Progressive Branding Strategies For Your Dealership – Paul J. Daly, Congruent Story

Paul J. Daly

Today we speak with Paul J. Daly, founder, and CEO of both Image Auto and Congruent out of Syracuse, New York.


From our studios in Atlanta, this is Car Biz Today and here now, Jim Fitzpatrick.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Hello everyone, I’m Jim Fitzpatrick, thank you very much for joining us on CBT Today. Today we speak with Paul J. Daly if you don’t know that name he is the founder and CEO of both Image Auto and Congruent out of Syracuse, New York. Thanks very much for joining us on CBT, Paul.

Paul Daly: Hey, it’s a pleasure to be here as usual with you, Jim.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure, for the people that don’t, aren’t as familiar with you as we are here at CBT, kind of give us the one-on-one on Paul, and your background, and what got you involved in automotive and certainly we’ll talk about your podcast coming up.

Paul Daly: In 2003, I kind of wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to serve people, and so I started a wheel refinishing business, those things go hand in hand. Actually, I wanted to start a business that I could have a little freedom. So I’ll kind of give you the speed version, it was just me, rusty old van, and a bunch of dealers in Upstate New York. I grew up in Philly, moved to New York, got married, started this business.

I didn’t know what I was doing. Just started making mistakes, but little by little the business grew. And I’m a culture first thinker, so as the business grew, we kind of got closer as a team. Started expanding out to the point where we’d service about 150 dealers, and dealer groups, across New York and down to Philadelphia, so I was able to kind of make it back home.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Wow. That’s phenomenal.

Paul Daly: Yeah it was, yeah overnight success. It took 15 years. So as we did that though, there was a growing need to communicate with our team as we were spread out by about 500 miles. I had the need to start creating content so that we could all be aligned with our mission, vision, and values. Because I would always say, “No one is passionate about dying a gray carpet to darker gray.” Like if they tell you they are, they’re lying, right?

It’s really about who you work with, why you work next to that person, so it was really kind of the beginnings of an employment brand if you will. But this was before YouTube had any bandwidth, so we sort of just hit the road and made videos. Just for our own people and showed them that at our company meetings. Eventually, other people saw them, said, “Who made your stuff, can you make us one?” At that point, started incubating a creative agency, inside the auto reconditioning company, about five years ago.

As that company continued to grow, I actually, we started serving national clients. So clients like Duracell and Perdue Farms, and also helping launch local brands. And so as this was all happening, I got a call out of nowhere, in March from the then CEO of Dent Wizard International, expressing interest in acquiring our automotive reconditioning company.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Wow. Very good.

Paul Daly: And in the meantime, had started a podcast, wanting to just give content and serve the industry. That’s the deal with Compress Podcast. And so I ended up deciding to merge and sell the company to Dent Wizard International, the reconditioning site, and now I’m all in on the branding agency and marketing agency. So that’s the cliff notes.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Very cool, that’s great. And I would imagine now, marketing and the podcast is your new love. I mean I’m sure you’re out of the wheel, your minds out of the wheel business right?

Paul Daly: You know, not really. It is, my passion is communication, and helping people find clarity. Like that’s my center point.

I still am involved with the reconditioning company for a year, but I also have an advisory role with Dent Wizard International in marketing and branding. So I get to play in the space that I know and love and also get to help other people, automotive and non[automotive], clarify their message and market better.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Very cool. And you’ve had some notable people on your podcast. Tell us about that.

Paul Daly: Yeah. You know, it’s kind of, we’ve been fortunate. Actually one of the first, I was able to hack my way to get Gary Vaynerchuk to be on the show at the CBT conference a couple years ago in Atlanta-

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right, I remember.

Paul Daly: And I kinda guilted him into it. I asked him quick, and he said, “Okay. Today?” I said, “Yeah. Just a few minutes.”

And he’s like, “Oh, okay I think.” And then I grabbed the microphone for a question, and I thanked him publicly for agreeing. ‘Cause I felt like, and then he had to do it.

So yeah, we’ve had Gary Vaynerchuk. The podcast actually started when we created a content series around Dale Pollak’s book, Like I see it.

Paul Daly: And I just wanted to create content that was meaningful for dealers. And at the time, there were just our clients in the auto reconditioning space, and if I could share it with the other dealers in the country I’d love to. So we created a fully scripted, animated, illustrated, rented a studio and did the whole thing in the house. An educational series around Like I See It because I thought the topics Dale was talking about were right in line with what the industry needed to hear. So we just wanted to make that more accessible. And from there we just kept going with the podcast. So we just launched week 40. I don’t know, by the time this airs, we’ll probably be around 43.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Awesome. That’s phenomenal. Congratulations on your success. So the podcast is really focused on the retail automotive industry, correct?

Paul Daly: Yes. Yes, its kind of a blend. So there’s definitely an automotive focus, right? Because I grew up, fifteen years in the industry, so I’m kind of a car guy. But on the branding and agency side, I mostly work with non-automotive brands. So it’s this really interesting mix where we try to approach the market like a B-to-C company should. And not like a car company, right? ‘Cause we know the convergence of B-to-C and the automotive industry, the customer experience, the expectation is the same. So the podcast is kind of a blend of giving really an unfiltered, unsponsored look at my take on those things, and also the guests that I like to bring on the show. I like to bring some variety in for the dealers that might not have any exposure to them on some of the other outlets.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right. Right. So talk to us about, you know a little something about branding. You’ve done very well here, and I know you talk to a lot of people in the industry about that. The importance of dealer branding and how to set yourself apart. Talk to us about that topic.

Paul Daly: Yeah. Branding is the closest to my heart because I think the essence of branding is not your logo, and it’s not your manufacturer brand, it is the fleeing that people get when they interact with you or your staff. It really is what helps them differentiate one buying decision over another. And in a market where pricing is incredibly competitive, we have more dealers going to one price model right? We’re buying online, and in that world, when you’re not making a price comparison anymore, well what do you trade on? And I believe that any business, especially dealers, have to trade on brand. Like I always say, the reason I buy Nike’s isn’t because they sent me a coupon when I was a market shopper for sneakers.

I bought Nike, I buy Nike’s because they’ve been brand marketing to me, and it’s really that mentality of just do it, and not being afraid of the conflict, right? That’s a reflection of how I feel about myself, or how I wanna feel about myself. So I think dealers are missing a big opportunity, and honestly, the ones that embrace regular B-to-C brand building, not just focusing on the bottom of that funnel and in-market shoppers. Like that’s an okay tactic, for this month, and then next month you’re gonna have to deploy a tactic for next month.

And then Facebook’s gonna, or Google’s gonna change the algorithm, and you have to deploy a new tactic, right? So brand building is something that builds, I call it, it’s like the compound interest of automotive in the sense where you don’t have to spend every month on a depreciating curve of SEO and AdWords when you invest in your brand. You have a long tail, and it’s the only way to win. So I love this season, and I think it’s ideal for dealers to embrace the idea that they need to really, thoroughly, intentionally, develop their brand. And I think the ones that do, in the next 18 months are gonna disproportionately win for the next 10 years.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. And we’ve seen over the last however many years, 20, 30, 40, 50, maybe longer. Of dealers that have gotten themselves out there in front of TV cameras, and with direct mail campaigns, and full-page ads in the paper with their face on there, or them and their spouse, to have some kind of catchphrase like “Customers for life here at ABC Toyota.” Or whatever the case might be.

Paul Daly: Yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick: And in a sense, that’s obviously branding, right? I mean what we’re talking about now though is stepping it up and really having a cohesive message, and brand that resonates with consumers via the internet, right? Which is where every consumer starts and stops their process.

Paul Daly: Yeah. I totally agree with that. And you know, I’ve affectionately labeled those commercials as car barker commercials. And I say that with affection. And everybody, it’s kind of like a support group, everybody has made them, a lot of people still make them.

And the reason that happens is because let’s face it, they’ve worked. Right? We’ve sold cars that way. But I have a slide on a presentation I give, and it has a bunch of pictures, and you’re like, “Oh, look how differentiated these two are.” Like there’s a guy, there’s a girl, there’s a guy and a girl, there’s a guy in a hat, right?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yup.

Paul Daly: And so name recognition and top of mind, doesn’t mean that I wanna buy a car from you. And that’s focusing again on bottom of the funnel activities. So it’s just a new mindset, and like you said, when we’re focusing on branding, this is our first screen now.

I’m not watching car barker commercials on this. I’m watching Facebook Watch, and I’m watching Instagram Stories and YouTube Pre Roll. So marketing for the year that we’re living in is really a big part of that pivot, and automotive is an old industry, and we all know big ships turn slowly. The older the industry, the harder it is. But the good news is, I think that as an industry, we’re at a major pivot point where we’re waking up to that reality.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. And for dealers that are slow to come on this program, it’s not a wise choice, is it? They really need to get up to speed. Especially in 2019, as we may see some headwinds coming our way in the auto industry. Dealers are gonna have to fight just a little harder in 2019 for a deal, than they will in 2018. So it’s important that they have their marketing, and their message very together, very cohesive, for that consumer that is shopping everybody online, right?

Paul Daly: It’s completely right. And I would even, another topic that we’ve talked about, you’ve covered it extensively, is human capital. And your internal messaging, and your HR, and retention, all that is so incredibly important. And one of the things that branding solves is the internal issue as well. Because when you have clear messaging, the people, they understand why they wanna join your company.

And why they wanna be passionate about your mission, because even millennials, you hear a lot of talk about them one way or another. It’s a really a passionate group of people, who like being part of something meaningful. And who like bringing value to other people. So yes, branding has to be clear for the consumers, but it also has to be clear for your team. And this is one of the very few things in the industry, that if you put your time and attention into it, it makes everything smoother, and everything better.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. You bring up a very good point, and one that’s probably overlooked many times, and that is the branding you’re doing to your consumers in your marketplace, is also that same branding, that same message, that you are putting out to your, to tomorrows employees and new staff members, right?

Paul Daly: Yes.

Jim Fitzpatrick: And your candidates that would apply for jobs. I mean right now everybody-

Paul Daly: It’s the same people.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, right. Right. Everybody knows when they watch a CarMax commercial what the sales process is inside of a CarMax.

Paul Daly: Yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick: And one that maybe they align themselves with to say, “Oh, it’s no haggle, no hassle, easy pricing, seven-day return policy.” So that’s telling that potential candidate that would apply for a job there that, “Hey this gonna be a fun, pretty easy place to work ’cause we don’t have to beat the people up over the head on price and such.” So you bring up a very good point that that same message is going to resonate with that potential candidate.

Paul Daly: Absolutely. There’s nice things, so like we live in a very transparent world, right? There is no longer anywhere to hide, and in some instances, that’s caused a lot of the industry change. When technology hits an industry, pricing transparency grows, it gets more competitive, and margins are decreased. It’s classic. It happens to every industry technology touches. So there’s nowhere to hide, if you do something wrong, or treat people like crap, there’s nowhere to hide.

Right? We’re gonna find out about it. But the flip side about that, there are a lot of great organizations out there, great dealer groups, that have literally been unsung, and uncelebrated, because they haven’t known how to get the brand out. They haven’t known how to craft the messaging. So on the flip side, there’s nowhere to hide, but there’s also nowhere to hide for the good things as well, once you start paying attention to it. so it does, there is a silver lining.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Well Paul J. Daly, Check it out if you haven’t already. If you’re in the car business, and you’re not tuning in each week, you’re leaving money on the table, you’re leaving some good ideas out there. So this guy is one of the good ones in the car business, and we totally support you here. Love what you’re doing, keep doing it, we need more people like you. And hopefully, we can have you back on CBT soon to talk more about these issues.

Paul Daly: I’m available whenever you need. Thank you so much for having me.

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