Sales+Marketing Branding General Fixed Operations

How to Understand Your Brand

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Ryan Alford has a phrase for the typical dealership’s approach to marketing: He dubs it the “yell-and-sell” approach. You’re likely familiar with it, he says; it usually involves the dealership owner standing in front of a green screen or a young woman walking down a line of cars and aggressively imploring customers to visit the dealership for the best service, sales or parts. Sound familiar? It’s the type of approach that tends to dominate dealership TV commercials—and it’s completely ineffective, says Alford, a former dealer owner, who is now a digital marketer with DOM360.

Sure, it might be impossible to tune out, he says, but those traditional methods show a lack of originality and key differentiators. And, most importantly, those ads fail to truly express the core of the dealership’s brand to customers. Your brand isn’t yelling at customers to visit. It should be based on a set of core values and a comprehensive understanding of your company, your market and what you provide for the customers in that market. That understanding is the foundation on which all of your marketing should be predicated—and it’s relatively easily achieved:


1) Understand your market.

Most dealers have a relatively well maintained CRM database, Alford says. It’s vital that you both maintain that system well and mine it appropriately. Look into tools that help inform search and social media campaigns, like Oracle, which can help you drill down into the exact make/model that the person owns and heavily target the message.

“The more targeted, the further your dollars will go and the better it is,” Alford says.

It’s not enough to simply describe your audience as “car buyers,” for example. You need to get more specific, he says; identify your target audience member by gender, age, interests, family and social habits. Your audience can even vary by make and model, so it’s vital to understand those differences among customers.

“That modeling and managing that customer database within the dealership, plus knowing when and how to target them—that’s the secret sauce,” Quinn says. “It just takes time to get yourself going.”


2) Determine your voice.

Back to that yell-and-sell approach: Not only is it ineffective, but Alford says it fails to answer the No. 1 question consumers have when shopping for a business: Why should I buy from you? That “why buy” discussion, he says, should be at the forefront when determining your dealership’s voice. Look at elements that differentiate you—geography, family owned, a certain number of years’ worth of experience—and find common themes or threads that can be combined with a strategic plan to bring to life the story that you’re telling.

Even an older brand can easily be modernized, Alford says.

“If it’s been around that long, it’s for a reason,” he says. “Leverage that experience. They’re a name the local community can trust.”

It may sound overly simple, but Alford says that managers are frequently surprised to find just how easily the brand voice and the company’s biggest selling points emerge once those conversations begin.


3) Figure out your message.

Despite having a specific voice and understanding of your database, any marketing method will fall flat if those elements aren’t accompanied with a clear message, says Marty Quinn, customer service operations manager for Toyota Division's Cincinnati region. The fact is, he says, negative consumer perceptions of dealerships still exist, so conveying speed, quality and value are still hallmarks of any marketing campaign [See Sidebar: Carrying Out an Effective Message].


Marty Quinn's Process for Carrying Out an Effective Message

The product: ToyotaCare, which covers normal factory-scheduled maintenance for two years or 25,000 miles

The message: Because price is not a consideration, the message instead communicates service and value in a number of different ways throughout those first two years

The message …

… Early in the lifecycle: Do you need help setting up the vehicle? Are there accessories you’re interested in?

… After 15,000 miles: Reminder to come in for service or promotion, for example, to upgrade to a certain brand of synthetic oil

… After 25,000 miles: Reminder to come in for 30,000-mile service, note about moving out of ToyotaCare and into ToyotaCare Plus.


The Real-World Perspective

Name: Paul Berman

Title: Fixed ops manager

Dealership: Burnsville Toyota in Burnsville, Minn.

Our service department has about 40 techs and we service roughly 200 cars per day. To do that, we have a brand-new facility that we built just for Toyota Express Maintenance that allows us to do 100 oil changes and tire rotations per day. Those quick services only take 15 minutes. The customer will be out within an hour if they come to express service. It’s a pit-style system so there’s a lower level and a technician stands beneath it and another does the top inspection. So, at any given time, three people are working on the car.

Most of the Toyota dealerships have some basis that they put on their website that’s very similar to each other, so we need to find ways to stand out. This is something we advertise on our website because it promotes convenience and price. It allows us to stand out and has huge benefits for the customer.

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