Sales+Marketing Branding

A New World

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VW Southetowne

Where Good Things Happen.

For many businesses, the time between 2007 and 2009 is remembered as a dark time. In fact, many businesses did not survive what’s now known as “The Great Recession.”

Rather than submit to the fear of the times, Jeff Davis, director of operations for Volkswagen SouthTowne in South Jordan, Utah, decided to create a bubble of positivity for his staff and customers. Davis, who had just recently started at SouthTowne, called upon Amber Hawkins-Warren.

During that time, Hawkins-Warren started White Rabbit Advertising. Davis and Hawkins-Warren worked together at a previous dealership, so when the time came to take SouthTowne in a new direction, the two joined forces again and White Rabbit became the agency of record for VW SouthTowne.

“Everyone was scared, it was a really hard time,” Hawkins-Warren says. “Jeff wanted to combat the feeling of fear that happens when you have a recession.”

The two brainstormed ideas and came up with the internal marketing slogan, “Where Good Things Happen.”

Since then, SouthTowne has been able to transport its customers and its staff to a place of positivity each and every day with each and every experience.

The Thought Process  

Building a brand is more than just writing some words down, says Hawkins-Warren. It’s something that needs to be built.

“I believe your identity and brand come from the inside-out as well as the outside-in,” Hawkins Warren.

“A brand is what people say and think and feel [about your company] when you’re not in the room,” Hawkins-Warren says. “If your brand is that you’re fun to work with and optimistic and that you treat people well, that is what someone will feel when they come in or see an ad or drive by.”

“Jeff is all about how people feel and the emotional pulse,” Hawkins-Warrens says.

Creating a brand is about showcasing what your company’s purpose is, he says.

When creating a brand, Hawkins-Warren says companies should look at the people within that organization.

“What is it that you care about? What matters most to you?”

Once you have that answer, you can start to build your brand.

The Execution

In order to create a new world for its customers, the staff had to believe it. In order to create that bubble of positivity that Davis desired, he needed to first get his staff to believe, during the height of the recession, that SouthTowne was a safe place.

“Where Good Things Happen” is mainly an internal campaign. Its purpose is purely to create employee buy-in, with the thought that if the employees believe it, then the customers will feel it when they come in. To kick it off, the SouthTowne team bought 20 sets of yellow galoshes and bright red umbrellas that employees either wore or had displayed close by. The campaign, called “Ask Me Why I’m Singing in the Rain” was all about spreading positivity and making the best of a negative situation.

“I always hear from different vendors that go into the the store that it [SouthTowne] feels different,” Hawkins-Warren says. “The people seem happier and there’s an attitude of confidence.”

To keep that feel-good vibe that SouthTowne has worked so hard to cultivate, the company continues to throw many internal promotions. Hawkins-Warren estimates that SouthTowne's throws an average of roughly three per year.

Not only that, but every Friday, the SouthTowne team has a check-in meeting that Hawkins-Warren says gets everyone excited about where they’re headed.

“You can’t say it once and be done with it,” Hawkins-Warren says.

 New employees are trained on the vision of the dealerships, and that feeling is promoted every single day—building the brand from the inside out.  

“Think about your branding,” she says. “Is your brand telling everyone else who you are? Is it true to who you are? Wendy’s does a great job of being savage and it works for them—but it doesn’t work with everyone.”

Hawkins-Warren describes Davis as being light-hearted, fun and caring about how people feel, so it works for SouthTowne to brand itself that way.

“Brands can take themselves too seriously,” Hawkins-Warren says. “It’s a good choice to be playful if you’re playful.”

That’s not advice that everyone should take, Hawkins-Warren says. A serious law firm should not do this because it will not seem authentic, and people won’t buy into a brand they don’t believe in.

Something else that businesses need to be aware of is people’s feelings.

“Be culturally sensitive,” Hawkins-Warren says. “A lot of brands have bombed when it comes to that.”

One way to make sure you’re not offending anyone is to use focus groups, but those can be expensive. Hawkins-Warren says a cheaper alternative is through A/B testing. There are platforms, like Facebook, that are extremely user-friendly and offer cheap (if not free) options for testing, so Hawkins-Warren says there’s absolutely “no excuse” not to test and make sure your advertising or messaging is not culturally offensive.

The Takeaway

The landscape of branding and marketing has drastically changed in the past decade, Hawkins-Warren says.

“It used to be that you could be in the newspaper, on TV and in a couple of direct mailers,” Hawkins-Warren says. “Now—it’s just so splintered. There are all these digital aspects.”  

 With so many different ways for the customer to engage with brands, it’s more important than ever that companies know who their customer is and how they’re interacting. social media brings a whole new challenge, Hawkins-Warren says.

“They talk about your brand when you’re not there and you didn’t hire them,” Hawkins-Warren says.

That’s why you need to make sure people buy what your brand is selling.

“People can wish they were something, but if it’s not who they are, then it’s not true,” says Hawkins-Warren.

 Define your target demographic and then find out where they are, Hawkins-Warren advises.

“We have to be a player in it [social media],” Hawkins-Warren says. “If it’s done right, you can engage [your customers] in a good, healthy way.”

Social media isn’t something to be afraid of; in fact, it offers a way for customers to engage with brands in a way that they never could before. Hawkins-Warren runs the Instagram and Facebook account for SouthTowne. When she took over the Instagram feed for the company in November 2017, its followers rose from 197 followers to over 18,000 today. How was she able to do it? By tapping into SouthTowne’s demographics passion.

“I tapped into nostalgia. They love the [VW] vintage brand,” Hawkins-Warren says.

Because of this, Hawkins-Warren decided to focus on that lifestyle and keep all of the posts fun and optimistic—and people responded.  

A brand should last. Although the impulse may be to change it every few years, Hawkins-Warren actually thinks people change it more often than they should because their bored. The applications and where branding goes should be updated, yes, but the overall feel and who your business is should remain somewhat stagnant, advises Hawkins-Warren. However, this rule only applies if your brand is actually working for your company. But, how do you know?

“If it matches who you are, it’s working for you,” Hawkins-Warren says. “If it’s true to who you are and who your people are, it’s true.”

However, if your brand is boring and you would describe your company as anything but, it might be time to rebrand.


Navigating Social 

One of the main ways that the landscape of advertising has changed is social media. Not only is social media a totally different avenue that allows people to interact in a completely different way than they did a decade ago, the media platforms themselves also have their own strengths and should be handled differently. Amber Hawkins-Warren, found of White Rabbit Advertising, shares her tips for handling three of the most popular social media platforms. 

Instagram: "Instagram is all about pretty pictures," Hawkins-Warren says.

Don't post sales-driven posts too often and avoid memes. Instead, focus on appealing aspects of the dealership and keep in mind that people won't take the time to read long captions, Hawkins-Warren says. 

Twitter: Twitter is text focused, so Hawkins-Warren says to have a little fun with it. 

"You can be more snarky," Hawkins-Warren says. 

Facebook: According to Hawkins-Warren, Facebook is the "biggest dog in the fight." Facebook is a combination of Twitter and Instagram, in a way, because it's a combination of words and images.

"The great thing is you can tap into all of the things that they offer," she says. "If you have a lot of offers, you can put those at the top." 

Another feature that Hawkins-Warren takes advantage of when she's managing SouthTowne's Facebook is the job listings, which she says has helped bring in a good number of applicants. 

Marketing Resources 

Amber Hawkins-Warren, founder of White Rabbit Advertising, has been a fan of advertising since she was little. For companies looking to update their brand, Hawkins-Warren says to just open your eyes—there are resources everywhere. 

These are her picks for resources: 

The Drum

Ad Age 

Instagram: "It's a great place to follow different designers," Hawkins-Warren says. 

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