the states that you’re that you have, like, maybe more concentration? I lived in Miami for four years, for example. So I mean, I couldn’t get around without speaking a little bit of Spanish now. But still, I mean, I think like, that’s a great market for something like this versus I mean, I’m from Connecticut, where it’s still a great market. But did you see differences like that? Or do you feel like it’s just really important in every single in every single region?

Adam Dennis 7:17

It’s important. See, the thing is, is it’s it’s very schizophrenic from region to region in the sense that, you know, like, you mentioned, Miami, so you’re gonna have a high concentration of Cubans. Right, but that’s been changing a bit, because ever since Maria, you’ve had a huge Puerto Rican population flow into the state of Florida, right? So that’s why knowing the demographics is really, really important, because then you get an idea of okay, like, for example, oh, yeah, you got to figure out because, I mean, knowing the holidays that are in and celebrations that are important to a culture is important. So in Boston, there is no way in hell a dealer, unless they’re crazy, is not going to advertise during St. Patty’s Day, right? There’s no way they’re not going to have a saint batty Patty’s Day sale. The same thing applies to different subcultures that make up the Spanish speaking community. Right? Right. And the other thing that’s kind of weird is that there are regions where you wouldn’t expect a high concentration. But there is because of just the massive movement of people around the country, if the US was founded with major shifts in populations, and we’re experiencing now it’s just so happens to be that it’s the, you know, Spanish speaking culture. That’s one of the largest populations that’s been shifting. And, you know, if you look at it right now, like the spending power of the Hispanic community back in 1990, was about a quarter billion dollars, the spending power now is about 2 trillion. Wow. Right. So that’s a lot of money. And that’s a lot of money. A lot of dealers are sort of ignoring, because they look at the community, as mainly, like a subprime community. And it’s not, it’s a multi layered community, like a lot other communities now, as it ages. And as it you know, as you have people that might have come here, first generation that then produce a second generation, and that becomes professionals that then can, you know, spend a lot more money on a vehicle.

Ilana Shabtay 9:04

Yeah, I also think what you’re saying is just important, as a whole meaning of this is an important market, but in general, dealerships should understand, you know, the essence of every single market that they’re trying to market to right, oh, yeah. And then really understand how to speak to them. So in general, I think this is very relevant. And I love that you’re actually talking about a specific audience that you, you know, excel in and understand immensely so that you can apply that and help dealers with that.

Adam Dennis 9:34

Listen, I’ll make it more entertaining for you. So for example, every year we do a survey of buying preferences of the Hispanic community, right car buying preferences. And what we found over the last number of years is becoming more pronounced is that women in the car buying process have some very specific opinions, right? So we found consistent feedback that when it comes to, for example, a test drive this way Anik women, pretty much 100% of them want to do a test drive, and a year after year, we’re finding the same pattern. So what does that tell you, if you’re a dealer? Well, if it tells you, if you’re going to be marketing to the community, it’s probably smart to emphasize. So if you’re doing Spanish language of promotions, you might say, oh, you know, come for Cinco Demayo, celebration, blah, blah, blah. And we’ll guarantee you a test drive, you know, we’ll be there to tell you that my point is, I’m not doing good copy off the top of my head. But my point is, is saying language that will resonate with the buyer. And the other piece is, is women often are a critical part of decision making process. A lot of times when a buyer occurs, and it’s a man and a woman, that woman definitely has a voice. So the perception that women don’t have a voice in that community is completely wrong. And so knowing that, hey, layer your, what you say in your marketing, to have certain key words that match the expectations and desires to targeted community.

Ilana Shabtay 10:57

I think that’s really important and important point. And also, the fact that you’re running these surveys, and really bringing data into the product is extremely, extremely important in today’s environment. So that’s really what else did you share any other patterns? Or data?

Adam Dennis 11:11

Oh, yeah, well, I was gonna say, that’s why we get metrix as part of our name because we our data or data, you have our data geeks at heart, but um, yeah, so So that’s, that’s one pattern. The other pattern is Who needs a computer, right? When you look at the Hispanic community, they’re on the phone, they’re on the phone, you’re gonna see, you can see a pattern out every single time, the shopping happens by phone. So you know, if you’re shopping for a website, vendor, it’s important for two things, there are two things that are important. One, make sure that vendor really does mobile first design, right. And they have a very simple version of their website displaying if it’s a responsive site. So it’s very easy to go through some of the sites these days are so complicated that they’ve gotten away from the point of usability. Right? That’s, that’s one thing. The other thing is, is your site fast. So the software that we have SurgeRecon, we do a survey every year with our tool where we crawl webs, dealer websites across the country. And the last time we did it, which is coming up on we probably should do another one for this year. But last year was somewhere in around this time of year, we did we did a crawl about 35,000 dealer websites, the average speed rating out of 100 that Google gives a dealer website is below 25 out of 100. Now, some could argue, Hey, as long as everybody else is horrible, it’s okay, that I’m horrible the same way. I totally disagree. If you are significantly better than the other guys, you have a lower bounce rate, you’ll have a higher conversion rate. It’s just basic math, right? Because the slower the speed, the higher the bounce rate. And then the other thing that you’re going to look for is, there’s some ways to test to make sure your dealer website speed is actually what you think it is. I will go into it. But we did find one vendor that was kind of faking the results, when Google’s bot would ping the site, they would give up different results. So it’s really, really important to Yeah, if you know that your Hispanic community at almost 100% of them shop by phone, the average buyer, it’s in the 80, percentile 80 to 90%. Mark, don’t you think you want that speed to be really top notch? Yeah, for sure. So that was some more data for you?

Ilana Shabtay 13:25

Yeah, thanks. I appreciate it. Now, you talked a little bit about how the product actually uses ai ai is like, Okay, we’ve kind of talked about it a bunch years ago. Now it’s making a comeback, obviously, with all the, you know, ChatGPT. So, can you tell us that? Can you talk a little bit more about the ticket, the actual technology that uses AI and how it works?

Adam Dennis 13:49

Yeah, it’s not? We didn’t we asked a simple question, which was, again, we’re looking at where are the gaps, right. And we see a lot of dealers like the same software that we use to scan dealer websites to see their performance and everything. One of the things that we see as a certain percentage do well, just on technical SEO, and then a certain percent does surprisingly poorly. Right. And they also we also evaluate for sample accessibility, performance. And that’s important because if you have a low accessibility score, you’re open for a lawsuit. Right? Because lawsuits around accessibility issues have been going up. And dealers are easy picking for adventurous stick and entrepreneurial lawyers. So yeah, talk to the time. Yeah, talk to Tom Clyde about that, right. Yeah, cuz he and I have had long conversations about that. But the point is, is that when we look at the data, there’s a gap right now on search engine optimization, where a portion of the market will spend money to make up for not being very well optimized for search engine performance, whether technically or in terms of their their websites authority. It basically authority means, you know, from, from the search engines point of view like Google. Is it a relevant and worthwhile website for the market it serves? Right? If you have a dealer who’s paid attention to really organically well positioning their website, providing useful information, stuff like that, if they’re scoring better than some of their competitors, when an organic searches comes, it’s about the numbers. Everybody, if you’re 5%, better performing than your competitor that’s going to result result in an impact upon your earnings every year. Right? I mean, all dealers know, it comes down to your margins. Yeah. So. So what we did was we developed software that basically, you know, we saw what the software does is we can develop topics. So for example, if we want to develop a topic, say, we’re going into the winter, well, obviously conversations around winterizing your car might be important. But here’s the problem right now, when con one content is written for dealers along those lines, it’s typically one article, it’s sort of redone again, and again, across many websites, what we do is we we actually have parameters set up in the conversation to build the AI model, and understanding what’s to be produced is to create very unique content per dealer. So for example, if we’re going to talk about winterizing your car, obviously, the conversation in Wisconsin is a hell of a lot different than Florida. Right? So what the content will do is the content will will generate the titles, we’ll then set the parameters in terms of how many words do we want, or whether we want it for a website, a social media post, what have you, we can define that. And then we can generate the content will then be unique to that particular dealer. And now we’re experimenting with it is, there’s something called adversarial AI. And I’m not going to get into how we’re working at various adversarial AI, because that’s obviously going to be a protected concept. But to make that content really, really good, from the point of view of human, a human experience, right.

Ilana Shabtay 17:02

But does this content then do layer on like the the audience specific? The specific one? That’s really cool.

Adam Dennis 17:14

Thank God, you’re asking questions, because I forgot that point part.

Ilana Shabtay 17:18

Okay, and maybe

Adam Dennis 17:20

validate? Yep. So that’s where the other data covenants comes into the data we have in terms of market composition, when it comes to the nature of the Hispanic community around the dealership, we can then generate content that draws upon our learning structure that you know, in terms of the data we’ve collected over time that says, For a Mexican speaking audience, Cameo cameo, we don’t use cameo and we use Stroka, for example, then we can generate that content that we wrote in English in Spanish, but in a Mexican flavor of Spanish, if the dominant community around the dealership is it is of Mexican origin, it would be wonderful. We knew if we knew if someone came from Dominica originally or someone came from that data is not really possible without some extra heavy lifting. But what we can do is then translate immediately. So we got the English bow, and then we have the Spanish verb version, boom, all of that is then customized to that particular deal.

Ilana Shabtay 18:16

It’s really cool.

Adam Dennis 18:18

That’s always fun. It’s fine. I’m a dork. I mean, I’m straight up, you know, I was, you know,

Ilana Shabtay 18:24

I’m here incorporating data into every decision. That’s how that’s how big a real business should be run. So

Adam Dennis 18:30

yeah, but it’s, we love what we do. So

Ilana Shabtay 18:34

that brings me sort of to my last question here, which is that you’ve been in the industry for over 20 years. And it seems like you’re having a lot of fun. Do you intend on staying in automotive? Or are there any thoughts of leaving automotive because it’s, it’s a software that you can honestly apply to many other industries, and I’m sure other industries can use it. So

Adam Dennis 18:54

anybody who listens to this knows once automotive always, well, that’s right. At your heart, there’s no listen, I got into this years ago, I never thought I’d be here. But you know, now we jumped 25 years later, I’m still at it. But yes, for both sets of software, like SurgeRecon, SurgeAI, both of them have application well outside the industry. And we are we are looking into that right now. But you know, our main focus is still on automotive. And then with the Cybersecurity Initiative, antiga recon, right. What that yeah, what that does is when when we got hit by COVID, you know, in the United States, you get hit by COVID. And certainly a lot of frustration was expressed across the US COVID. Down here, we didn’t get so much of that frustration, because people knew that if they got sick, the hospitals would get overwhelmed really quickly. So, you know, people participated fairly well. And then the other thing though, that was really telling is 85% of our income comes from tourism. So the island die mean America have had it bad those places that were tourism base, they just died. And what I saw my girls have grown up here. You know, the one thing I’ve seen is if you come from a background where you can go to the States or somewhere else for education, you tend to have a real leg up. If you don’t, you’re screwed. And so when I saw what happened in COVID, that people didn’t have jobs. So young people in particular really didn’t have any opportunity. Since I’m a tech guy, I was talking to a friend of mine who runs a local school and she said, how are you? I said, one of these days, I want to do what I did years ago, running a program, teaching young people about software development. She said, really? What does that I said, I did it back in the 90s. In Washington, DC, I taught kids who were trying to get out of drug trade out a program and do websites. She said, Well, why don’t you come and do it with me? And I was like, Bernadette, I work 70 hours a week. Are you crazy? Long story short, I did it. And I launched it back. Yeah, in January 2020, to focusing on cybersecurity, because looking across the region, I already knew been on some government websites and other things, that they were really vulnerable, because I know enough to be able to see the sides. So I started in their first year was just learning bumbling, and what have you trying to figure out how best to do things and now I’m in the second year, and I have eight students who are from the first year who I they’re called seniors. And then we have eight who are juniors, and they’re working as parents in a parent learning environment. And they’re coming along really well. And you know, just recently, we were approached by a local organization. And with this type of business, you can never tell who the organization’s are who your customers because you never you never it’s there’s a big part of privacy at play. But I was poached by a very well known organization internationally that said, Hey, can you do some work with us on cybersecurity awareness training and simulated phishing attacks? So we’re in negotiations on that. And then just recently, I was approached by somebody in the states who’s working with dealers, and said, Hey, can you do, you know, safeguards rule work? And I said, and I was very honest, I said, Look, let me let me get back to you. Because the key for that is, I would absolutely need a couple of our, our one or two of our cybersecurity mentors who are, you know, well established cybersecurity experts involved to get that service running. So we’re at that critical juncture right now, where we’re starting to break out of our training wheels, because we have some talent that’s really coming to the fore. And I expect well, within you know, you come talk to me six months from now, I expect that we’re gonna have customers that that program will be running, and it’ll start becoming well, well established. And the whole thing was, I told the kids, when I started, I said, this is an experiment, I can’t promise you anything. I said, but if we focus on learning and developing our skills, and developing our ability to work with customers really well, which is something I’ve been training them as well, how to write content, how to write a report, how to do things, so that you can communicate well, with a customer, the same thing you’d have to do, you know, I do with my own customers, then, you know, we’ll be in a good position where we can start to offer services. So the experiment is at this point right now, where we hopefully will start proving that we have the metal to do the work. That’s

Ilana Shabtay 23:06

incredible. Also, that you found the time was 70 hour work weeks. I mean, that’s really, it’s really,

Adam Dennis 23:13

you see this gray hair?

Ilana Shabtay 23:16

Well, it’s for a good cause. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining InsideAuto Podcast with us today, I’m so happy I got to get to know you. I’ve been reading your stuff on dealer marketing, and I see your name and I’m just really happy. I got to know you and know what you’ve been up to, which is incredible work. So thanks for sharing in today’s InsideAuto Podcast.

Adam Dennis 23:34

Thank you very much. It was great talking to you as well. Thank you.

Ilana Shabtay 23:37

And if you’d like the episode, please tune in to InsideAuto Podcast. You can find us on all your favorite streaming channels. Thanks so much.

Outro 23:48

Thanks for listening to the InsideAuto Podcast. Check out our other episodes with top entrepreneurs and industry leaders.

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