With all due respect to my esteemed colleagues, there is no shortage of branding “experts” in the marketplace today. Many, however, simply aren’t necessary; especially for an entrepreneurial business like a motorcycle dealership. You’re never going to be Disney or Coca-Cola, so stop listening to those who peddle essentially the same methods for your business model. Let’s remember, the largest megastore in the powersports industry is a tiny, niche enterprise compared to traditional Corporate America. Although business principles are universal, the methods of building a brand just aren’t the same when you’re comparing a Nike to a “Bob’s Kawasaki.” Your dealerships’ entire annual revenues would amount to little more than a rounding error within a typical publicly traded corporation.
“But I need to build my BRAND!” you might exclaim, and you’d be right. You DO need to build your business’ brand in the marketplace. Powersports may be a niche vertical, but within that space you must establish yourself in the minds of consumers if you intend to grow long term. Sales strategies and tactics deliver short-term results, but only a solid brand will ensure growth for decades.
Here’s a secret many marketing/branding experts won’t tell you: Branding is NOT something you buy. Branding is not advertising; it is not marketing, nor is it events.
Branding is what you are in the mind of your customers.
Most people realize how brands can define consumers; understanding that people identify themselves (consciously or subconsciously) via the brands they patronize. Yet brand identification isn’t exclusive to fashion victims and teenagers. The consumer choices we all make determine our lifestyle. Another important point: Branding and brand identification are not exclusive to high-end products. Wal-Mart and Payless Shoes possess brands just as powerful as Gucci and Rolex. Volkswagen’s brand is as valuable as Ferrari’s.
Now think for a moment about each of those brands I just mentioned – they all mean something to you. Then think of Apple, Ducati, Marlboro, FedEx, Mercedes-Benz, Ikea, Disney, Nordstrom, Fox Racing, Snap-On, BMW and Harley-Davidson. Each word sparks something in your mind. What pops into your head — good or bad — is that particular business’ BRAND in the marketplace.
Although those companies spend millions on advertising, it’s not the advertising that made the difference. Apple didn’t become the most valuable brand in the world by superior advertising spend — it is due to their products and how people feel about them. Ditto for Disney, Nordstrom, Hilton, Ducati, etc.
So let’s rephrase that axiom: It is the customer’s experience with Apple products that made them the No. 1 most valuable brand in the world. And that brand literally defines the company.
Back to your dealership: how does this knowledge help your business?
Bottom line — you can’t afford to spend millions telling consumers what to think about your store. Yet for better or worse, your dealership already means something to customers — what does it represent? That’s the question you have to answer with brutal honesty: how is your business defined in the mind of your customers? That’s your brand.
Now comes the tough part:
- You have to learn what that brand actually is. What are you in the mind of your customers? What is their experience with you and the products you sell? Look at your online ratings, secret shop your store, listen to phone calls between clients and staff and ask questions of those who don’t buy from you. Be prepared to uncover the worst if you intend to learn what customers really think.
- You must decide what you want your brand to be. How do you want to be represented in the mind of buyers and prospects? Remember, you can’t be all things to all people. What makes your store special? What are you better at than anyone else? What is the experience you want for your customers from the moment they first engage with you? There are no wrong answers here. Every store is different, and should celebrate that fact. Figure out who you want to be, then craft a plan around that.
- Change. Begin and end with the customer experience. Once you’ve decided what you want to be in the mind of consumers, create that experience for them and stick to it. Build systems — not people — around the customer experience you want. Systems can be duplicated; people cannot.
When Hyundai was launching their new high-end vehicle, the Equus, they understood how luxury doesn’t just mean a leather interior. It means a brand, and they didn’t have one for Equus. So to build that brand, they crafted a unique customer experience based around a concierge service for Equus prospects and owners, treating them as if they were buying a private jet. That concept works for Hyundai and their clients, but what is the concept that fits your store and your customers? There are no wrong answers; just begin by asking the question.
Motorcycling may be a niche vertical within the world economy, but your dealership can and should become a valuable brand in your customers’ mind. Every rider is unique, every motorcycle special; therefore every powersports store should be just as iconic. By successfully building the experience you want for clients and staff, you begin to forge a brand. That brand will last beyond the next new model year, it will last for generations; passed along and further crafted by your children.
That’s a legacy of tangible, lasting wealth — a brand we’d all like to identify with.
Chris Clovis has had the honor and pleasure of 24 years in the powersports industry, currently as National Vice-President of Eaglerider Motorcycle Sales. Although considered an “expert” in sales, marketing and branding, Chris asks that you don’t hold it against him. Chris’ opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer or clients. Chris lives in Los Angeles with his family.