Departmentalize Your Branding
Brian Pasch assumes this will sound familiar to you: A dealership decides to invest heavily in modern marketing approaches to better deliver its brand to its core audience. The dealer sends its marketing team to training, and they come back with a number of new tools—targeted social media campaigns, digital advertising initiatives, Google products, etc.
And all of it is geared toward the sales side of the business.
“Many dealers have gone to marketing training over the past 10 years, but it’s mainly on the variable ops side,” says Pasch, founder of PCG Companies, a digital marketing, consulting and training firm for the automotive industry. “The fixed ops guys have been left out. They are given a budget and they spend it on direct mail.”
This is a backward approach, Pasch says, as your dealership’s fixed operations likely sees up to seven times as many customers as the variable sales side, according to industry averages. It’s critical to turn each of these customers into brand advocates, and do it in a way that permeates all three segments of a fixed operations department.
This is the approach Casey Jenkins has taken with her family’s dealership, Jenkins & Wynne, which operates Ford, Lincoln and Honda stores on one 31-acre campus in Clarksville, Tenn. Jenkins is the third-generation of her family to work in the business, and is inline to run the company when her father and grandfather step away. For now, she’s Jenkins & Wynne’s internet manager and focused on building the company’s online presence. And Jenkins’ holistic marketing and branding tactics have led to national recognition, first as a 40 under 40 winner with Automotive News and as a speaker at the Ford Motor Company Grass Roots Dealer Meeting.
She outlines her five principles to building a better fixed ops brand:
1. Understand your brand message, and how it relates to all departments. Customer service drives every decision at Jenkins & Wynne, Jenkins says.
“Anyone can sell a vehicle the first time,” she explains. “But it’s the service after the vehicle is sold that makes the difference. We try to show that big difference with our hands-on serving approach.”
This concept carries over into the business’s overall brand message. The dealership’s motto is “love where you’re going,” and Jenkins says that motto is incorporated on the logo and into all marketing pieces for each department. Consistency is key, as it helps unify each segment of the business—particularly in doing any marketing that attempts to make certain departments stand out.
“We want customers to love where they’re going, whether it’s with the vehicle they bought here, the vehicle they got serviced here or in any department,” she says. “We want customers to love where they’re going.”
Brian Pasch of PCG Companies says there are a number of ways to brand a fixed operations department, but one crucial aspect not to ignore: efficiency.
“You want to tell customers, ‘We respect your time,’” he says. “That’s a consistent message across all departments.”
2. Understand each department and its specific goals and strengths. “It’s just like a momma knows her babies; all children are not the same,” Jenkins says, letting out a laugh. “Every different department has a different feel.”
And there’s no way you can effectively brand each if you don’t have “an understanding of how that department works, the people that work in that department, and the customers that come to that department,” she says.
Get to know each segment thoroughly, and evaluate its best selling points and the goals it has. To do that, Jenkins suggests working with the leaders of each and allow them to share their thoughts on the best direction to go.
“We make decisions as a team,” she says of Jenkins & Wynne. “We try to be as inclusive with our team members as possible.”
3. Create a seamless message. At Jenkins & Wynne, the consistent message to consumers in all marketing methods is that the dealership and all its departments make doing business simple and worthwhile.
“We try to get that message out through multiple channels and be very consistent with our messaging,” Jenkins says.
The dealership has a mobile application that it uses to push promotions to consumers, Jenkins says, and each correspondence—whether it’s first-of-the-month service coupons or an ad for a large tire promotion or detail special—clearly defines the department for which it’s advertising, but it also keeps that message intact.
4. Find campaigns that connect to consumers. In 2011, Jenkins created Women at the Wheel, an informational website that aims to spark conversations about cars among female car owners and shoppers. Participants make appointments through the site for their vehicles to be serviced, and can ask general automotive questions in the site’s forum.
“It’s a site that came from the questions that women were asking over and over,” Jenkins says. “So many times, women are timid to come to an automotive facility. We want to equip women with knowledge.”
A more informed customer is a more confident customer, Jenkins explains, and it also builds trust with them that the dealership is willing to go that extra step to serve them.
Now, not every dealership is going to start a similar program, but Jenkins suggests looking at what the needs are for your customer demographic. What can you do to help improve their experience, community or personal lives that can build trust? How can you help them while building your brand?
Brian Pasch of PCG Companies says there are two critical customer perceptions that every fixed operations department needs to shed in order to connect with vehicle owners.
- Most customers don’t see franchise dealers as a local business. This came out of a survey Pasch and his team conducted entitled, “Consumers Speak Out About Service.” The majority of respondents, Pasch says, choose independent service centers or collision repair facilities because they want to support a local business. “The implied message is that others aren’t local businesses,” he says. “So, number one, fixed ops marketing should help brand the dealer as a local business that supports the community.”
- Customer service is king. In the same survey, Pasch says that respondents pointed to customer service on a number of occasions when asked about buying decisions. Referrals and online reviews are critical to growing a brand presence. “You want to be able to say, ‘We’re the highest-rated Ford dealer in Dallas, according to Google,’” he explains.
5. Don’t be afraid to stand out on social media. Social media is an opportunity to stay in front of your customers on a regular basis. More so than any other modern marketing avenue, social media connects with customers in a personal way, Jenkins says. And don’t be afraid to attempt to connect in a non-automotive-related way.
Jenkins says her social media platforms follow an 80-20 rule: 80 percent of all content is meant to be “real-life stuff” that humanizes the business and its team (photos of staff, events, jokes, etc.). The other 20 percent is automotive, brand or marketing related.
“We want to dismantle stereotypes, and one of the ways we can do that is through showing the people that we are,” she says. “Our repeat business rate is 92 percent, and we’re honored by that. … We don’t want to sell on social media. The goal is to build trust, and make a connection, just like with all of your marketing pieces.”