Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Just say AYES to on-brand thinking

In my quest for a topic to discuss this week, I came upon a very good organization that assists auto dealerships with staff training. That organization is called the "Automotive Youth Educational Systems" or AYES. Apparently 4,500 dealers participate in this organization to help stem the tide of service technicians leaving for greener pastures. Dealerships face a 60% turnover rate, mostly because they aren't happy. Now here is a brand problem - unhappy stake holders.

Throughout the United States there are 417 schools involved with AYES. The organization provides training through processes involving job shadowing, mentoring, employability skills and hands-on training. The goal is to prepare students for jobs at an entry level position. And the industry is supporting this effort with the involvement of 14 major players in the automotive world including Honda, Chrysler, Mercedes, BMW, GM and Toyota to name a few.

This effort is fantastic on a lot of levels. It is a good brand story if there ever was one. In an industry soaked in horror stories, this effort is a breath of fresh air. It has community involvement, corporate leadership, youth opportunities, employment, and educational benefits for starters. If a dealership is not involved with this group they might consider it if for nothing other than to put a brighter shine on their brand. Once involved, the dealership would be smart to make their markets keenly aware of their efforts. It is a great PR opportunity.

The fact that the car companies embrace AYES is a testament to changing attitudes within the industry. We have all read (and written) some pretty sad brand stories in this series on dealerships, but here is a silver lining worth investigating. As a side note for any dealerships listening, it seems this educational process actually reduces turnover and allows you to make additional profits as well.

Great branding is all about changing your corporate environment to reflect your positioning strategy and thus grow your sales and service products as a result. I think you will agree that AYES would be a great catalyst to get you moving in that direction.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Bad Auto Dealership Brands Are Good for Business!

This month I am participating in a lively discussion on branding auto dealerships over at Branding Wire. The following is part of that discussion:

Its been said that necessity is the mother of invention.

I was reading Derrick Daye's contribution to the discussion and a comment he made regarding Jiffy Lube got me to thinking that if it wasn't for the miserable brands of many auto dealerships a lot of very good auto service companies may not be in existence today. That means countless thousands of good customer driven employees would be out of a job - Ouch!

By extension, if if wasn't for the Big 3's contempt for giving the buying public fuel efficient cars back in the 70's, they never would have opened the door to imports who did exactly that and proved the public's desired for small fuel efficient cars. Now Toyota threatens their status.

The auto dealers traditionally high labor costs opened the doors to independent garages and chain repair shops. Their lack of respect for the very customers who keep them living large have over the years been responsible for the emergence of businesses who fulfill even the simplest of auto services - the oil change. Jiffy Lube thanks you for your arrogance.

If auto dealers were to clean up their brands and actually deliver a compelling service to their customers, would it not be BAD for the economy? What would be the motivation be for anyone to drop by a Belle Tire for some new rubber if their local autodealer provided them outstanding service, price and appreciation? Free coffee and magazine just isn't going to cut it in the face of sincere competence.

If auto dealerships actually earned the service awards hanging in their service bays, and could fix your cracked windshields with a smile while you waited, then what would the folks at Apple Auto Glass do to make a living?

If I were the after-market auto service industry I would be hiring lobbyists to help me maintain the status-quo with regard to auto dealerships. I certainly wouldn't be encouraging anything as stupid as correcting bad brands. I would even go as far as awarding them gold statues for keeping the auto service economy vibrant over these many decades. What good would it do anybody if they discovered that a loving customer could actually be a massive profit center for them?

What good indeed.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Here's the deal - Trust Me!

The entire model of the concept of buying a car is waiting for an innovator who refuses to do it as it has always been done. We are waiting for the Richard Bransons out there to show us a better way. IKEA has done it in the furniture business.

One thing is for sure - there is a huge opportunity for someone out there to get it right. Imagine if your entire experience involves a combination of online shopping, hands-on testing and a totally customizable experiences for the consumer before and after the sale. It's true as Steve Woodruff, from the Branding Wire has said, that we all have our own horror stories and that in itself speaks to the negative brand image of retail side of the automotive industry.

Are consumers ready for a totally honest experience from auto dealerships? By that I mean - would we believe them at any level? I believe that to launch a new experience model they would first have to do some grass roots homework and earn the back the trust of the public. The auto companies have to offer their audience a major aha moment on this front. Saturn started it with their attitude towards the customer at the dealership level. Perhaps the Auto companies will have to take back greater control of the dealerships so that they can better control the brand experience and thus not allow a dealership to narrow mindedly do business as usual. In many ways the lack of trust is mostly at the dealership level. A lot of the brand building is done at the national level only to be later trashed at the retail level.

To control the service experience might be easier if they directed the entire delivery channel. The after sale aspect is even more important in growing that positive brand experience. I live in the Windsor, Ontario/Detroit, Michigan area. Dealers here have also become a little sloppy about a good customer experience. Because many of their customers work for the traditional Big 3, they can purchase on the "plan". which is a generous employee discount. So if they mess up the relationship with me - no biggie, there is always another customer on the "plan" coming down the road.

The people I do feel badly for these days are the dealerships who ARE trying very hard to make the customer experience compliment the brand. The public's historic distrust in them in general can only be a little less than that of a politician. TRUST is the number one common denominator with all the posts and comments we see here in this discussion. It is definitely the place to begin redefining the auto dealership's brand. It will also be the environment with which to position itself with an absolutely unique selling proposition.

They lost my trust years ago when they started telling me that it's not a "used car" but a "pre-owned car" and a "no haggle price" is better than negotiating for a better price. That told me of their regard for my intelligence. Trying to dumb-down your customer can never be good, I still bristle when I hear those terms and that's definitely bad for the brand.

P.S. This post is part of a discussion over at Branding Wire. It is orchestrated by our friend, Steve Woodruff. I am a guest writer this month on the topic of branding auto dealerships.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Summer is a tough time to develop articles.

So here are some links...

Not being a writer, it is rather tough to come up with a couple of thought provoking articles a week. One for my personal blog (here) and one for Small Business Branding. And today I agreed to be this month's guest writer over at Branding Wire.

If you happen to enjoy great Graphic Design, check out David Airey over in Scotland. David is very talented and has a healthy respect for the brand. It is by far my favorite design site.

Tomorrow I'm off to a small art fair in Oakville, Ontario just south of Toronto. I paint in watercolour. Check out my works at Ed Roach Watercolours.

Another interesting site for any of you who happen to be millionaires or who have a millionaires taste for the finer things check out For Millionaires Only. I will be showing my work at this site in the near future.

And one last blog that has just come on stream is Mystical Michael. Michael is a fascinating man who is very engaging if you ever have the opportunity to meet him. His thoughts are very uplifting.

Have fun.
More blogs about http://brandcorral/blogspot.com.