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Finding Answers to the Question: Will it really work?

15 Dec, 2002 By: Wes Phillips imageSource

Finding Answers to the Question: Will it really work?

November's article initiated a case study exploration of "will it really
work." Last month's case study article described how a dealer with an
established marketplace identity and position was able to get a better return on
their marketing investment. This month, we will look at a dealership in an
entirely different situation. This case study focuses on an emerging dealership
and how they took advantage of their unique circumstances to build and initiate
an effective marketing strategy.

Uncovering the
Competitive Advantage The specifics of this case study are interesting. The
principal involved had all ready created, built and sold a dealership, so he had
a proven track record of success. Yet, he had been out of the business for about
three years (because of a non-compete contract), when he decided to reenter the
document imaging industry in the same major metropolitan market as his original
venture. This was no small undertaking since it was much easier to enter the
business in the late 70s and early 80s than it has been in recent years because
of industry maturity, greater demands for start-up working capital and more
intense competition from established dealers and manufacturers.

After about two and
a half years of building up the foundation of his new dealership (through a
couple of strategic acquisitions and some good old fashioned sales marketing),
it was now time to grow market share and generate powerful market leadership.
The core issue he had to tackle was "where to start". You see, at this
point many people can get sidetracked believing that the important issues
involve budget commitment, media selection, creative execution or any number of
advertising principles. But, what this individual chose to focus on was
identifying what set his dealership apart from the competition - - what was his
competitive advantage. This issue, in the long run, is the single most
productive issue to address. This is because when it is effectively addressed,
it sets the foundation for a powerful business and communication strategy that
grows revenue sooner, accelerates profits quicker and builds long-term company
value faster, all while acting as an aggressive demoralizing force on the

How this owner went
about determining what set his dealership apart from the competition is
intriguing. He did not just assume that he and his management team could get
together in a room for a few hours and uncover their market distinction. He
realized that the distinction had to be more than saying his dealership provided
good service (since every document imaging dealership makes the same generic
claim). What he chose to do was to retain the services of an outside resource
that had a track record of success in effectively discovering what sets a
company apart from the competition and developing unique marketing strategies to
communicate this message. It has been our firm's experience that taking the time
to seek outside help, investing the necessary time with this resource and
investing a few dollars in this process is the step that many independent
dealerships choose not to take and as a result, they rarely seem happy with
their marketplace position and their profitability.

The time spent with
the outside resource required a series of one-to-one meetings with the dealer
principal, additional face-to-face meetings with key members of the senior
management team and several in depth telephone meetings. These initial
interactions took place over a period of several weeks, but by the time they
were complete, they had three unique insights that distinguished their business
from the rest.

· It was discerned
that the components that the marketplace appreciated about this dealership were
the heritage, reputation and trust the dealer owner brought to the new

· The local market
placed a high degree of value on customer care, yet customer care had many
different facets, including pricing, service, technology and solutions.

· The dealership
had a unique business model that the principal and his entire management team
believed was uniquely different and allowed them to effectively deliver on all
of the demands of the marketplace.

With the advantage
of insight, it became clear that the value proposition to the marketplace had to
include trust and customer care. Plus, it was also evident that there needed to
be a valid premise for delivering on trust and customer care.

What's in a Name?
POWER! First, it was decided to "name" the dealership's unique
business model. This naming approach helped the dealership to simplify their
core message and to make that message sound different. The name they gave their
business model was "The Power Center". With this name or
"package", the dealership could substantiate and validate why they
were able to provide better technology, better service, better pricing and
better solutions.

The second decision
that was made was to implement a positioning theme (or slogan) effectively
summarizing the overall benefit of doing business with this dealer. The theme
chosen was " The Most Trusted Name In Customer Care". So, after all
the upfront work, this dealership was now able to go to market with the message
that "The Power Center" could provide better service, solutions,
technology and pricing because they were simply, "The Most Trusted Name In
Customer Care."

The Next Step Once
the competitive advantage was identified, it became clear, with the help of the
outside resource, that to communicate this message, a long-term commitment was
needed in terms of collateral support, sales training and advertising budget. In
order to ensure that this commitment could be fulfilled, it was determined that
the manufacturers' support would be useful. A well-documented presentation was
prepared and a meeting with the manufacturers' representatives scheduled. The
presentation covered all of the commitments (and tangible investments) the
dealership had made since its inception, its commitments for the future, the
entire market positioning rational, the type of media strategy to correctly
communicate the marketing message and the required investment to accomplish all
of the tasks. This was not a typical one-hour meeting supported by wishful
thinking. Rather, it was a well-planned and documented approach that also
included follow-up meetings. The end result was that the manufacturer saw the
wisdom in providing assistance to the dealership to help them launch a marketing
strategy to grow market share and lead the local marketplace.

After the
manufacturer promised their support, the next step was to select a media
strategy and a creative method of execution. To effectively use the available
budget and support the well-trained sales staff, the decision was made to use
radio advertising as the ideal medium to communicate the dealer message. It was
also determined that the best way to communicate "The Power Center"
message and "The Most Trusted Name In Customer Care" was to use the
dealer principal as the voice in the commercials.

The tricky part of
using real people, whether it's a company employee, company owner or a customer,
is to make them sound real. Most of the time, messages are scripted ahead of
time and then read by the person. Unfortunately, this approach often lacks
enthusiasm, emotion and a sense of reality. In this case, the dealer principal
had been through several free-flowing interview secessions. The goal was to
capture his unique and real way of describing his dealerships competitive
advantage and how it would benefit the customer. The outside resource had an in
depth understanding of the document imaging market and, as a result, was able to
guide the sessions which generated hard hitting sound bite comments.

Learning and Growing
The entire planning process from start to finish took over six months. In the
end, a powerful advertising and sales marketing strategy was launched that
immediately generated sales activity! A case study like this highlights several
principles that can be useful for any type of document imaging dealership:

· Plan Ahead -- In
order to assemble a great marketing strategy, it is necessary to make the
investment in time, energy and resources to correctly identify the competitive
advantage. Too many dealerships allow themselves to become overwhelmed by
day-to-day activity, thereby missing the real opportunities for growth in sales,
profits and value.

· Use an Outside
Resource -- Most dealer principals and their teams get too close to what is
going on in the market and do not appreciate the value of an outside
perspective. In this month's case study it was the outside resource that
uncovered the real competitive advantage. The value of this contribution was
tremendous and well worth the cost.

· Involve the
Manufacturer: The manufacturer will care more about your success if convinced
that you have a well documented plan and have demonstrated your commitment to
success. Communicate with your manufacturer what you have invested, what you
want to invest and do so with a thoughtful and well-crafted presentation.

· Speak for
Yourself: If you decide that broadcast advertising is appropriate for you
dealership, consider that you, as the dealer principal, can be very convincing.
If you choose this avenue, use the assistance of a good interviewer and a
creative resource with an in-depth understanding of the market, to help with the
marketing messages.

Next month's column
will include a third case study which explores an issue that many dealerships
have considered -- whether or not to change the corporate name and how can it be
effectively accomplished.

Phillips, CEO of Hunter Barth Advertising, located in Costa Mesa, California,
submitted this Article. Hunter Barth Advertising is a full service marketing and
advertising firm specializing in the office technology industry. You can reach
Wes at 949-631-9900 or via email at Phillips@hunterbarth.com.

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