AutoNation's decision in 2013 to put its name on all its nonluxury dealerships wasn't just about promoting the brand. More than that, it was an expression that the carefully tended AutoNation brand name carries just as much cachet as the vehicle brands those stores sell.
Since then, the nation's No. 1 dealership group has been able to leverage that brand strength to bring more segments of the business under the AutoNation name, including branded parts, finance and insurance products, a digital storefront and a chain of used-vehicle stores.
"The power of the brand was the only way we could do a digital program and to introduce products because you need the brand to be able to use a whole digital strategy," said Marc Cannon, chief marketing officer. "You have to have one unified brand."
That kind of branding power, and the trust that comes with it, can been elusive for many car dealers. And it has taken a good deal of work for AutoNation to achieve, said Cannon, 55.
He spoke with Staff Reporter Hannah Lutz last month.
Q: How did AutoNation build its brand power?
A: We started grassroots. We decided that we had to start with our associates, and we had to start in those individual communities where they live and work.
It's getting your employees and their families to come out. It's designing T-shirts. For example, in the month of May, [when AutoNation sells its 11 millionth vehicle], all of our sales and corporate associates across the country are going to be wearing "Race to 11 million" shirts.
It's Ryan Hunter-Reay, our spokesman for IndyCar, going out and visiting our associates in the stores. It's [CEO] Mike Jackson recognizing associates on a regular basis for not just their sales effort but also their community effort.
Mike's got a program called the Chairman's Award, and what's unique about this is you don't just win for how many cars you can sell or how much you do in revenue. You win for going above and beyond to help a customer, to help an associate and to do something important to your community.
It all extends from the brand and the intimacy of starting that brand grass-roots and making it part of our day-to-day lives.
How has leveraging the AutoNation name in dealerships, parts, accessories, F&I products and the digital storefront empowered the brand?
You need that universal name throughout all your stores. You have to have a universal brand to be able to sell the F&I products, to be able to sell these brand enhancements.
In four short years, the AutoNation name has higher awareness and a better trust value than names that were around for 100 years.
The reason we've been having so much success with our digital strategy and our other products is because the brand stands for something and because you have a unified brand name.