Create Your Own Brand

Branding is an auto industry buzzword long detested, rightfully so at times. Dealers have had a hard time determining its use in the retail environment. But those who understand branding's marketing relevance embrace it. Take Palm Springs (CA) Motors, a Ford, Lincoln-Mercury dealership. From a branding perspective, this store was full of potential nightmares. First, its name excluded any product identity,

Branding is an auto industry buzzword long detested, rightfully so at times. Dealers have had a hard time determining its use in the retail environment.

But those who understand branding's marketing relevance embrace it. Take Palm Springs (CA) Motors, a Ford, Lincoln-Mercury dealership. From a branding perspective, this store was full of potential nightmares.

First, its name excluded any product identity, a key branding element.

Second, it actually was located next to Palm Springs, but not in it.

Third, it existed in a market where most car buyers thought local dealers carried less selection at higher prices. Consumers drove more than 50 miles to shop at bigger, more competitively priced dealers.

Yet the dealership developed a brand it could deliver on. It did that through a practical, step-by-step process that included both internal and external research along with gut-level realizations of what makes it unique and what doesn't.

Today, while Ford Motor Co. is hurting, Palm Springs Motors is one of the leading dealerships of its kind in Southern California. It consistently increases and breaks records. Ask people in their market to describe Palm Springs Motors' unique points of difference, and they could tell you. That's retail automotive branding at its finest.

So what are the steps to developing your dealership brand?

  1. Do your homework. Find out what your community, customers and, most important, staff think of you. The good, bad and ugly. Conduct focus groups or surveys if needed. You can't do this on your own; your personal perception will be biased. You'll get nowhere without this information.
  2. Take a day away from the store with key personnel and no interruptions. Don't limit it to top employees. Sometimes your long-term porter, loyal receptionist or gung-ho new salesperson are best at helping define your brand. Ask this group the tough questions of what's good and bad about us, what can we change and what will never change. Then ask what you want to be known for. What will you take a stand for?
  3. Develop your 3-P's: Purpose, Principles and Positioning.

    a. Your purpose is the new-and-improved mission statement. It's better because it's required to be in one sentence. Customers will read one sentence that defines who you are, but few will read a paragraph. Your purpose is best described as your staff's reason, other than money, for going to work. This is often the hardest part of the process, but also the most rewarding.

    b. Your principles are a list of what you always, and never, will do. Make the list as long or short as needed. Think beyond customers. Think about staff. Think about personal morals and ethics. Most dealerships end up with at least a dozen principles.

    c. Define your positioning. This is the easiest part of the process because it flows out of your purpose and principles. Your positioning is the summary of what you are and aren't.

  4. Determine how to communicate your brand message, internally and externally. Start internally with your staff. Put elements up throughout your dealership that remind them of your 3-P's. Help them become brand advocates in everything they do. Externally, you probably don't need to change your ad budget. What you say will likely change, but if you're already a smart marketer, where you say it won't be different. Remember, a brand is a promise telling people what to expect. Deliver on that in every way possible.

Don't pass up the opportunity to market your dealership's strongest assets. Don't be afraid to take a unique position in your marketplace by telling consumers who you are and who you aren't.

You may exclude some potential business in the process, but the business that remains will be much more profitable. You'll no longer need to rely on the lowest price or the most convenient location to drive traffic. Best of all, you'll change from a commodity defined by price to a brand defined by your customers.

Cheril Hendry is CEO of HLF Brandtailers located in Irvine, CA. She can be reached at [email protected].

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