July 30, 2021

Dick Hannah's Sean McKannay Humbly Pushes the Envelope where Marketing and Tech Converge

Welcome to our Authentic Series. Our inaugural interview features Sean McKannay, CIO & Digital Marketing Director at Dick Hannah Dealerships.

Dick Hannah's Sean McKannay Humbly Pushes the Envelope where Marketing and Tech Converge

If you visit Sean McKannay’s LinkedIn page, it would be easy to scroll right past his “About” section. We advise against that. As CIO & Digital Marketing Director for Dick Hannah Dealerships, McKannay takes the time to lay out his roles and the principles for each one. Sure, it’s an exercise many of us acknowledge wanting to do, but, let’s be honest, most of us don’t. After chatting with McKannay about his 20+ year career at Dick Hannah Dealerships, you realize that McKannay has not only taken the time to write out those roles and corresponding principles, but he has also disciplined himself to allow those principles to guide and shape him, and his associates.

In particular, his third principle under leadership, “Be humble – seek wisdom, realize you don’t know everything, and never hide behind a title,” stuck out as we talked about the intersection of technology and marketing and his approach to being captain of both.

What led you into the automotive industry?
When I graduated, I couldn’t find a job with my biochem degree in the Portland area, so I used my technology background. Then, a European company purchased the company I worked for, and so I looked for jobs that would keep me in the Portland area because my family and friends were here. I had plenty of attractive offers when I began talking with the Hannahs at the Dick Hannah Dealerships. They were hiring an IT manager at the time. I really liked the owners, and that’s why I eventually took the job, but it was kind of daunting. There were many projects, there was a lot of building from the ground up, and the Hannahs were also committed to the financial aspects of making it all happen. I’ve been here ever since. Just over 20 years now.

What drew you into marketing?
It was 2010, and we had a classic marketing department and had just hired someone to do digital marketing. It was pretty clear, because of a variety of things that marketing was shifting, with what Google was doing with AdWords and ad dollars shifting online. But the digital marketing director left, and the Hannahs came to me and said, “We want you to hire for that position and build out a digital marketing team.”

The interesting part is the Hannahs really wanted to understand Google Adwords. So we all went down to a Google class in Glendale, CA, and immersed ourselves for a whole weekend in Google Adwords and Google Analytics. That is a great example of the kind of owners they are. They wanted to understand the impact Google Ads could have on their business, how seriously they should take it, and what kind of effort should be put into it. It was obviously a big thing for us. I think some of our success has been tied to that, going back to that point in time.

Since your career began, what are the most significant changes you have seen in marketing?
Well, for me, marketing is just another way to use technology to drive results. So, without a doubt, one of the most significant changes in the last 10-15 years is Google. They launched AdWords, then they had their IPO, and disrupted the industry as a whole. Then Google Analytics launched in like 2005, which helped us technical marketers say to our vendors, “you’re doing all this, and I hear your rhetoric, but how much is it living up to actual truth? What is it really doing for us? Were people really engaging with us?”

Those are the significant changes where we continue to grow, and now it’s shifting again. I mean, the biggest change now is the cookieless environment. That’s a big shift, and we are asking ourselves how we navigate it. How do I educate my owners, our general managers, and people I meet with about how we should navigate it and the impact that it could have on us?

What’s one marketing tool you can’t live without?
Well, this isn’t a paid promotion, but one of the tools I rely on most really is Clarivoy because it ties to the KPI that I am trying to move the needle on, which is sales. So that attribution tool is definitely one of the ones I’m fully behind and wouldn’t want to live without it. It really helps me manage a large portion of my spending and hold companies accountable. I don’t want to say the vendors are deceptive, but it’s not like they’re looking at the data to verify that the products are working for every dealer in every market. So I appreciate the tool for being in the middle of that middleware space and helping us get some vision on how these things are moving the needle on the sales side.

Are you more an auto man or a marketing/IT man?
I’m more of a forward-thinking technology man. I’ve got a skill set that understands technology. I try to keep up with that because technology is rapidly changing. Then on the marketing side of technology, the changes are faster, so it’s a very fast-paced world. Google has 400-500 changes a year in its algorithms. So, I think of myself as a guy who is always trying to apply technology to just about anything.

What book are you currently reading?
Stillness is the Key” by Ryan Holiday
Actually, this is my third round through it. I’ve been so impressed with it, and it’s had a positive impact on my life. Basically, it gives a framework for how to achieve better peace of mind and self-control. It provides a lot of great examples of historical figures who have been in positions of either power and/or stress. I’m always looking for ways to improve my life -my longevity, my health, my awareness, my focus, and it’s been really good for that.

What words or beliefs do you live by?
“The great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude,” Ralph Waldo Emerson

What (technology) goals do you have for 2021?
Even though the life of third-party cookies has been extended, we remain focused on what I mentioned earlier, preparing ourselves for a world without cookies. What many marketers overlook is the fact that nearly 40% of consumers have been unreachable via third-party cookies since 2018 when Safari began blocking third-party cookies. This in combination with the huge cookieless marketing opportunities in OTT/CTV, reinforces why we are investing in our first-party data infrastructure. These investments will enable us to both create our own in-market audiences and reduce our dependence on third-party audience lists and third-party cookies.

So, from a technology-marketing perspective, this is the changing landscape; understanding that change, navigating it, and developing these authenticated audiences with Steve (White) is huge. That’s really my focus for the marketing side of things. And then tying it all together, with the closed-loop sales side.

Another one of my core goals for my technology team, which straddles both sides of my department – marketing and IT – is our data warehouse project. This project involves pulling in about 20 different data sources into our Azure environment and then using PowerBI to visualize and gain insights. One of my primary basic goals is to help reduce the hundreds of hours that our stores spend doing repetitive data pulling every month. In today’s world, this is entirely unnecessary. On the more sophisticated side, we will be constructing conceptual data models that will help us trend and relate efforts to gross profit factors. This includes our extensive marketing efforts. The data warehouse project has been an ambitious effort, but by the end of this year, we will have achieved many of our goals.