What's Your Dealership's Modern Brand Strategy?

By Ted Ings, Customer Experience Expert #CX. 

Mr Ings has been an automotive industry professional since 1981 and has personally delivered thousands of retailer initiatives internationally as well as successfully implemented dozens of OEM manifest programs.

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Every dealer has a brand. But not every dealer has a modern brand strategy. 

A strategy that assists the dealer in setting themselves apart from the competition. Having to do with everything from the brand logo, signature lines, campaign consistency, email blasts,  and mascots to name a few. 

These brand elements affect the way in which customers perceive your brand. Not having guidelines or restrictions - that protect your brand, the dealer - can open the dealer to unnecessary risks that can hinder the brand's image. In turn, affecting sales. Or better known as your bottom line.  

Here are some of the best practices when managing brand guidelines, and how your dealer can take  precautionary steps to protect their brand: 

Professionalism In Marketing

Not all of us are grammar mavens. However, today's technology offers several tools to check your spelling. Yet there are several campaigns launched - on the dealer level - with spelling errors, incorrect pricing, wrong phone numbers, and nonbrand messaging. This can hinder the customer's experience. Imagine if the customer were to have received an email campaign - clicking to call into the store - to only get the “this is not a valid number.” 

That greatly reduces their chances of taking the time to find your dealers phone number or email into the store to try and get ahold of the right person. And if they do take the time to call in to speak with someone that is not aware of the campaign, it just makes matters that much worse. 

Another key aspect to consider is the creative content on the marketing, itself. Wherein, it is best practice to use consistent fonts & colors. For example, if you want to have a “car” sale, and the email campaign is fusion orange - with the logo in a new color, with the incorrect pricing - it can cause for some issues or confusion.  Where, if the customer were to come in and expect that price on the car, but it was $3-4k off the correct list price - and the manager did not recognize the campaign sent out - the customer can leave very upset. And in some cases, blast the dealership for “false” advertising, which is unfortunate. 

That said, It is always best to review the OEM guidelines and keep consistent with branding. One of the best ways to keep consistent - in email or online marketing - is to use the same masthead (the top of the email or website, which usually displays the logo, hours, and number) so customers know who the dealer is that they are working with. Therefore eliminating any concern as to where the campaign came from. 

Ripping Images off of Google. Not Quite So. 

No harm in searching Google to copy and paste an image for a campaign, right? Not quite. In fact, in several cases doing so is actually illegal and an infringement on the company you ‘stole’ the image from. In which case, the company - if they were to find the image on the social campaign they could also sue the dealership. 

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All of this could have been avoided if the photo was properly purchased. This is imperative, especially for a business. The OEM’s usually offer a lot of artwork that can be used for dealer campaigns so long it is compliant. And if you do need additional branding images, there are several sites from which the dealer can purchase the photo. 

Consistency is Key to Effective Branding for External Marketing Efforts Whether that is A Sales Consultant or the Dealer 

Distorting the logo for various campaigns or social media platforms might seem harmless, but is not recommended.  As it gives the employee free reign to “rebrand” your dealer in any way they see fit, in which case it might not be on brand. For example, many Fortune 100 and 500 companies have extremely strict branding strategies, and they have them for a reason. 

Much like the OEM has strict standards on dealer websites.  Such as, but not limited too: logo use, font, colors, disclaimers, and pricing to name a few,  which assists in offering the customer a consistent experience - that reflects the companies - or in this case, the dealers brand. 

So when it comes to external marketing (brochures, social campaigns, email blasts, pop marketing) from a sales consultant - it is best to ensure that there are a means of checking the work before it is published. Think about this for a moment, with the turnover being as high as it is within the industry - giving access to a consultant to use your brand as they please - gathering customer data on social - for them to leave with that is not best for the dealership. Instead, it is best to brand the dealer. Allowing the sales consultant to be apart of the branding in a meaningful way. 

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Social Media Branding:  Do You Know What Your Sales Consultants Are Doing? Are They Affecting Your Brand Strategy?  

There is still the debate as to whether or not the sales consultant should be branding themselves or the dealership. This tip, though, is essential regardless of whether or not it is a dealer or employee social media page. Wherein, there are several sales consultants with social media pages across the platform who are using their dealer's logos and brand likeness - many without even being aware of it - in ways that might not be on brand with the dealership. Or in some cases, their social media page might not be compliant with the OEM, which could cost the dealer, not just a sale, but fines from the OEM. 

For example, if an employee of a dealership were to have a social media page and ran a campaign without the dealer's knowledge or permission using their logo - then any backfire that is a result of the campaign can also be reflected on the dealer, not just the employee. Making damage control that much harder. 

That said, should the dealer wish to allow their employees the free use of their brand-likeness for a campaign than it is best for the dealer to have strict guidelines. Making sure the campaign is not only OEM compliant, but in alignment with the dealers branding strategy. One way to assist in combating this issue is for the dealer to have a policy that mandates their being an ADMIN on the page. In which case, if the sales consultant were to part ways with the brand they are able to remove them from the page. 

Beyond the compliance aspect of branding, there poses the question should the consultant be trying to “brand” against the dealer as if it were their own business? Noting that the model - in the auto industry - is not a freelancer infrastructure, where the sales consultant pays to access the dealer's inventory. 

Logo Misuse. Biggest Blunder? The Signature Line. 

It is not common for a brand to have multiple logos. They usually have a distinctive logo, which is an integral part of their branding efforts. That said, the same principle applies to dealerships. Where it is not best for the dealer to have multiple versions of the logo used on various campaigns. That said (as a part of the dealer branding guide) it is best to outline the sizing restrictions and or modification guidelines. One of the biggest logo blunders dealers face is with their sales consultants signature lines. Where if you were to log into the dealers CRM, you would find several different versions of the signature line.

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Campaign Development. Work with your OEM. 

It is no secret that the OEM’s provide a wealth of knowledge for the dealerships. Yet so few dealers take full advantage of all of what they offer when it comes to brand campaigns. That said, your dealer's main point of contact can reach out to their Factory Representative to get in touch with the right person at the OEM. In which case, they can assist in showing the dealer the online tools available. All while keeping the dealer on brand with the OEM, offering a great campaign. 

How to Create A Modern Brand Strategy?

We all have to start somewhere, no? The best way to approach the creating and executing a brand strategy is to first map out all of the vendors that your dealer currently uses. Review all current marketing efforts - mapping them out on a calendar to avoid marketing overlap - ensuring that the logo is the current brand logo.  For those dealers who do give their employees the permission to use the logo then it is imperative to have a written policy that states how the logo can be used, fonts, branding concepts, and the process the sales consultant needs to go through before launching a campaign. 

There might be kick back initially from the sales consultant. However, at the end of the day, it is best to protect the dealership. Ensuring that all customer-facing campaigns are dealer approved. As the customer will associate their use of the branding as your dealer. Not the employee. Further, these are not meant to be seen as “limitations,” but rather guidelines as to how to be on brand. 

Now as for the actual strategy, itself, as mentioned above once you have outlined the current vendors in play for marketing - be sure to check the OEM’s marketing calendar. Looking to see what the thrust months are (thrust month: a month where the OEM spends more money in your market), and plan your own dealer campaigns between the thrust months. In doing so, your dealer can create a consistent flow of traffic. As it might not be best to spend against the OEM, but rather work with them. 

Bottom Line: This is by no means meant to dissuade dealers from allowing their sales consultants brand the dealer or themselves. However, what this is offering is that regardless of who is branding the dealer the content has to not just be on brand, but compliant with the OEM. Ensuring that all content - for the campaigns - are run through the main point of contact at the dealer. This will avoid unnecessary risks for the dealer as they might otherwise be unknowingly exposed to backlash for a campaign that is not in alignment with their core values. 

Having a brand strategy will also assist your dealer in achieving better results. Results that can add to the bottom line.  

A note from Ted Ings:

I work with clients in various ways and have several solutions to fit your needs and budget. If you are an OEM or Dealer Principal/Executive Manager looking to gain insight, strategies, and tools you need to take the lead over the competition and drive your business to the next level, then let's schedule a complimentary Discovery call to map out your plan of action together.