Often, a business that is part of a franchise will have trouble carving out its own niche. Usually it is the company selling the franchise that is responsible for developing the branding message for all the franchisees. The automobile industry might be the exception to the rule.
The manufacturers do try to brand their products with slogans and marketing. For example, “It doesn’t just raise the bar; it is the bar,” “Let’s go places” and “The power of dreams,” to name a few. However, unlike most franchises, car dealers do more to separate themselves from the pack than almost any other business. It is not unusual for a dealership to not only promote their business, but to compete directly with the other franchisees.
Branding has been around for a long time. According to Google, the modern word “brand” is derived from the word “brandr,” a word from the Ancient Norse meaning to burn. By the late 1500s the meaning had changed to refer to a mark burned on cattle to show ownership. After reading that, it made sense to me that our current method of branding is a way to burn our core values into our customers’ minds.
Some companies are so successful at branding their message that their name can denote an entire industry. Go Xerox, Amazon Prime and I’ll have a Coke, are examples. Others use branding to control a complete segment of a certain market, electric cars – Tesla; guaranteed low prices – Walmart; taste great, less filling – Miller Lite.
When it comes to branding your automobile business, the job becomes somewhat more unique. Most dealers would love to brand themselves different than any other dealer in their market place, but where do you start? Lowest prices in town, biggest inventory, relentless advertising are all methods that have been tried in the past. But to really brand yourself, you need to start with your core values. What is important to you, and more importantly, what is important to your customer?
It’s critical to start by developing those core values and letting everyone in your organization know exactly what they are. You need to hold everyone accountable for how these core values are presented to the customer. How do you want your business to be perceived, by not only your customers, but also your employees? Build your business around those values. While the factory is branding their core values, you need to develop yours — and they will not always be the same.
Often, it will not be about price or advertising, but the customer’s ability to experience what makes you different. If the core value is about branding you as the dealer who spends his marketing dollar on the customer and not crazy TV ads, that message will resonate with not only your customer but also your entire staff.
The ability to develop your message can only come from you. Factory programs are great for branding the manufacturer’s product, but your message needs to be developed by you. What are you doing to give a customer a reason to buy here and service here? It does little good to spend your entire budget to get someone to buy something if you don’t give them a reason to come back for service and their next purchase.
I have a friend with a Hyundai store in Pennsylvania. He spends very little on advertising and yet he has increased sales tenfold since he bought the store almost 10 years ago. His core value is the money he would spend on advertising he is giving back to his customers in the form of a lifetime engine guarantee, lifetime oil changes and lifetime tire rotations.
He trains his people to sell the value and benefits of buying from their store. His branding philosophy is the same message, every day by everyone to every customer. The customers have bought into the message as well. His retention rates are in the high 70-percent range for both new and used cars. He calculates that he spends $68 per customer to retain them. This is not in addition to, but is the money he would spend to create a new customer. It works.
There are different ways to brand your business. Your main concern should be not letting someone else (the factory) brand it for you. Factory branding programs are designed for a broad demographic and must be so general that they don’t work for everyone. A program that develops your message around your program will have much greater results for your dealership and everyone working with you.