Creating a Premium Brand

May 1, 2014
Dan Antonelli, CEO of Graphic D-Signs Inc., discusses the importance of a strong brand promise for shops

According to a recent Google Insights research study, there is no clear differentiation between auto service and collision shops in drivers’ minds. In fact, one in three drivers are uncommitted to a particular provider and 42 percent of drivers who say they are committed to a shop can still be won over. Dan Antonelli says an identifiable brand is the key to convincing customers to go to your shop.

As the CEO and creative director of Graphic D-Signs Inc., a New Jersey–based advertising agency specializing in small business advertising, Antonelli has helped nearly 1,000 small businesses create a brand that stands out from the competition. Antonelli recently talked with FenderBender about the power of an identifiable brand for a collision shop, common mistakes made by shop owners, and recent trends in successful branding.

Why is an identifiable brand a critical asset for a collision repair facility?

When customers consider which repair center they’re going to go to, there are so many things that are going to drive that decision-making process. If the estimates and the amount of insurance that’s being covered are the same, and the consumer has two or three shops to consider, they’ll likely choose the shop which is perceived to be more reputable, trustworthy and professional.

All those emotional aspects that are driven to the consumer are largely going to be driven by the brand promise that is communicated to them. Coordinating all those different brand experiences goes a long ways toward helping you get more of those estimates closed or people believing they’re going to get a better finished product from your shop.

Why do consumers have such a difficult time differentiating between auto body brands?

Most small businesses do not have a positive brand promise. They tend to be negative or neutral. Meaning, if the average person looked at it, they would not necessarily have a negative or a positive reaction. They would just not really think anything. That’s a missed opportunity. It’s really critical that what that brand communicates right from the beginning says something positive about that business and gives an indication of what their deliverable will be. Those are things that factor into a consumer and their decision-making process.

I like to think about all the different interactions a customer might have with a shop’s brand. You have the signage, uniforms, trucks, business cards, forms, the website, social media, an email signature. All of those come together to form what your company stands for. If your branding is consistently applied throughout all of those touch points, a customer will certainly feel more confident in your expertise versus a competitor with a neutral or negative brand promise.

A recent Google Insight study found that 81 percent of drivers said that quality service is more important than price. How can shops build a “premium” brand, rather than an “amateur” brand?

I would say, first of all, look at your business from the outside in. You certainly see a lot of brands where so much of it is driven by what the owner personally likes. It’s really not the smartest thing to design a brand around what you personally like. It’s much better to design around what your target audience likes and what appeals to them or communicates a message to them. Try to identify who your target audience is and what might be important to them. If someone knew absolutely nothing about our company, what would they say about you? Try to answer those questions ahead of time and then develop the brand around those answers.

Then, make sure you have one file for that brand that all your vendors can use. Get a digital version of your logo so that no matter who is going to be working on something that utilizes your brand, everyone is working from this master file. Because a lot of times, the logo gets interpreted differently because the owner doesn’t have a consistent file.

I would also say to try to get original artwork, if possible. There are so many online logo mills and it’s great to get a logo for $49.95, but the artwork isn’t original. And if they use clip art, it can’t be trademarked. There’s nothing that can prevent your competitor from using the same illustration or logo. When you go that route, you’re steering away from the intent of why you want to have an original brand, which is to stand out, not to fit in.

Why do shop owners often end up with an “amateur” brand?

Success in spite of a poor identity is not a valid reason to perpetuate it. We often hear shop owners say, “I’ve been using this logo for 20 years and we’ve had this level of success. Why should I change it?” Well, the response is, imagine if you had a better brand, how much more success you would be able to achieve. Maybe the logo looks like clip art, maybe the logo can’t be consistently applied across multiple mediums because it’s too complicated, illegible from a distance, or formatted incorrectly.

It’s very common that shop owners will invest so much in other aspects of physically opening a shop that when they get to that last stage, getting a sign or business cards made becomes an afterthought.

For most people, it’s not practical or affordable to roll out a whole new brand at once. Consider which aspects of your brand might be easier to change, like business cards, uniforms, or changing the logo on top of a website or Facebook. Then when it comes time for new trucks or a new sign, roll out those changes at that time.

Are there any recent trends in branding or what customers are responding better to?

We’re doing a lot more retro work with shops. We’re doing a lot of branding that speaks to the values that people perceive to be more prevalent in the 1940s and 1950s. Those old-school themes speak to a certain level of expectation that is sometimes more difficult to communicate on a very modern brand. It speaks to that craftsmanship and old school way of doing it. Clearly there is technology that is deployed in the work they do, but that level of service and expectation that you might get with the retro brand is something we have seen resonate very well.

We also tend to think about design by distilling it in its most simplistic form. We try to avoid branding architectures that are very complicated and difficult to discern. At a quick glance, you need to know who the company is, get an idea of what they do, and there’s something about the brand I can remember, whether it’s an icon or a unique color scheme.

When it comes to some of the ways that brands are integrated, like on tow trucks, it used to be that you’d see guys have a diamond plate, flames coming off the hood, really crazy stuff. It’s a problem if it takes away from who that company is and what makes that company and truck unique. That doesn’t work in their favor. Now we’ve really gone in the opposite direction.

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