Dreaming In Digital

Dreaming In Digital

Longtime partnership between iFrog and Preston Ford has been a mutually beneficial endeavor

From the beginning, it was a match made in Ford heaven.

At the end of 2019, following a sensational December run, Preston Ford — a Ford dealership nestled just outside Preston — experienced a watershed moment when it finished No. 33 in the United States based on volume sales. Throughout the annual sales drives for Preston Ford, which reached Mission: Possible 7 upon completion of the 2019 slate, iFrog Digital Marketing has been a driving force behind the scenes. iFrog Digital Marketing, which offers modern digital marketing solutions primarily for car dealerships and a host of other industries throughout the U.S., has undergone considerable growth alongside Preston Ford.

What started as an arm of the Preston Automotive Group (PAG) has now blossomed into a full-fledged marketing agency specializing in Email Marketing, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Search Engine Marketing and Paid Search, Graphic Design, Mobile Advertising, Social Media Marketing, Online Reputation Management, and Display Advertising and Retargeting.

iFrog Digital Marketing now serves over 80 clients, including 31 other Ford dealerships beyond the flagship Preston Ford location.

Born In A Dealership®

It started with a flicker in 2007, as Dave Wilson, the Founder and Chairman of Preston Automotive Group, shifted advertising budgets and marketing strategies for his dealerships to better align with the modern climate. By 2013, the advent of what became iFrog Digital Marketing had taken on a life of its own, but employees remained scattered between the sprawling Preston Autoplex and PAG’s main offices in downtown Preston. 

The coalition formed as a unit in April 2015 in a standalone office building in downtown Preston, before iFrog packed up and moved into a spectacularly renovated edifice in Easton in July 2016. The modern office setting in the historic Mid-Shore Maryland town is now the home of iFrog. Still, Chief Operations Officer Brent Durham and Creative Director Shelby Loudon fondly recall the humble beginnings.

“Being a team of 10 in the early days allowed us to be very close, literally like family,” said Durham, who joined PAG in 2009 and is a co-founder of iFrog. “Being so, everyone did a little bit of everything, and we all grew stronger. Learning happened at a much quicker rate. To catch up to our competition, we had to be dead set to get better and be able to learn quicker than the competition. We knew how to do what we do, but we needed to get it done faster, smarter, and better than everyone else.”

“iFrog was talked about as a dream, a goal of Brent Durham and Dave Wilson when I first started with the PAG team,” added Loudon. “What was unique about my experience starting as the only in-house Graphic Designer for PAG was that I got to be involved in lots of ways. I got to do things that we now have entire departments for.”

The Ascent

The inaugural iFrog team, though not entirely under the current moniker, was a part of Preston Ford’s Top 100 sales drive that began in 2013, ending with a 90th-place finish. The annual sales drives then netted rankings of 72, 79, 63, 52, 44, and then 33 in the latest results. The current meteoric rise was ignited in 2015, and Preston Ford moved up no less than nine spots each year since, culminating in the banner 2019 campaign.

“This was my first Preston Sales Drive,” said Senior Account Manager Emily Fryer, who started with iFrog in April 2019 before taking over the lead on PAG accounts the following month. “You could feel the energy when you walked into the showroom in December. Everyone was in the zone and Top 40 focused, and our team was, as well. We felt like a part of the Preston team and were rooting for them every step of the way.

“Being my first year working with Preston, I believe the evolution takes time and learning,” Fryer added. “This year, we took it to a level where each morning there was a new message in the final days of the sale. We drove urgency within a number of digital channels to the point where it felt personal, and we needed to do anything and everything to help drive Preston into the Top 40 spot.

“This year, we started a month early in the efforts, and communication and messaging remained consistent throughout,” Fryer said. “There was a clear end goal, and we stuck to that. We incorporated more vehicle-specific targeting and customer targeting strategies that promote website growth, which in the end grew about 2,000 to 4,000 sessions per month from October through December thanks to the added push.”

The action was kicked into overdrive due to Mission: Possible 7 and iFrog Digital Marketing’s involvement in the No. 33 finish beginning a month sooner in 2019. The full suite of iFrog’s talents as the digital marketing solutions partner for Preston Ford was put through a test across the final 90 days of 2019.

“I’ve taken part in seven Preston sales drives, and innovation and strategy are a core component of reaching new levels of success year after year,” said iFrog Director of Sales and Marketing De’Montray Slacum; he has been with PAG since 2013, starting as a salesperson before becoming the first Account Manager at iFrog. “Meeting with PAG marketing and our internal media team weekly was critical in ensuring our ads were hitting the right audience.

“We start each year with a kick-off meeting, which I lead,” added Slacum, who has also worn hats as the Director of Accounts and Director of Client Strategy at iFrog. “During this meeting, we review what happened last year, any opportunities missed, and new ideas to capture new business, whether that be from the service lane or consumers in California.”

All Hands On Deck

During Mission: Possible 7, iFrog Digital Marketing pulled out all the stops in turning a Top 40 finish into reality. The iFrog Social Media Marketing department took to the digital airwaves from October through December in an attempt to raise the profile of the latest sales drive and Preston Ford in general. The Design and Content teams at iFrog, meanwhile, kept a steady stream of fresh visual and written material appearing on the Preston Ford website and local and regional media outlets. It included a unique and one-off print advertorial geared toward the sales drive, PAG history, and even a bit about Preston Ford’s extended family of Ford dealerships.

“The reach, brand recognition, following, and community involvement has been such a journey to be a part of,” Loudon said. “Since 2013, we set our sights on creating a brand around this end-of-the-year sales push. We were determined to market the event and dreamed of brand recognition as big as the Nike Swoosh. Now, seven years later, we’ve outdone ourselves.

“When I hear people talk about the Top 100 sales drive, they associate it with Mission: Possible and Preston Ford,” Loudon added. “We have created a following that stands behind our partners’ goals, and it keeps loyal customers coming back. At iFrog, I oversee our Creative Department, so we output engaging social posts, write supporting content, and design cutting-edge marketing materials. With all of these items working together consistently across all channels, we’ve seen this event gain so much success. We couldn’t do it without the Accounts team by our sides and without the hard work and dedication from everyone at Preston Ford sending us information, ideas, and sharing what we do.”

“We have several strategies that we employ,” added Content Manager Dorian Mitchell, who joined iFrog in November 2017: “One calls for providing high-quality and detailed research pages on current and upcoming Ford models, while the other is about refreshing existing pages on the website with strong content that is SEO-driven and features carefully-selected keywords.”

Meanwhile, Senior Digital Advertising Strategist C.J. Barnes was hard at work developing advertising campaigns built through Google Ads, Microsoft Advertising, Facebook Advertising, as well as buying digital media space for video and programmatic display advertising. The biggest challenge for Barnes, who began with iFrog in June 2016 as an Account Manager, is staying on top of the evolution of technology, available tactics, and regulations in the industry. 

“Constructing a strategy for a client usually consists of two parts,” Barnes said. “First, you have to establish the key performance indicators (KPIs) that will determine whether your campaigns are helping the client meet their goals, and set up a core group of campaigns for maximizing those KPIs. Then, you have to be able to identify areas of specific needs as they arise and prescribe solutions to meet those needs. This can be anything from reaching more of a particular demographic to obtaining more leads in a specific zip code.

“We used all available ad extensions in Google and Bing to customize our ad copy to the sales event,” Barnes added of his department’s contribution to Preston Ford’s landmark finish. “We deployed video advertising across the web to increase the reach of Preston’s TV spots, and displayed advertising across the web to put the sales message in front of in-market Ford shoppers and recent website visitors to get the Top 40 message in front of anyone it was relevant to.”

Every evolution integrated and feature added to initiatives such as Preston Ford’s Top Sales Drives displayed substantial results.

“We advertised on Facebook to recent site visitors and similar audiences to drive traffic to the site and put the Top 40 message in front of anyone it was relevant,” Barnes said. “Gmail Ads with the Top 40 message and new vehicle offers were served to people who were in the market for a new Ford.”

Many of these customers in the market filter through the Analytics sector at iFrog. Digital Analyst Jamie Marvel is responsible for measuring user engagement on client websites through event and goal tracking. By tracking site visitor engagement, Marvel and his team can analyze how effectively the overall digital strategies are working and whether iFrog is driving the right traffic to the website. 

Marvel’s department also creates and updates reports to present to clients up-to-date results and metrics from all of the digital advertising avenues being used by iFrog.

“Strategy for the Preston Ford sales drive included making sure we were tracking all call to actions, like contact forms and click-to-call codes on the website. We also monitored banner clicks and specific page visits. By tracking some of these engagement points as goals, our Paid Search team is then able to optimize our ads to find more users who are more likely to have the same engagement with the website.”

Everlasting Link

Durham was initially the Internet Marketing Manager for Preston Ford in March 2009 and served two stints as the Internet Director through April 2015, taking the time to obtain his Masters In Business Administration from Old Dominion University in between. Durham, Loudon, Slacum, graphic designers R.J. Jackson and Madison Fox, and Content Writer Michael O’Connor were part of the original group, and all are still with iFrog. Jackson is now spearheading the focus on multimedia as the Studio Director, Fox has graduated to Senior Graphic Designer, and O’Connor made a move to the company’s Social Media department.

Today, iFrog Digital Marketing has blitzed past 50 employees, and the total is rapidly rising, much like Preston Ford’s climb as a destination Ford dealership in the U.S.

It has been a mutually beneficial venture from the beginning, and continues being so.

“Understanding the auto business from a dealer perspective and outlook is the greatest benefit of my time with PAG,” Durham said. “Preston Ford reaped the benefits as we got better, and they continued to increase their market share with sales and service.”

Members of the founding group, along with new additions, are now blazing a trail into the next decade. As iFrog Digital Marketing evolves, proliferates, and turns its eyes toward new partnerships, the roots from Preston Automotive Group remain entrenched.

“This has been an incredible journey to be a part of,” Loudon said. “I can’t believe I helped see something through from the beginning vision to a growing company. I get to come to work every day and work with passionate people who are challenged to push our creative limits day in and day out. I think that iFrog has a solid vision of where it wants to be, and I think we’re an exceptional group of motivated people who have set our sights high on disrupting this industry.”

 
Ayman Alam

 

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