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How a brand-to-local marketing strategy amplified The Grasshopper Company’s growth

30-second summary:

  • Grasshopper needed a central way to manage their online brand and lead generation strategy with hundreds of local dealerships, all of whom operate independently
  • They created a program for dealers using a platform that powered Grasshopper-branded local websites
  • The program included driving targeted traffic to the local sites to generate leads
  • In the first year of implementing the program, Grasshopper achieved a 500% increase in leads
  • Currently, about 50% of their nearly 1000 dealerships participate in the program

Headquartered in Moundridge, Kansas, The Grasshopper Company is a family-owned business that manufactures commercial and large-acreage mowing equipment which they distribute to a global customer base via nearly 1000 independent dealers located throughout the US. Dealers are small retailers that sell multiple brands, not exclusively Grasshopper. With roughly 60 million in revenue in 2020, Grasshopper has about 300 employees and a 300,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Moundridge.

I spoke with Michael Simmon, Grasshopper’s head of Marketing Communications, to discuss how the corporate office works with their nationwide network of dealers to coordinate marketing efforts and generate leads for local dealerships.

Simmon’s team focuses on marketing strategy and development for the entire Grasshopper brand, working with agency partners and vendors to execute digital ad placement, strategy, and brand positioning. His team spearheaded the implementation of PowerChord, a platform that enables Grasshopper to manage hundreds of participating independent dealerships from a single, centralized location.

Achieving brand consistency across local dealers

Four years ago, Grasshopper faced the challenge of standardizing their brand messaging across the many independent dealerships that sold their products to end-users. Since dealers are small businesses that sell products from multiple suppliers, there was added complexity in ensuring that Grasshopper’s brand information was consistent, up to date, and accessible online.

Historically, when a potential customer reached out directly to the corporate office, Grasshopper would send an information packet to the prospect and direct them to follow-up at a local dealership. This became increasingly difficult to manage as customers began seeking out product information online.

“The way consumers we’re finding information about our products was transitioning. It was becoming more digital and self-directed. Where once they contacted us directly and we could send a product information packet and direct the end-user to the dealer, now they were researching the product on their own. They would then contact the dealer directly to get a quote or schedule a time to visit the store for a demo.”

Says Simmon

Aside from a dealer locator on the corporate website, Grasshopper didn’t have a standardized approach for this self-driven process that was initiated by the end-user. One key challenge that Grasshopper faced when aligning their brand was that the dealerships, as small businesses, had varying levels of internet connectivity. Some dealerships didn’t have websites at all while others only had only a basic website without any information about Grasshopper’s products.

At first, Simmon’s team attempted to standardize Grasshopper’s online presence with multiple dealerships on their own by creating dealer templates and linking them to their dealer locator. They did some advertising to promote independent dealerships, but it was haphazard and generated few leads for individual stores.

“We got exposure, but we didn’t get the engagement we were looking for,”

says Simmon.

“Our customers are in the interior of the country in rural areas and we were buying impressions in dense population areas that weren’t reaching the target. We recognized that we needed a better way to engage the dealers in reaching customers in the rural areas where they were located.”

A national approach to local lead generation

Simmon’s team realized that Grasshopper’s digital marketing efforts would be better leveraged by aligning their branding and lead generation efforts at the local dealership level. They repurposed their existing digital marketing budget to purchase and onboard PowerChord, a platform that aligns their network of independent dealerships with the brand’s national messaging.

After an initial ROI analysis, Grasshopper opted to invest in the platform with the goal of getting 50 participating dealerships during the first year. They ultimately got about 350 to participate.

The onboarding process involved going to the dealers, explaining the new technology and approach, and clarifying why this was something they’d want to participate in and what value Grasshopper would be providing. The program includes a Grasshopper-branded website for participating dealerships as well as a local targeted marketing campaign managed by PowerChord with paid ads placed on the dealer’s behalf. Ads appear on various digital channels like Google and Facebook.

“We made it very cost-effective for the dealerships,”

says Simmon.

“The initial investment was less than $100/month. What we’d been doing in the past wasn’t working, so the big risk with trying something new was that it might not work either. But it was also a risk worth taking because we understood that we needed to try something different.”

Grasshopper builds a dealership marketing program

Participating dealerships can create a standalone Grasshopper-branded website using templates that Grasshopper provides. Dealerships also have the option to embed Grasshopper content into an existing website. In either case, Grasshopper maintains the ability to control brand messaging from one central location. Each dealer website contains Grasshopper’s full product catalog and features promotional offers at the national level.

If Grasshopper wants to initiate a new promotion, update an existing product, add a new product, or retire a product, they can do so in one place without worrying about contacting individual dealers. Grasshopper adds the information at the corporate level and it gets populated to the network of local dealer websites.

This level of brand alignment enables Grasshopper to aggregate all the leads that come in from participating dealers. When a customer fills out a lead form on one of the local sites, it is distributed to the appropriate dealer who then gains immediate access to that customer’s information.

“Everything is managed from one central location, but each dealer has their own local site that they can customize. They can put in their own ‘about us’ copy, use photography that features their staff, and make the site their own. But the product content and the promotional content is all controlled at the national level.”

Says Simmon

A 50% dealer participation rate (and growing)

Simmon notes that about 500 dealers, or 50% of Grasshopper’s dealer network, is currently participating in their program. Within the first year of curating the brand-to-local journey with PowerChord, Grasshopper increased leads by 500% and online lead-generated sales by 80%.

At a cost of about $100/month to the dealership, Grasshopper offers its dealers a bundled package that includes the branded website and paid media which drives traffic and leads to the local retailer’s site. This solves the problem of working with dealers at different levels of internet connectivity because it enables Grasshopper to manage the digital marketing and lead generation tasks at the national level.

Here are some other success metrics that Simmon was able to share:

  • In the first year after implementing the platform, participating dealers saw a 15X increase in daily leads respectively
  • As of March 2021, participating dealers receive an average of 25 leads per month per dealer which amounts to over 25,000 leads per month for all participating dealers
  • A participating dealer is 200X more likely to capture a lead from a dealer locator form versus a nonparticipating dealer

“This is our primary method of delivering leads online. We still do trade shows and state fairs and get good quality leads out of those events, but when it comes to online tactics, this is how we’re sending leads to dealers.”

Says Simmon

Grasshopper recently announced their lead analytics tool that provides both brands and their affiliated local dealers the data to track and take actionable insights based on the progression of leads through brands and/or dealers’ sales funnel. The new tool helps dealers understand where leads are coming from on their sites, outlines how leads trend over time and shows where leads drive from geographically.

Simmon notes that they’ve also begun incentivizing dealerships who participate in the program by providing a bonus to high-volume dealers.

“If a dealer sells a certain number of units, the program becomes half price to them or it becomes free of charge to acknowledge that they’re doing great work for us,”

says Simmon

“Looking back, I think if we had done anything different out of the gate, we would have done that sooner.”

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