Whether or not you’re attending the now sold-out Dealership Minds Summit on “Intelligence Driven Marketing” in a couple weeks, the following message excerpted from the Farm Equipment Editor’s Page in 2008 remains as a good reminder about what you really need to market. While the tools of marketing continue to evolve and change, what a dealer needs to market hasn’t.

After visiting several hundred or so equipment exhibitors at farm machinery shows over the past 3 years, the one question I regularly find myself asking is “Would I buy this equipment if I had a farm?”

I’ve come to one major conclusion — it would depend upon the dealer. You see, I ask myself the very same question every time I walk away from a dealership I’ve visited: “Would I want to do business with this dealer?”

There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of good equipment out there. And despite ag equipment’s current good times, competition is as fierce as it’s ever been and good margins are still tough to come by.

If you haven’t noticed, the best equipment makers are taking this opportunity to strengthen their positions in the marketplace. Dealers need to do the same.

With so little differentiation between farm machinery today, and with industry consolidation underway, the biggest difference most customers see nowadays is the retailer.

This was the message Greg Embury, the now-retired vice president of sales and marketing for Kubota Tractor, recently delivered to an audience of dealers. “In this kind of environment, the brand is vitally important and you need to invest in growing and marketing your brand — as opposed to your products.” His advice: spend a lot more time building the awareness and respect for your brand as a dealership.

So, as a dealer, what’s your brand? It’s not your logo or the products you carry.

According to Al Ries, author of Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, branding is “a singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of the prospect.” Others call it a “gut feeling” that customers have about your service or company.

Of all the components that go into establishing a highly thought-of brand, the most important are your people.

A personal case in point: while covering an assignment a couple of years ago, I stopped to visit a couple of dealerships that were en route to my next scheduled stop. At the first, there were exactly two customers in the store and a lot of staff standing around. After several minutes of standing at the parts counter, with no customers, and being ignored, I left.

At another dealership just across the road, it was difficult to find a parking spot. Sales and parts staff were busy attending to more than a dozen customers. A young man walked up to me, said “Hi” and introduced himself. After a friendly conversation, he indicated that the owner was not in at the moment, so I left my card and he gave me the card of the owner. Twenty minutes later, my cell phone rang and it was the owner of the second dealership who apologized for missing me. He asked if I would be around the next day and said he would like to visit if I was still in the area.

So, which of these dealers would I choose to do business with? What are your perceptions of the two dealerships without knowing anything else about them? What do you see as the cultural differences of these two dealerships?

Another piece of advice from Embury is, “We all need to become real marketing wizards. I’d make sure my salespeople are making strong marketing and prospecting efforts. We need to be very good at recruiting and retaining qualified, energized people.”

You can have the best products the market has to offer and the catchiest advertising in the industry. But if your people aren’t selling and reinforcing the dealership’s brand, then all you’re doing is selling a different color of equipment.

You need to figure out if you’re a blue, green, orange or red equipment dealer, or if you’re a successful dealership that just happens to carry blue, green, orange or red equipment?

Therein lies the true difference.