BrandingWire: Auto Dealers


This month's BrandingWire challenge was local auto dealers.  I'm anxious to read what my colleagues have to say on this one.  As you'll read, I think the situation is beyond what marketing alone can heal.

I'm usually the first guy who will champion a concentrated, consistent effort to re-brand or re-market a company that has gone astray.  But I have to tell you, I don't think auto dealerships stand a chance. 

Why not?

Way too many years of high-pressure sales, the goofy "I have to go talk to my manager" game, selling vaporware in the form of extended warranties and in general sleazy tactics and employees.

Bottom line – we don't trust you.  Any time someone walks into a car dealership, they expect to be tricked and taken.

Here's a marketing/branding truth.  Without trust, you've got nothing. 

No marketing program or branding campaign can save you or change the fact that on just about any survey given, cars sales people rank as the least trustworthy profession.

There are just some things marketing can't solve.  This is an operations issue.  Saturn had the right idea.  They changed the way cars were sold.

The internet has stripped you of much of your mystique and ability to con buyers.  But instead of recognizing that it's a new day, you've just clung even tighter to the tactics that still work.  It's time to actually change.

People need cars.  They have to buy them somewhere.  So be the first one in your community to truly change the way you do business.   I'm not talking about a superficial change.  Or a bait and switch sort of change.  Because that's what we expect.  So surprise us.  This isn't spin; this is revolutionizing your industry.

  • Be transparent with your costs.  Show us the invoice because anything less and we won't believe you.
  • Set a standard mark-up for every vehicle on your lot.  We don't deny you need to make money.  We just want it to be fully disclosed and fair.
  • Stop compensating your sales force with commission.  Pay them a flat fee for every car sale.  As long as they are paid more to trick us into paying more – we can't win.
  • No dickering, dealing or game playing.  Set a price and live with it.
  • Use an independent source for trade-in values. Nothing you can do here is going to make us feel like we got a fair deal.  So pay some of the area's auto repair shops that have a strong local reputation a flat fee for assessing trade in values.
  • Let us take any used car off the lot and have it evaluated by an independent expert.  If we choose to buy the car, reimburse us for the evaluation.

Right now, every facet of your business is set up to make the buying experience an adversarial one.  Until that changes, nothing else really can.

Be the first to re-invent how your industry gets compensated and then celebrate that.  Go out of your way to make sure the consumer gets the best deal possible and then celebrate that.  Turn your sales force into customer advocates and then celebrate that.

Own the brand position of being different from every other car dealership out there and you will have more customers than you can handle.  Otherwise…just run another Summer Sizzlin' Sales campaign and it's business as usual.

Until your competition decides that they're the ones who are going to actually change.

Check out what the rest of the BrandingWire posse had to say and get more high-voltage ideas at

    Olivier Blanchard
    Becky Carroll
    Derrick Daye
    Kevin Dugan
    Lewis Green
    Ann Handley
    Gavin Heaton
    Martin Jelsema
    Valeria Maltoni
    Drew McLellan
    Patrick Schaber
    Steve Woodruff

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