Category Archives: Brand Management

One last blog on the rebranding of AutoNation

Just because they’re introducing a new approach to presenting price/tradein/financing options to a buyer doesn’t seem to be a compelling reason to change the name of the business. There’s a host of expense and planning required to change the name (and probably some trade dress as well) for over 250 dealerships.
No, I suspect AutoNation felt their reputation was in some way tarnished and that a name change could change the reigning perceptions and boost sales and profits.

I don’t think that strategy works very well. Old brands tend to linger, particularly with folks who have had disappointing experiences with the dealership. Every time they drive by a location in which they’ve had a problem, that memory comes back no matter that a new sign bedecks the facade. And a bad experience at one shop lingers for the other shops bearing the same name.

I believe most people think a business that’s re-branding itself is doing so because it wants to rid itself of a bad reputation. I also believe people believe that only the name’s been changed. That applies also to businesses that have been sold and now “under new management”. Do we really believe anything’s changed? I expect the old reputation lingers, sometimes for years.

So what could AutoNation have done to redeem its reputation and sales volume? The best strategy I believe is to “fess up”. Admit their business practices were not “customer friendly”, that their people were not encouraged to be customer advocates. In short, be honest and candid. Demonstrate through this action that they have now adopted a new way of doing business.

The publicity alone would be invaluable.

So often a name change is a cover up. But if the elephant is still in the room, elephant shit is sure to follow.

Martin Jelsema

Elway retains his good name

As reported earlier, AutoNation and John Elway are parting company in the Denver market.

In that blog I speculated that Mr. Elway probably wanted more than AutoNation was prepared to pay to license the 17 dealerships they own that carry the marque name of Elway.

Seems the real story is a little different: Elway wanted to again be a dealership owner in his own right, and of course, he wanted to use his own name. So now that his original contract with AutoNation expired, he grabbed the opportunity.

Perhaps AutoNation would have renamed the Denver dealerships “GO” as they are in the process of doing nationwide. (I would have opted for keeping the Elway name if it was at all possible.)

But this brings up another issue for all branders who enter license agreements – whether for a name, the use of a song, the voice or image of a celebrity spokesperson: what happens when the contract expires?

That’s something a brand owner should consider when making the original offer. But just considering it is not enough. Utilizing a current fad celeb, and there are four or five on every TV screen in that category, may be problematic in four areas:

First, their popularity may be fleeting and you’ll end up with a dated brand in a year or two.

Second, they may pull some stunt – either drunk, high or just emotionally charged – that could tarnish the image.

Third, the celebrity may not renew, or ask more than the brander is willing to pay at the time of renegotiation, and thus the need to establish a new communication program which can cause a “disconnect” from the previous communications.

Fourth, the celebrity can “overpower” the brand, making the communications more of about him or her than the product and its attributes.

My thought that a brand should be differentiated in a relevant way through customer benefits, a company’s social responsibility, their service policies and distribution channels, the use of images and memes that convey a real promise.

Sacking John Elway: the brand not the man

Here in Denver, Colorado, we have a sports hero/legend who’s still revered by Bronco fans: John Elway. During his playing career, he purchased several auto dealerships and appended a new brand to each: John Elway Toyota, John Elway Chevrolet, etc..John Elway logo

In 1997, Republic Industries purchased the Elway franchise, and in 1999 as AutoNation, purchased another 16 dealerships in the market and co-branded them John Elway/AutoNation. Not long after that, the AutoNation logo took a secondary role to the Elway name.

Friday, AutoNation announced it will not renew its contract with Mr. John Elway, and what’s more, will re-brand its nation-wide dealership network with a new name: GO

My head swirls with ideas and opinions about this move. I’m sure AutoNation management, their branding consultants, consumer researchers and legal councel had many heated conferences before the decision(s) was made. Without being privy to sales trends, customer satisfaction research or financial considerations, my opinions can only reflect my experience in dissimilar situations, I’ve never had an auto dealer account. That said…

Assuming customer satisfaction scores were at least average for this market and that Elway did not price himself out of the market while negotiating a new contract with AutoNation, I suggest the John Elway name has a lot of equity in this market and shouldn’t be replaced. I wouldn’t care what goes on in other markets, in Colorado and environs, there’s still plenty of respect, bordering on awe, for this Hall-of-Fame QB.
I suspect on a national level, the real reason for rebranding AutoNation has to do with poor customer satisfaction and lower sales in relation to other dealerships in the markets they serve. Unless there are other mitigating circumstances, AutoNation is a pretty good name. Based on most accepted criteria a fine name, in fact. I know it was a name I resonated with the first time I heard it. I remember the name, I like the name.AutoNation logo

Here’s my take: It will be a very costly process to re-brand 272 dealerships over the next two years. There must be a lot of mistrust and bad buzz for this company to make such an investment. AutoNation has also stated they are going for a different experience on the sales floor – providing a single sheet with their best price, their trade-in allowance and their financing proposal so the traditional shopping experience will be more pleasant. But do you need to rebrand while introducing a “Saturn-like” sales experience? Let’s just say, on the strength of there public statement, I’d say no. A resounding no in fact.

Now for the last issue: the new name for AutoNation: GO. Yes, it’s short, memorable and even “catchy”. But I don’t seeing it in any way representing the company’s new effort to make buying a car less intimidating. I don’t see the name becoming a rallying flag for the “new AutoNation”. It’s a name that could fit just about any company, but few companies with relevance or credibility.

So that’s my take. I’d sure like to hear from you if you have an opinion one way or another on this move or about re-branding as a subject.

Martin Jelsema

Brand the Business or Brand Its Offerings?

Your brand platform and your branding strategy should dictate which.

We all know Proctor and Gamble emphasizes product brands. Tide and Crest and Pringles stand on their own. As they say in hi-tech, the company is “transparent” to the consumer.

During my time at IBM, we didn’t brand the products as such, we just named them to differentiate one from another. The brand was, and still is those three initials and all they stand for: IBM.

So which is best? The answer of course is: it depends.

I just advised the CEO of a startup software company to brand the company and make the product offerings subordinate. Why? In this case, all the offerings were directed at a specific target market. The CEO assured me that would be the constant in his strategy: to be a single-market server.

In addition, the software applications would not only be compatible, but in all likelihood would be sold as a suite or as add-ons to first-product purchases. The names of the unique offerings should, I suggested, have the same structure, and the logos and graphics should have a similar look to help with the idea of integration and compatibility. But the dominant name should be the corporate name.

On another occasion, my client was known only as a supplier of commodity-like agricultural chemicals, all sold under the corporate name. The products carried the corporate name plus a designation to identify them.

So when he desired to enter a non-agricultural market with a garden spray, I advised him to brand it on its own. Because he had no history with the garden market, either at the consumer or outlet level, the corporate name had no equity or credibility. By focusing on the product brand, he could establish product awareness without inserting another name (for instance, GetOut by ABC, Inc.) that might cause confusion or mental fatigue. In addition, by adopting or creating a product name specific to the application, it would be more likely to be relevant to customers scanning a store shelf.

The decision to emphasize one or the other is strategic in nature. It, along with many other decisions concerning branding, should be addressed soon after a brand platform has been created.

One of the functions of the brand platform is to define the basis for establishing the brand structure for a company. The brand platform should be an integral part of the business strategic planning process. I’ll discuss the components of a brand platform in future blogs.

Martin Jelsema

Sequencing your brand development

I wonder just how many entrepreneurs have come to me for help with establishing a brand or developing a brand strategy, but are dead set against changing the name they’ve already chosen? I can count twelve, and I’m sure there are others. Same thing has happened when one proudly presents a logo their 14-year-old daughter designed, and won’t give up even if it won’t work in half the needed applications.”Invented here” can be a problem.

But this is just the first and most obvious problem. The order in which many entrepreneurs tackle the elements of branding can cause major brand weakness.
Many have picked a name and registered it even before they’ve written a mission statement. They’ve written a tagline before they’ve identified target markets. They’ve developed a brand story after all the obvious elements are created and in use. And they’ll not have provided writers and designers with a brand platform on which the creative structure is to be built.

First thing first should be the rule

There is a sequence to developing a brand, just as there is to developing the business itself. When you get things out of sequence you find you need to start over which is expensive and time-consuming, or even worse, you live with a brand with weak elements that become more burdensome as time goes by.

I suggest anyone starting a business or introducing a new product follow the simple process outlined below:

+ Write a vision statement
+ Write a mission statement
+ Write down the goals of the business or product
+ Describe the business model you are planning to implement
+ Identify the market segments you will serve
+ Identify the product category in which you will compete
+ Identify and assess your major competitors
+ Write your business plan
+ Incorporate your branding strategy in the business plan

At this point, you may want to consider bringing in a branding consultant to help you fashion the branding strategy. He or she should be able to translate and integrate the vision, mission, goals, business model, and the information concerning markets, product categories and competition into a brand platform. The brand platform is in turn an integral strategy laid out in the business plan. Upon completion of the business plan, and not before, you can begin to think of names, logos, taglines, color palettes, etc.Then, the process of branding the business or product can begin.

+ Create brand story
+ Create branding creed (principals)
+ Generate name candidates
+ Screen name for availability, obscenity and adverse connotations
+ Select three to five name candidates
+ Develop name preference questionnaire
+ Survey members of relevant market segments
+ Select and register name

Once the name is selected, other branding elements can initiated, probably in the order below:

+ Determine if a tagline needs to amplify the name.
+ If so, generate tagline candidates
+ Select several candidates for evaluation by market segment members
+ Select final tagline.
+ Bring in graphic designer with branding experience
+ Create logo candidates and color palette
+ Select several candidates for evaluation by Market segment members
+ Select a final logo design

At this point, materials can begin to be prepared for use in soliciting investors/bankers/partners. But there is more to do as outlined below.

+ Document color palette, type fonts, illustrative styles and other visual elements of the brand
+ If audio signature is desired, brainstorm and then create appropriate sounds, music, voice using professional talent
+ Select several candidates for evaluation by Market segment members
+ If a video/flash signature is desired, brainstorm and them create appropriate clips, commercials, presentations using professional talent
+ If a web site is desired, brainstorm and then create your website and/or your blog using professional talent
+ If packaging, signage, marketing materials are required, brainstorm and then create the required materials using professional talent

There may be additional items and requirements to address. There certainly will be as time passes. But for a business or product launch, the materials above will suffice. There is one more vitally important component of the branding process that needs to be developed at this point:

+ Develop a Brand Style Guide/manual.
+ Hold meeting(s) with employees, and possibly supply chain members, to provide them an understanding of the brand and their part in communicating and representing the brand
+ Distribute the Brand Style Guide to all suppliers, distributors and employees who will be producing materials, or in any way representing the “brand”
+ Post the Brand Style Guide on the Internet, along with logos

So there’s a sequence that builds from idea through launch of a potentially strong brand whose elements are integrated and meaningful. There may be variations on this theme, but for an entrepreneur beginning the branding process, the basics are outlined here.

Martin Jelsema

Who Owns Your Brand?

It’s almost eerie. I seem to be guided, book by book, conversation by conversation, to a new way of thinking about a subject I thought I had down pat.

The subject, of course, is branding. And the issue is, who owns the brand?

Every entrepreneur I know will think emphatically that they own the brand. They may have had some help with the logo design and trade dressing, and perhaps the brand name, but they made sure they owned the rights to each and every element of the brand. They have contracts with their creative suppliers to prove it.

Both management and I have been laboring under this paradigm that the company dictates and directs its brand(s). It is up to them to provide an image and messages about the brand they believe will sway prospects to become customers, and convince customers to be loyal advocates.

But the evidence is growing that the ultimate ownership of a brand is the group called “customers”.

Now I won’t get into details in this blog – more to come – but I will cite several books I’ve found recently that support this theory.

       Brand Hijack by Alex Wipperfurth
The Culting of Brands by Douglas Atkin
Fusion Branding by Nick Wreden

And both Tom Peters and Seth Godin embrace the concept in their recent writings.

The implications and how to manage brands when customers “own” them will be explored here in future entries.

Martin Jelsema