Photo by Ally Piñon
We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Cavazos, the Marketing Director of DeMontrond Auto Group, based in Houston, Texas. DeMontrond Auto Group boasts an impressive portfolio of 12 dealerships, representing 11 automotive brands, and additionally, they operate six RV dealerships.
As DeMontrond Auto Group celebrates its 70th anniversary, it's evident that its roots run deep within the Houston community. That is part of what led her to join the group. DeMontrond's ties to the community and what they do mirror the legacy of her own family, further igniting her passion for her role.
In the following interview, Ashley shares her insights on the tools, strategies, and approaches she employs in her role, where she oversees digital marketing and strategy operations across the group. She talks about maximizing your data, customer-centric strategies, integrating AI, and tailoring your marketing through OTT, social media campaigns, and more.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Can you share a little about your background and how you transitioned
into the automotive industry, especially considering your journey from your
initial roles to your current position at the DeMontrond Auto Group?
Ashley Cavazos: Absolutely. I have been in automotive over 13 years. In college, most of my friends worked at a mall or restaurant, but I always tried to take on jobs that were going to help me with the career that I was curious about or interested in. So, I took on various roles, from working at a law firm to a sports marketing magazine. Another influence was my family’s business in broadcasting. My family owns radio and TV stations. They have radio stations primarily right now. And my grandfather was one of the first Spanish FM radio stations in the country.
DEALER MAGAZINE: That’s very cool. You mentioned your family's
involvement in broadcasting, especially Spanish FM radio. Can you elaborate on
Ashley Cavazos: Of course. My family's legacy in the broadcasting world has always been a source of inspiration for me. They own several radio stations, but what stands out is their pioneering venture in Spanish FM radio. My grandfather was instrumental in launching one of the country's first Spanish FM radio stations. Growing up around this environment, I was privy to the behind-the-scenes operations and the impact of connecting with diverse audiences.
There's a particular memory that always resonates with me. I remember the pride and exhilaration of the day we opened one of our radio stations. Being there, witnessing the first transmission, and hearing our broadcast over the radio waves was an unforgettable experience. It wasn't just about technology or business; it was about creating a voice and platform for a community.
Moreover, our radio station was rooted deeply in the Corpus Christi, Texas community. An example of this is our association with Selena. My family played a role in promoting her music. I had the privilege of knowing her personally, as she often visited our radio station for interviews. I was even present at some of her concerts. These experiences underscored the power of media in shaping culture and community ties.
DEALER MAGAZINE: That sounds incredibly influential. How did this environment and these experiences shape your approach to your career?
Ashley Cavazos: Being surrounded by media and understanding its impact from a young age instilled in me the importance of effective communication and understanding audiences. Whether it was a radio listener or a car buyer, recognizing and addressing their needs was paramount. This foundation was instrumental when I transitioned to the automotive sector, especially in roles that required understanding and catering to specific market demographics.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Wow, that's quite the journey. So, how did you land in the automotive industry?
Ashley Cavazos: It all started with a temporary receptionist position at my local Ford dealership. They saw potential in me as a receptionist and in the evolving realm of Internet marketing. Within 90 days, I became their internet marketing manager. After three years in Texas, I moved to Minnesota and, through a series of opportunities, found myself back in Texas, now working at the DeMontrond Auto Group.
DEALER MAGAZINE: With your current role, what are your primary responsibilities?
Ashley Cavazos: I primarily handle digital marketing and strategy operations, overseeing the marketing strategies for our 12 automotive dealerships and six RV dealerships.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Could you provide an overview of your current marketing strategy for the dealerships?
Ashley Cavazos: Over the past few years, the landscape has changed; we now have inventory, but we're in a competitive market in Houston, especially vying with Miami for the Hispanic market. We focus on specialized targeted marketing, ensuring our message resonates with the right audience.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Given the blend of traditional and digital platforms, which do you find most effective?
Ashley Cavazos: The most impactful approach is targeted marketing, primarily via OTT, ensuring we reach potential shoppers with a relevant message. It's no longer about broad reach but about reaching the right audience.
DEALER MAGAZINE: And from these channels, which one gives you the best ROI?
Ashley Cavazos: Surprisingly, it's mining our first-party data from our CRM. We have abundant data, and tapping into this has proven most effective. I've recently collaborated with Full Path on their Audience Activation program, which revives dormant leads in our CRM, leading to significant results.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Ensuring seamless experiences is crucial. How do you guarantee a consistent experience for customers across platforms?
Ashley Cavazos: Being on the frontline of marketing decisions allows me to bridge the gap between the showroom and marketing. Communication is key. It's essential to inform our sales team about the type of traffic we're driving and equip them with the right tools and information to handle these leads effectively.
DEALER MAGAZINE: It's commendable how you ensure that sales teams are well-briefed about marketing strategies. This mutual feedback loop must indeed be beneficial. What are your thoughts on providing a seamless customer experience?
Ashley Cavazos: In today's fast-paced world, customers expect impeccable service. One minor hiccup, and we're off their list. They demand a seamless experience in every sphere of their life. For instance, even if the person assisting them changes, the service remains uninterrupted when shopping at Nordstrom. This smooth transition is what customers look for everywhere.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Which channels do you believe will gain prominence in the next two years?
Ashley Cavazos: Firstly, leveraging our own CRM and first-party data will be crucial. Secondly, personalized marketing, primarily through platforms like social media and OTT, where people spend a significant amount of time, will be instrumental.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Speaking of the future, with the rise of EVs, how is your group navigating this shift?
Ashley Cavazos: It's a learning curve. Some brands are more aggressive with their EV offerings, and depending on their inventory, about 20 to 30% of our marketing focuses on EVs. However, challenges like charging anxiety and concerns about the energy grid in Texas, especially during rolling blackouts, are obstacles we need to address.
DEALER MAGAZINE: And in terms of service marketing, how much emphasis does your group place on this?
Ashley Cavazos: Not as much as I'd like; service marketing is unique, and while many companies claim expertise, few specialize solely in this area. We're actively exploring partnerships and campaigns to strengthen our service marketing efforts.
DEALER MAGAZINE: You're immersing yourself deeply into the intricacies of the group's operations. It's fascinating how you're not generalizing strategies but are tailoring them based on bay capacity and identifying specific needs.
Ashley Cavazos: Absolutely. Our weekly platform director meetings play a critical role. These sessions aren't just about numbers or stats; they're collaborative brainstorming opportunities. When challenges arise, such as a service director pointing out a shop needing more business, we don't just acknowledge it; we actively strategize. This proactive approach ensures we're always a step ahead, understanding the unique demands of each segment.
DEALER MAGAZINE: With the evolving landscape of customer retention, which marketing strategies have you found to be the most impactful and why?
Ashley Cavazos: Video integration in the service sector has been transformative. It's not merely a marketing gimmick; it's about building trust through transparency. Since introducing video walkarounds for sales and service appointments around 2014, we witnessed a dramatic shift in customer engagement and trust. Videos allow customers to see firsthand the state of their vehicles and understand the recommendations made by our technicians. While there was an initial learning curve in training our staff to create these videos, the long-term benefits of customer trust and loyalty have been unparalleled.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Given the ever-evolving auto industry and the challenges presented by the pandemic, how has your approach to vehicle acquisition evolved?
Ashley Cavazos: Vehicle acquisition is a topic I'm deeply passionate about. Earlier in my career, I was integral in establishing acquisition lead processes, laying the foundation for our current strategies. Today, our focus is on acquiring leads and effectively engaging and building relationships with customers. We want our customers to know we value their vehicles for their local history and familiarity. Unlike the uncertainties of the auction market, acquiring vehicles locally allows us a deeper insight into the vehicle's history, providing a win-win situation for both the dealership and the customer.
DEALER MAGAZINE: With the surge in digital retailing tools, how is your group navigating the online vehicle purchasing landscape?
Ashley Cavazos: Digital retail has risen to the top of our priority list. Despite having multiple website providers and digital retail tools, our aim remains consistent: to offer customers a streamlined, transparent online experience. Customers today expect to accomplish as much as possible online before even setting foot in a dealership. My team and I are dedicated to ensuring this process is efficient and educative. Even skeptics within our team have come around to see the undeniable value of digital retail in fostering an informed and empowered customer base.
DEALER MAGAZINE: The myriad tools and website providers you work with sound like a challenging mix to balance.
Ashley Cavazos: It indeed is. Aligning them effectively, especially with differing OEM approvals, presents its own set of challenges. However, these challenges also drive us to be innovative and adaptive, ensuring we stay at the forefront of automotive retail.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Intriguingly, you mention the challenges of having different providers. Given the complexities of tracking behaviors across multiple platforms, how do you set up your websites to effectively monitor user behaviors?
Ashley Cavazos: It's a challenge that I currently grapple with. Data scattered across platforms makes it hard to have a consolidated view. My goal is to find a website provider that can help consolidate our data, ensuring we deliver a consistent experience across the board.
DEALER MAGAZINE: In his talks, Kevin Frye mentioned the potential of having a centralized data lake where dealerships can pull data from various sources they own and control. Is this something that you've considered, a strategy where data is pulled internally, regardless of the vendors?
Ashley Cavazos: Absolutely. We should have access to our data when and how we need it. When we think about the protection of customer data and the responsibility that comes with it, it's crucial to have ownership over our data lake. This allows us to vet everything coming in and out, ensuring we're not entirely reliant on third-party vendors.
DEALER MAGAZINE: That leads to the next question. How do you track potential buyer journeys, especially those further down the sales funnel, when dealing with multiple sites and tools?
Ashley Cavazos: That's something I'm still working through. The industry is on the cusp of finding a solution, but we're still waiting for that breakthrough. A unified customer dashboard, where we can see every touchpoint of a customer's journey, would be invaluable.
DEALER MAGAZINE: On the topic of inclusivity, how do you ensure your marketing is inclusive, catering to all personas that your brands represent?
Ashley Cavazos: Our core values emphasize inclusivity. By working closely with our partners and ensuring they understand our mission, we aim to deliver a tailored and personalized experience for every customer. Inclusivity isn't just about broadening our reach but understanding and resonating with each individual's journey.
DEALER MAGAZINE: And you're involved with WOCAN, an organization focused on inclusivity and representation. Please share a little about your involvement with organizations like WOCAN.
Ashley Cavazos: Indeed, the last five years have seen significant growth in communities centered around women in automotive. Being a Latina woman in the industry, I've had unique experiences. My journey has been shaped by mentors who've guided and believed in me. Connecting with other women, especially women of color, has been enlightening. We share our challenges, but more importantly, we discuss solutions and ways to recruit and retain more women in automotive. The goal isn't to dwell on the obstacles but to bring about meaningful change, and I'm proud to be a part of such movements.
DEALER MAGAZINE All right, let's dive into one last hot topic. AI.
Ashley Cavazos: I love this topic.
DEALER MAGAZINE: So, AI is both new and not new. There's so much history going back decades, but it is certainly a trending topic. How far along are vendors in implementing AI effectively?
Ashley Cavazos: It depends. In some aspects, we're advanced, but in others, we still have much to learn. My experience with AI in the sales process is that it's constantly learning and can be a game changer for the sales process. However, we must be cautious and refrain from writing it off after a single mistake. Would we do that with a human salesperson? No. So, we need to be patient and work with it.
DEALER MAGAZINE How much AI have you seen integrated into operations other than the sales process?
Ashley Cavazos: Honestly, not much. People use AI for marketing and follow-up techniques, and some tools track customer activity to provide insights. But in general, there's a long way to go. We need to integrate AI more, especially considering the changing workforce.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Are there any AI tools, not necessarily automotive-related, that you or your team find particularly useful or intriguing?
Ashley Cavazos: Yes! I was recently introduced to an AI tool that recreated a person's voice. The potential applications for marketing, voiceovers, and more are fascinating.
DEALER MAGAZINE: What stands out for you about the Digital Dealer conference and expo?
Ashley Cavazos: Digital Dealer offers me a chance to connect with vendors and see the latest tech updates. It's the biggest expo hall of all the conferences I attend. It's a must-attend event for any serious automotive professional. I've also signed up for DD's Hosted Dealer program.
DEALER MAGAZINE: What benefits do you see for someone like yourself participating in Hosted Dealer?
Ashley Cavazos: I like that it's essentially a speed-dating system with vendors. I can see what everyone's offering in a short period, which saves me so much time in the long run.
DEALER MAGAZINE Should attending conferences like Digital Dealer be a requirement for marketing directors?
Ashley Cavazos: Absolutely. I missed out on a lot when I wasn't attending conferences. Staying up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies is crucial. In my early discussions with DeMontrond Auto Group, I emphasized the need to participate in such events, and they were completely supportive. They understand the importance of staying relevant in the industry.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Before we close, what advice would you give someone new to a marketing position at a dealership?
Ashley Cavazos: Entering a new position can be both exciting and overwhelming. I'd recommend that newcomers take a deep breath and give themselves time to understand the landscape. Rather than jumping in and making immediate changes, it's essential to observe and familiarize oneself with the dynamics of the dealership, the team's strengths, and areas of improvement. Understand where the marketing budget is allocated and the current ROI. This way, when you decide to implement changes, they are well-informed and can be more effective.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Lastly, what's been your most memorable moment in the automotive industry so far?
Ashley Cavazos: One of the most pivotal moments in my career was being selected for Automotive News' 40 under 40. It wasn't just a personal accolade but a reflection of the collective support, mentorship, and guidance I've received throughout my journey from my family, who's been my backbone, especially my husband, who took a leap of faith moving across the country to support my career aspirations, to the colleagues and mentors who believed in my potential. It was a moment of gratitude and a reminder that success is a shared journey.
Join Ashley at Digital Dealer Las Vegas 2023
Ashley will present at Digital Dealer Las Vegas, Oct. 17-19, 2023. View the Show Schedule on digitaldealer.com for session details!