The independent aftermarket is a brand industry. Name recognition defines many of the market’s top manufacturers and suppliers, while some of the industry’s strongest product lines also are well regarded as aftermarket brands end users can rely on.
Even as more private label and white box products flood the fringes of the aftermarket, the confidence, stability and acceptance of premium branded product remains a key component of value propositions found across the distribution channel.
But brand equity isn’t just something that exists with parts or tools. During GenNext’s first-quarter educational webinar Wednesday, Marx Group President and CEO Frank Buscemi outlined how any product or business in the aftermarket can develop a strong brand presence that defines itself to its customers and the industry at large.
Buscemi says a company’s brand represents more than its products and services — it is the business in its totality. Everything it does well. Everything it does poorly. Everything it believes it has made clear to its customers and everything those same customers are yet to understand.
It’s not just a name, says Buscemi, it’s the entire customer experience.
“Whether you know it or not, your brand has a reputation,” he says.
And a brand is not only defined by the actions of a sales or marketing team instructed to nurture it. Buscemi says a company’s people, products, marketing and customers are equally responsible for how a brand is perceived. That first factor is particularly important, he adds, as “everyone in your business is a brand ambassador.”
Buscemi says any business looking to develop, nurture or revolutionize a brand must first understand what makes a great and successful brand. He says great brands (such as Apple, Amazon, Coca-Cola, Mercedes-Benz) all have the same three traits: they put the customer first, they are flexible and have a clear sense of self.
“They know exactly who they are,” he says.
Additionally, Buscemi says great brands are desirable. They represent a product or service that makes customers want to associate with them. He says that desire can take many forms — a brand that fills a need or solves a program can be just as valuable as a brand that supports a lifestyle — so long as it leads to customer loyalty.
Buscemi says building a brand from scratch takes 18 to 24 months at minimum. If that timeline seems extreme, Buscemi says to think about customer attention spans. Capturing a customer’s attention and developing a connection with that customer that will resonate requires time. He adds other challenges when building a brand include budget, capacity and competition.
As for pulling it off? Buscemi says establishing a brand requires extensive preparation, and notes five core principles that should be included in any plan:
- Self-assess: Buscemi says a business should know exactly what it is, how it is perceived in its industry and what it wants to stand for. He says the “Rule of -st” test is helpful here. A company can be the best, first, newest, cheapest, fastest to market. He says “whatever you decide is okay, but once you pick one, stick to it.”
- Develop a strategy: Buscemi breaks this down into five directives: Ready. Aim. Fire; Set realistic goals; Avoid quicksand; Fund it; and Create desirability. He says brand development plans should be comprehensive with clear goals and a timeline for execution.
- Execute the strategy: Buscemi gives another series of directives here: Commit and repeat; Be creative; Think backward; Manage expectations. He says the idea when it comes to execution is to remember who your customer is and make sure the plan you’ve developed is reaching them. He also preaches patience as brand overhauls don’t occur overnight.
- Stay committed: Patience is important here, too, Buscemi says. Businesses must be willing to stay the course on a brand strategy, providing funds and manpower to ensure every step in a strategy is properly completed. Employees also must remember to communicate during this process in case problems arise.
- Evaluate and adjust: Buscemi says problems can arise — even to the best laid plans. Businesses executing a branding initiative must be capable of monitoring their progress relative to their goals. When changes are required they should be implemented following the same clear structure used to first implement the plan.
Buscemi says developing positive brand recognition “takes time, it takes money and it takes commitment.” But it’s not impossible. “You don’t need Apple’s budget to market like them,” he says. With careful planning, any brand can develop desirability.