How much thought do you give to how your dealership is perceived in the marketplace? More specifically, does your business have a well-defined brand in the local market and, if so, is it the identity you want it to have?

I read recently that a brand is "an emotional relationship you have with your customers." That's a bit touchy, feely perhaps and maybe new agey, but true nonetheless. You want your brand to elicit specific thoughts and feelings about what role your dealership plays in the rural customer's life and how you can help make their lives easier.

In an industry full of extremely well-branded manufacturers, it's important to remember that their brand is separate from your dealership's. It's critical for you to carry products that are high quality and well-respected, but for your long term well-being it's important to remember your dealership is your product and the logos you carry should support your brand — not the other way around.

Ask yourself, when customers think of me are they thinking of "that Deere dealer down the road" or are you "Bill's Tractor & Equipment" in their mind? It's an important distinction.

If your dealership's brand is so indelibly tied to one of the lines you carry that you couldn't survive if, for whatever reason, you lost that defining supplier, then I'd say your brand hasn't been defined well enough in the market.

But if rural customers trust and respect your dealership thanks to your superior sales and service, that will bring a level of credibility to the brands you carry, i.e. if Bill's Tractor is carrying it, it must be quality equipment.

In all of your promotional pieces, whether it is direct mail, email marketing, radio, tv or billboard, make sure that your dealership brand is clearly stated. It's certainly good to have strong representation of the manufacturers and brands you carry, but it's your name that you want customers to remember.

There's no doubt that the rural market is filled with many strong manufacturing brands that have built loyal followings, but this is also a very relationship-based market and human nature is to buy from people we trust and like.

I enjoy running as a hobby and shop for shoes at a local independent running store. It certainly doesn't compare with the cost of buying a zero-turn or compact tractor, but running shoes aren't exactly inexpensive. Do I go to this particular shop because of the brands they carry? Nope. I go because I know they'll take the time to get me fitted into the right shoe for me and, because of the relationship built over the years, I trust the brands they carry are quality and right for me.

Carry quality products with well-known brands, but remember that your dealership is your product and the name your customers need to remember.