I love to ask dealers what their “brand” is and then listen to the response. Ninety percent of the time dealers respond with the makes and models they are selling. I follow up by saying: “No, not the brands of vehicles you sell, what is your brand.” Do you know what your brand is? What it represents? Most importantly, do you know how your customers and potential customers in your marketplace define your brand?
Here are the most common responses I hear regarding the “dealership brand”:
- The discount leader (or some variation on the theme).
- The best service department in town.
- The volume leader.
- We’ll beat any deal (We’ll beat any price).
- Three (or four) generations of service (or variation).
- Nobody sells for less.
- We’ve been here 70 years so we must be doing something right.
- Honesty, integrity and a good deal to boot (or variation).
- We can get anyone financed.
These words and others like them are not a brand. They are slogans and tag lines but they don’t really tell your brand story. If you doubt this, ask five of your customers how they would define your brand. You might be surprised. Pleasantly, or otherwise.
Defining your brand is a critical step in the overall marketing process. Your brand is positive differentiation from all of your competition. Brand identity knowledge helps you focus your hiring, your training, your signage, your display and your advertising. It might even help you keep your bathrooms cleaner and your shop neater.
Several years ago I asked a well-regarded Chevy dealer what he thought his “brand” was. After thinking about it for a short time he told me his brand was his people. He then began to reel off the names of team members that had been with his organization for many years, some of them working for his father while he was still in high school. This dealer was looking for a new advertising campaign. I suggested that he talk about the uniqueness of his “brand” through employee testimonials, interesting stories about team members on the dealership website and the reasons why so many quality individuals made working at the dealership a career rather than just a job. “You mean we shouldn’t talk about price?” he asked. On the contrary, I suggested he should talk about price, service and parts, used cars, location and convenience. And tie all of these things back to the dealership brand. After all, a big part of the reason for “lifetime employees” is a well-run dealership that understands the marketplace. It’s one thing for a dealer to talk about low prices, but imagine the impact of a service technician who has been with the company for 17 years talking about how proud he is to recommend the dealership to any of his friends…even the ones he plays poker with on Friday nights.
Brand identity runs much deeper than just a slogan or tagline. It is the very essence, the very “soul’ of your dealership. It’s what people remember you for and why they think of you at their time of purchase, or why they recommend you to a friend, relative or casual acquaintance.
Take your “dealership hat” off for a few moments and think about the “brand” of your favorite restaurant, dry cleaner or furniture store. It’s a lot more than just price, menu, convenience, hours open, etc. It’s the overall experience, the trust and the consistency that forms the synergy of that brand.
Think about your “brand.” Ask your spouse, your partner, your family members what they think your brand represents. Ask your employees. Ask your customers. Your “brand” should be the keystone of all your marketing efforts. This hasn’t changed in 100 years. In fact it hasn’t changed since man first chiseled carvings on rocks in a cave. Over the past 17 years I have written numerous articles on recognizing, building and reinforcing the dealership brand. In February of 2009 I wrote an article for this magazine entitled: “Advertising: Your Brand is Your Only Blue Sky.” (That’s a couple of words we haven’t heard too much about lately…“blue sky.”) If you’d like a copy of that article, drop me an e-mail (email@example.com) and I’ll be happy to pass it along. It’s true, the fruit of exceptional efforts and accomplishments is what every “sale multiple” is defined by. Real estate is just real estate. Makes and models come and go. The real value of everything you, and those before you, have worked for is encapsulated in that little five letter word: “brand.”
Once every few years I talk about a helpful strategy in defining and recognizing your brand. It’s a simple little template that will aid you in gaining insight from your employees and your customers. It’s not something you just print and pass out, this is a project you need to assign to someone with understanding of your marketing plans. E-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll send along a copy of the “brand survey template.” When you get it, have a meeting with your management and marketing people to determine the best control groups to survey. Once you get the information back, regroup to discuss the input. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with the exercise and you might even be amazed at the feedback. It just might take your marketing in a “brand” new direction.
Want a good read on marketing messages that help build brand? Try the book: “Made to Stick”, authors (and brothers) Chip and Dan Heath make the case for simple, unforgettable ideas. Chip Heath, a professor at Stanford’s business school and Dan Heath, a teacher and textbook publisher, offer a practical guide to effective communication, drawing extensively on psychosocial studies on memory, emotion and motivation. “Made to Stick” is an easy, entertaining read focused on six principles of brand building: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions and stories. Those initials spell ‘succes’ (sic).
They are, in fact, six powerful tools for brand building.
S – Simplicity: Streamline your message. Don’t put too many thoughts or ideas in the same ad message. The more information you try to convey, the less effective your message will be.
U – Unexpectedness: Surprise your audience with new information or something they don’t expect. They’ll be more likely to pass it along.
C – Concreteness: People respond better to concepts they can grasp. Rely on concrete examples rather than abstractions. Specific, clearly defined offers are a better motivator than general hype.
C – Credibility: Choose details and spokespeople with care. A dealer principal looking straight into the camera, or a satisfied customer expressing delight have more credibility than a celebrity endorsement.
E – Emotional: Why should anyone care about your product or service? It’s up to you to give them a good reason. Your marketing messages must sell with the same passion and conviction of your top performing salesperson.
S – Stories: Show, don’t tell. Find stories that illustrate how your product or service has improved your customers’ personal or professional lives. Customer testimonials are a very effective tool in telling your story from the customer’s perspective. Employee testimonials can be equally effective in conveying the brand image of your business.
And here’s to your ‘success’ in building your brand!