Autobytel.com made a name for itself with big-budget, profile-building campaigns on the 1997 and 1998 Super Bowls. Now, it's ready to move on, as Mr. Benjamin and company aim to also make the Autobytel.com brand synonymous with automotive service.
"We are in a rapid transition into becoming not just a leading car-buying site, but the leading e-commerce provider for all phases of the automotive buying cycle," said Mr. Benjamin, who joined the company in July as chief marketing officer. That shift comes as Autobytel.com realizes what old-school auto dealers have long known: the real money is in the service department.
"Service is one thing that is of particular value because it runs through the entire life cycle, from the time you buy a vehicle to the time you sell," said Mr. Benjamin.
Bulking up its service capabilities, Autobytel.com bought the publisher of the Chilton auto-repair manuals, W.G. Nichols, in July. Mr. Benjamin said Chilton data is being integrated into the Autobytel.com site to enhance online auto-maintenance services.
That was followed by a deal to upgrade Autobytel.com's online banking center in partnership with online lender Lending Tree, and CMSI, an online credit automation center.
Autobytel.com already offers maintenance, insurance and auto-financing links, but will enhance them to draw customers who aren't shopping for cars, said Mr. Benjamin, 36, who came to Autobytel.com from VP-marketing at Multiple Zones International, Renton, Wash., a direct marketer of computer products.
Service capabilities "broaden our target audience substantially because only a small portion of the audience is in the market to buy a car. It's something that happens only once every several years."
SERVICE REMINDERS VIA E-MAIL
When consumers register their auto model and year in the site's "Your Garage" section, Autobytel.com can notify them by e-mail when routine service is needed. With the Chilton data, it can also give them standard parts prices and labor estimates, allowing them to shop more effectively for repairs.
In maintenance, insurance and financing, Autobytel.com follows the model it established with car shopping, offering quotes from a number of registered businesses.
But Mr. Benjamin said auto sales will remain central to Autobytel.com's advertising.
"To bring these things into the buying process is a great advantage," he said. "It doesn't necessarily require three campaigns."
Autobytel.com is currently in the midst of a six-month, $15 million TV campaign from Grey Advertising, New York. Employing one 30-second spot, it emphasizes what Mr. Benjamin calls Autobytel.com's core appeal: Hassle-free auto-shopping via the Web.
Although traditional media remains a big part of its budget, Mr. Benjamin noted that the Internet can no longer be considered an alternative medium. J.D. Power & Associates recently reported 40% of auto shoppers this year will use the Net.
"That number in itself speaks to the fact that our business is a mainstream