Posts tagged branding
As the vilification train continues to carry-on full steam ahead (not going to mention the hated company du jur), I ask myself, why aren’t dealers looking at themselves in the mirror? No one holds a dealership at gunpoint to utilize their products. I know I rant about this a lot, but when are we, as an industry, going to take responsibility for our own actions? We research every facet of our business, yet don’t take the time to research the people we do business with. For an industry that practically invented selling, we get duped all of the time.
Instead of grabbing our torches and pitchforks every time an outside company wants to disrupt the car business, let’s instead think of all of the reasons companies want to replace automotive sales people (they regularly get outside funding to do this, for $#&@’s sake). Let’s reflect on why the general populace has such a skewed and negative prejudice towards the dealer community. Let’s stop thinking in terms of PVR and start thinking total lifetime value of a customer. Let’s lift ourselves up.
Whether we like it, or not, the world has changed. Pandora’s box is already open. We can’t go back. Let’s embrace the continuing change in buying habits (REMEMBER: Every minute, people gladly pay more not to shop at Walmart, eat at McDonalds, or drink Maxwell House). Let’s add value. Let’s earn our money. Let’s set a benchmark in reputation. Let’s take away all of the negative ammunition anyone can use against us (venture capital money, or not). Let’s stop being the victim.
The best days are ahead of us, friends. Are you going to be a driver or a passenger?
After a couple weeks of decompression from Vegas, I’ve had a few sleepless nights to think about what I learned (remembered?) from my trip. It seemed that calls for branding were even louder than last year. As I listened to said calls, I looked around the room to gauge reactions. Some people nodded in approval, while others looked at each other with a quizzical look on their face, while others mindlessly tapped away on their iPhones. Over the years I’ve had many great discussions regarding branding strategy (When Business People Go Wild, I know). I went on a bit of a tirade on the subject last year, and it looks like it’s time for another one. It’s pretty clear that branding needs to be empirical. If you can’t touch it, feel it, smell it, taste it, then you can’t pass those senses along to potential clients.
Defining a brand is hard, which is probably why so few companies do it well (I’m going to go a little academic on you, so consider yourself warned). Webster’s has a few definitions for brand: a mark made by burning with a hot iron to attest manufacture or quality or to designate ownership; a printed mark made for similar purposes (trademark); a class of goods identified by name as the product of a single firm or manufacturer (make). Our oft quoted pal Seth Godin goes further, stating: “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.” In his newest book, “the End of Business as Usual,” Brian Solis came up with 9 Criteria for Establishing Brand Essence: Focus, Feeling, Individuality, Experiential, Consistency, Credibility, Longevity, Personal, and Portable. If you stayed awake long enough to read these different definitions you probably realize that it’s safer to take the 30,000 foot view.
Since we all can’t be Nike or Apple, let’s do an exercise. In Guy Kawasaki’s book “Enchantment,” he mentions his “Enchantment Hall of Fame” to get one’s creative juices flowing. He lists the following categories: car, Macintosh, airline, city, book, political leader, actress, engineer, TV host, female blogger, male blogger, singer, parenting, architecture, and clothes (I’ve included Guy’s list, as well as my own, below). I’m going to hijack Guy list for the purpose of example. Please proceed carefully: it’s not the fastest car, the hottest actress, the best band, or clothes you aspire to own. Just answer the questions (if you’re too cool for school, feel free to skip ahead):
|Car||’65 Mustang||Ferrari 288 GTO|
|City||Istanbul, Turkey||London, UK|
|Book||“If You Want to Write,” by Brenda Ueland||“Infinite Jest,” by David Foster Wallace|
|Political Leader||Nelson Mandela||Harry S Truman|
|Actress||Queen Latifah||Natalie Portman|
|Engineer||Steve Wozniak||Adrian Newey|
|TV Host||Mike Rowe||Jeremy Clarkson|
|Female Blogger||Jenny Lawson||Amber Naslund|
|Male Blogger||Robert Scoble||Christopher S Penn|
|Singer||Corrinne Bailey Rae||Layne Staley|
|Parenting||Adopting Children||Natural Biology|
|Architecture||Antoni Gaudi||Frank Lloyd Wright|
|Clothes||Aloha shirts by Anne Namba||Brooks Brothers|
I agree that some of these categories aren’t things that readily come to mind, however that’s why its an exercise. I’m also not going to argue with Guy Kawasaki because he has a bajillion followers in seven different galaxies, and more than 100 pages of reading after this passage. But let me ask you, can you can you give me at least five reasons why you chose your pick? Here are some easier ones for you:
|Restaurant||III Forks Austin, TX|
|Hotel chain||Marriott (JW)|
|Sports team||The Detroit Red Wings|
Take all your picks, and start asking yourself these questions:
- How do your choices/products make you feel?
- What memories do you have associated with them?
- What are you consuming?
- Where are you consuming it?
- If you have the choice, why are you buying it there?
- Do you feel a twinge of guilt when you do not go with your picks?
- Do you get a feeling of disappointment when something changes?
- Do you feel the need to share with someone at the company when your expectations aren’t being meant?
- Who are you buying it from?
- Where was it made?
- Who made it?
- How was it made?
- Who started the company?
- Where was the company founded?
- Do you ever go with the cheaper option?
If you can’t possibly answer these questions on a regular basis, it’s time to start. Let’s face it: these are gut-questions. These are also the same questions your customers have about you, as well as the products and services you sell. As consumer-facing automotive sites continue to consolidate, and the reliance on social media becomes stronger, the amount of differing opinions will continue to shrink. You need to understand the fundamentals of branding before it’s too late.
Learning what it takes to exude brand from everything you do, takes a great deal of time, consistent effort (ask Tracy Meyers if it happened overnight), and a ton of energy. Hopefully, by going through this process (and practicing) you will not only have a better understanding of your own tastes, but will begin to understand all of the dimensions of a strong brand. Continue updating your hall of fame. Who knows, maybe next year you will be the one doing a brand presentation.
When I flipped on the TV this morning, I was greeted by an infomercial purporting the next breakthrough in fitness training. We’ve all seen them before, promising dramatic results in 90 days; working where others have failed before. Despite the fact that these infomercials have been dominating American morning and late night television for decades, the rest of the world still calls us fat.
Twenty seconds later, I flipped the channel to something else. The first commercial that came on was for a revolutionary new supplement that works within seconds, and “changes lives.” What really hit me was the bold yellow letters stating that is was doctor recommended. Would a medical doctor really publicly recommend something without FDA approval? Please…
My generation has been bombarded by these commercials for our entire lives. Biggest, largest, most, greatest, best, number one…we’ve heard it 1,000,000 times before. We have no choice, but to be skeptical. Person in a white lab coat claiming to be a doctor, seen it. D-list celebrity endorsement, heard it. BS, smelled it. We’ve nearly gone deaf from the boy crying “wolf.”
Falling into the abyss of ubiquity is now measured in seconds. Continuous radio bombardment has just become noise, that is, if you listen to terrestrial radio anymore. DVR has all, but killed TV commercials. Have billboards regained their impact from the fifties? How about those sandwich board spinners? How about the people on the side of the road freezing/roasting in the company branded t-shirts? Balloons? Inflatable gorillas? Gorilla suits? Do any of these things get your attention anymore? Not only are these “me too” techniques tired, but they simply blend into the texture of everyday life.
It only took a few generations, but advertising fads are over. Now many will groan that (the much maligned) social media is a fad (as was the Internet). I’ll be the first to say that many of the Facebooks, Twitters, and Foursquares of the world will collapse, be acquired, or evolve into something else. However, the visibility and amplification these companies have given John and Jane Public have utterly disrupted media as we know it. We no longer have to depend on clever marketing from Manhattan to tell us what we want. With the few strokes of the keyboard we can get advice from folks all over the country about where to eat, where to visit, and where to shop. Folks just like you and me. If they were alive today, guys like Marconi, Tesla, and Farnsworth would probably be pretty perturbed by this.
However, unlike most guys, Marconi, Tesla, and Farnsworth would’ve taken the time to learn how to use these social channels before jumping in headfirst. Despite the writing on the wall, many car dealers still stick to the establishment; cranking out TV and radio commercials touting the newest, biggest, mostest, and bestest. Those who’ve heard about many of the new-media services, have taken to cranking out posts touting the newest, biggest, mostest, and bestest. These “leading edge” dealers seem to be more concerned about being on the new-media services, as opposed to reaching out to those who turn to these emerging services as respite in the first place. Keep chasing people with stuff they don’t want to hear, and they’ll just keep running away.
The alternative is to embrace the paradigm shift. Open your arms to those who are tired of being chased. Take off your white lab coat, and become a person. Fire the D-List celebrity, and promote yourself. See through the whizz-bangery of technology, and use it as a common thread to connect to people. Turn off your inflatable gorilla, and tell someone the story about it. Stop looking for something to believe in. Become someone to believe in.
If you happened to study business in college, or are a corporate strategy junkie, you’ve probably heard of Michael Porter. If you haven’t heard of him, Porter is an esteemed Harvard Business School professor, served on Ronald Reagan’s Commission on Industrial Competitiveness, authored nearly 20 books (Amazon carries thirteen of them), and has published countless articles. Most would agree that Porter’s prophetic work has laid the foundation for the last 30 years of competitive strategy. I’d have a poster of him on our bedroom wall if my wife would let me. While Porter’s work has spawned numerous books, essays, and academic articles, I want to concentrate on one key piece: core competency.
Simply put, a company’s core competency is what only that company can do best. Ideally, this particular factor is not easily imitated by its competitors, and can be leveraged widely through many products, in many markets. For example, ADP was able to adapt its payroll technology it developed in the 50s for use in multiple industries, in multiple markets, and plays an integral roll (like it or not) in the car business. The better a company understands and develops its core competency, the more dominant position it will have in its market.
A lot of things happened long before you got into the car business. Slow, unreliable, cars made a dealership on every corner practical during the time franchise laws were written. An onslaught of foreign competition flooded the markets during the seventies because the domestic car business wasn’t prepared for rampant inflation and a decade of oil crises. The widespread suburban sprawl of the last twenty years has only paved the way for upstart competition that never existed across town. Oh, and that Internet “fad” happened, too. You can’t count on your location, your OEM, or having the most/newest/cheapest/bestest cars in town. In a 100-year-old business, it’s all been done before.
What hasn’t been done before? You.
You are an individual. You’ve collected years of rich life experiences that make you unique. Nobody can replicate you (scientifically, maybe, but not your personality), just like you can’t copy anyone else (unless you want to be known as a fraud). You are not the cheapest available option (and neither is Apple, Nike, Ducati, or John Deere, by the way). You have values, you add value, and people gravitate towards you because you possess certain qualities. Understanding these qualities not only allows you to transact with customers, but it will allow you to mentally connect with them, as well.
Many of us fall into the of trap copycatting. We feel that if we follow in the footsteps of someone we know, or a brand we admire, we can achieve the same success. How did Microsoft do with the Zune (you’ll never get that $200 back)? How’s IBM’s PC business working out for it (congrats, Lenovo)? How’s Buzz doing for Google (that buzz you hear is Twitter laughing)? Even the best companies can fall short when they fail to connect with the customer by straying too far from what they do best.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. It’s easy to read articles, attend webinars, attain OEM certifications, and comb through blog posts. Reading and retweeting the latest Seth Godin or Guy Kawasaki post only takes two clicks. Simply following the pack doesn’t create any hurtles for someone who just wants to copy you. In fact, it makes it much easier for them to follow. If everybody is following best practices, you aren’t creating any distinction to set yourself apart to the customer.
Instead, use best practices to create a foundation for you to build on. Understand the philosophy of the author or presenter. Frame it in the context of who they are, where they’re at, what they know, and more importantly, what they stand to gain. Now focus it through your lens. Apply it using your words, your emotions, your experiences, your research, to your customers, in your market. Measure your results (every variable you can think of, not just what’s required), and discover where you excel. Use these strengths as the bedrock on which to build your core competency.
Unfortunately, Michael Porter is too busy solving global issues (seriously) to turn his attention to the auto business. It doesn’t mean you can’t. Understand those qualities that your competition can’t emulate. Don’t count on someone else to carry you to success. Dedicate yourself to recognizing and measuring your strengths to feed your core competency. Be proud of what you do. Blaze a trail that no one can follow, create an unbreakable bond with your customers, and build a fortress that no one can knock down.
Normally, I have the topics of my blog posts picked out well in advance of posting, however this month I can’t stop thinking about the events that are happening right now. During the last few months of last year, and the first couple weeks of 2011, I’ve been involved in some eye-opening conversations. The subject matter of these conversations is now a matter of public discussion (or amusement?). Whether you’re pointing and laughing, or disappointed, we need to realize that we can be our own worst enemy.
One of the reasons I got involved in the car business is that I wanted to help improve the negative reputation car salespeople have. A variety of polls conducted over the years have shown car salespeople to be viewed among the least honest and ethical of any professionals. While some of the sources are questionable, the granddaddy of pollsters, Gallup has shown in a recent poll that car sales people are tied with lobbyists as the least trusted of professionals. Congratulations us.
I’ll admit it’s bad form to send someone off a blog post before it’s finished, but do me a favor: run a Google image search for car salesman (or just follow this link). What do you see? Is that you? Are you the guy smoking the Grenadier? Are you the guy with the Mr. T gold chains? Are you the guy with the plaid suit? Didn’t think so. Unfortunately, this is how people see us.
So, what are we doing to fix it? Apparently, we’re adding more fuel to the fire.
I’ve certainly seen some questionable car sales practitioners over the years, but I’ve also seen a lot of good ones, too. The funny thing is that you don’t hear much about the good folks. Certainly the nefarious ones have customers who are more than vocal about their dissatisfaction (their customers are friends and family to everyone else, by the way). For some reason or another, you don’t hear much about the sales people with strong moral fiber. Or the sales people, who are youth ministers, involved in 4H, participating in Relay for Life, volunteering at animal shelters, or have served their country overseas. Or how about the professionals who have not only read the blogs, but have developed their own expertise, created their own strategies, and have shared their own success with others. We all work with people like this, or at minimum, have made their acquaintance. Why don’t we hear more about them?
Instead of learning more about exemplary sales people, we get to hear and read about new consultants who seemingly pop out of the woodwork. Unfortunately, the term consultant is a bit ambiguous in the retail automotive world. In the rest of the business world, as well as in health care and the public sector, a consultant typically possesses subject matter expertise and pedigree that is well beyond what can feasibly be attained in-house. Look at the executive leadership of Accenture, Deloitte, and Booz Allen Hamilton, to name a few. These folks are among the very best the world has to offer. Our industry, on the other hand, is wrought with empty-chested, fly-by-night “experts”, who glorify the negative stereotypes, charge exorbitant fees, plagiarize material, and seem to multiply by the month.
This is what I find most troubling. The dealerships who have recognized the need to change, and decided to commit considerable resources to bringing in a consultant have to choose from “experts” who fit the negative stereotypes they need to change. How exactly do you expect to overcome these pejoratives if you continue to contract the same type of people who ruin reputations in the first place? Moreover, how can dealers hire them in good conscience when there are videos on YouTube of them publicly flaunting their jewelry, McMansions, and sports cars?
The true measure of a consultant’s success is not what they have financially accomplished themselves, but what their clients have financially accomplished on their behalf.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I too possess some of the above items. I wear a (1) gold chain, and, from time to time, wear an aspirationally branded Swiss watch. The gold chain (and the gold crucifix that hangs from it) was given to me by my deceased grandfather after I went on a pilgrimage to see the Pope sixteen years ago. I’ve only taken it off for medical reasons. The watch I purchased several years before I was in the car business when I was doing due-diligence at a venture capital firm during the go-go dot-com days. I’ve acquired my fair share of material possessions over the years, but you won’t see me flaunting them on YouTube (you’re welcome). I take far more pride in the results I have achieved on behalf of my clients.
Whether you are new to the business or have been involved at multiple levels for many years, it is our burden to overcome these stereotypes. How do we do that? We can start by:
- Offering consistent and outstanding service.
- Overwhelming customers with honesty.
- Educating customers with information that is not available online.
- Adding so much value that we are indispensable to our customers.
- Sharing personal details about ourselves.
- Participating (regularly) in our communities.
- Supporting causes.
- Hiring manageable people.
- Working with skilled trainers that produce verifiable results.
- Resembling the nurses, military officers, pharmacists, and teachers who have strong professional reputations (and who are our customers).
If we do these things every day, we can surely start to chip away at the negative reputation we’ve given ourselves.
If you want to keep reinforcing these stereotypes, just keep dressing yourself like a Kay Jewelers vomited on you. Keep asking customers if they are calling about the (nonexistent) specials. Keep practicing the underallow/overallow numbers game. Keep on not using your CRM/ILM to capture important personal information. Keep flaunting your material wealth (and general douchebaggery) on YouTube. Keep winking sweet nothings at the camera. Keep promoting yourself as an expert when you haven’t been recognized as one. Keep doing these things… and let those of us who want to be recognized as respected professionals blow right by you.
Like many of you, I have sat through multiple presentations and webinars regarding social media. While some may touch on it, and others may focus on it, the term “brand building” comes up quite frequently. While on the phone with a dealer recently, it occurred to me that a good portion of our peers may not quite understand brand building, and hence, have a hard time applying it in the real world. For social media, this is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.
Simply put, a brand is the identity of a business, product, or service. What comes to mind when you think of Coca-Cola? How about Nike? Now maybe Apple? I’ll bet somewhere in your mental imagery, classic white script across a red background came up, along with a swoosh, and a glowing white apple with bite taken out of it. These companies have done an extraordinary job of marketing a consistent brand image, and have created a culture surrounding their businesses. If you need more examples, just walk into your showrooms. You will see brand imagery everywhere.
What comes to mind when you think of your own dealership? (Note: this works best when you think of the positives.) Is it a dedicated, veteran sales staff? Is it consistent OEM recognition? Is it community involvement? What makes your store different from the one down the road? Hopefully, multiple things come to mind. Take those thoughts and jot them down.
Now think about how you want your customers to perceive your dealership. When they think about your store, what images do you want them to conjure up? How are they perceiving your identity on your website’s homepage? If you are drawing a blank, then it’s time to start working on that. Ultimately, it’s up to your business to craft that identity.
I think we are all well aware that Coke, Nike, and Apple have millions of dollars to commit to advertising agencies, not to mention the top-notch marketing talent they have available to them in-house. They are global brands competing on a global scale. Should you aspire to have their type of brand awareness? Absolutely! Do you need their millions of dollars to reach your market of 30,000 people? Absolutely not!
You have the advantage over national advertisers. You understand your own market better than they do. You understand how your closest consumers talk, think, and dress. If you are using your CRM properly, you may even have notes on where people go to church, where their kids attend school, and how much their fifth-wheel weighs. This information is available to you for free!
Speaking of free, those commercials you normally fast forward through are full of free inspiration. Try actually watching some commercials. What messages are you taking away? What tag lines are you hearing? Tune-in the next time you see commercials from mega-brands like IBM, Microsoft, GE, Red Bull, Starbucks, and UPS. Pay extra attention to what your OEMs are advertising and the images they are reinforcing. Take note of the fact they are not advertising “the largest inventory,” “rock-bottom prices,” or “(region’s) number one (whatever)…”
When you are ready to start coming up with brand ideas, talk to others. Bounce ideas off your spouse. Ask your friends. The wider the variety of people, the better. Then, sit down with your coworkers over some pizza and start brainstorming. Try to come up with one sentence that best describes your dealership (or department).
When you feel good about what your network has to say, have the same conversations with your most loyal customers. In fact, take a walk down to the service department and have that conversation with customers while they are having their maintenance performed. Find out if your brand identity is in line with a perceived value (be prepared for the worst). Compare notes. If the messages are the same, fire up the marketing machine. If they are not, you need to dedicate yourself and your teammates to bringing the ideas closer together. This is when you employ brand-building efforts (like social media, video marketing, and dare I say, a TV ad) to distill your message down for consumption by the masses.
Sounds like hard work, right? It can be, but it’s well worth it. Your customers will know what separates you from the competition. You will attract customers who are looking for an alternative to their local dealer. You will create a value proposition beyond price. Best of all, you and your teammates always have a guiding principle to fall back on in times of question. Trust me, you’ll forget about the hard work when you immediately start reaping the benefits. It’s “time to change everything,” “have a Coke and a smile,” and “just do it.”
There have been several great books that have been published about brand building or indirectly touch on the subject of branding. One that immediately comes to mind is the Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for turning Ordinary into Extraordinary, by Joseph Michelli. While it wasn’t written specifically about branding, it caused me to evaluate my business practices and offered some great perspective. It’s a short and compelling study so you should have no trouble finding the time read it. (I read it in one plane trip). If you have some books that have been inspirational to you, please share. Now that the gift-giving holidays have begun, we can add some books to our wish lists.