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Powersports Business:  Three Steps to Branding Wealth

Chris Clovis, VP — Eaglerider Motorcycle Sales
January 2, 2014 
Filed under Service Providers

Chris Clovis BlogWith 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Sports analogies have always been the default reference when working within a Sales Organization.  Even those who’ve never picked up a ball in their life immediately sprout terms like ‘Huddle’, Team’, and ‘Bench-Strength’ when becoming a Sales Manager.  A typical sales meeting often goes something like this: “Ok Team, let’s kickoff a full-court press to the goal line.  Our last blitz didn’t score like we’d hoped, so it’s time to get off the bench, out of the dugout, and throw a Hail Mary before we spike the ball.  You guys know the plays, so it’s time to step-up to the plate and go long.”  Like it or not, sports analogies – even muddled ones – dominate the business world.

As a Manager, you most likely consider yourself a great ‘Coach’ – the Vince Lombardi of Sales Management.  But are you really?  Most Managers perceive themselves as ‘Head Coach’, ‘Offensive Coordinator’, or something similar.  Problem is, they are nearly all wrong.  To start with, every Manager is doing the best that he or she can.  As a result, they assume to be very good at their job.  Whether great, mediocre, or outright terrible, Managers think themselves awesome – otherwise they’d be pursuing another line of work.  So if even the crappiest Manager thinks he or she is a great coach, how can you identify the really good ones from the horde of mediocrity?

Sports, naturally.


If all Sales Managers think they’re really good at their job – the ‘Vince Lombardi Coach’ – what is the reality?  What positions do most Managers play on the field of business?  They will often fall into the following categories:
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“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”  -Gen. Douglas McArthur

The world has changed.  To survive and succeed within this new reality takes more than simply a love of bikes.  Gone are the days where all you needed was a cool logo to make money in this industry.  Now you fight hard for every sale and every dollar of profit.  There is no shortage of options for those with discretionary income, and competitors are hungry.

We are all fighting for a piece of a much smaller pie.

It’s a war fought on multiple fronts – It’s fought within Search Engines, Showrooms, Social Media, Show Circuits, Marketing, and Customer Service.  At the same time, one must also win on the P&L, with lots of black ink to show for it.  Not easy.

me·di·o·cre, adjective [mē-dē-ˈō-kər]: of moderate quality, value, ability, or performance: neither good nor bad; adequate.  A state of averageness: ordinariness as a consequence of being average and not outstanding.  From the Latin mediocris, ‘In a Middle State’
“If any of you have a desire to be mediocre, you will probably find that you have already achieved your ambition.”
― Hugh B. Brown
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