Greg Revelle, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of AutoNation, and Karen Joslyn, Vice President of SAS’s Manufacturing Practice, discussed the importance of transforming a brand to meet changing consumer demands.
KAREN JOSLYN: Can you tell me about the marketing function at AutoNation and the shifting role of the CMO? I know you’ve been working on rebranding and several projects. How has your role transformed since you joined?
GREG REVELLE: My role has changed a lot, as is happening in a lot of companies. As an organization, we’ve traditionally been very sales-focused, and marketing was considered a service organization or center of excellence.
Prior to the CMO role’s existence, AutoNation was branded on a localized basis, which meant that we put different names all over the country and the brand was very different in various parts of the country. In elevating the CMO role, AutoNation wanted to develop the company’s brand and take it to a level that never existed before – to leverage its scale as an organization, to build a brand that’s highly differentiated from traditional automotive retail. Our leadership recognized that in order to do that, we needed to build core marketing capabilities and develop a customer promise that is defined clearly and executed consistently at our stores across the country.
We wanted to present a truly advanced online customer experience as well. In our industry, a lot of dealer websites are largely outsourced to reasonably sized agencies that cater specifically to automotive clients. As a result, there’s very little differentiation in the space. Every dealer has a website that looks essentially the same as every other dealer’s. The functionality is also very similar, and it doesn’t usually offer great shopping functionality for customers. AutoNation wanted to create a single role within the company that would help define the brand associated with core attributes we need to provide to our customers, transmit that through marketing communications, and create an online experience that’s commensurate with what we want to do offline.
For all of these reasons, marketing has grown sizably as a function since I joined. It was not as prominently positioned within the company before, but now, it’s at the same table as sales, finance, customer care and other established functions.
How did you strategize growing and transforming your team to address those challenges as well as the way consumers shop for vehicles today and their life cycle through your organization?
First, we had to build a lot of capabilities. We needed to transform from a very responsive but internally focused organization that aims to serve the localized needs of our markets and our stores – that is, one that’s focused on serving internal customers but not the person who buys or services a car – to an organization that thinks externally about how the end customer (the person who buys and services the car) makes purchase decisions. How do we build a value proposition around that?
“AutoNation wanted to create a single role within the company that would help define the brand associated with core attributes we need to provide to our customers, transmit that through marketing communications, and create an online experience that’s commensurate with what we want to do offline.”
It started with changing and balancing the mentality. We still need to be very focused on having strong relationships with our peer organizations; that certainly hasn’t changed. However, we also need to be much more at the forefront and advocate for the customer, which is what a lot of companies do with their marketing departments. That wasn’t the major part of our mandate early on, but it is now. So it was important to bring in marketers who are very sophisticated at digital marketing, market research, product building and understanding what value propositions are interesting to customers based on their shopping behavior.
The vehicle sales process is very complex in terms of the number of places that a customer goes before they purchase a vehicle. We needed to figure out how we play most effectively in a very complicated shopping cycle – not only to figure out how to build an organization that can do that, but also to build an e-commerce organization from scratch where there hadn’t been one before, which included bringing in a group of folks who are experts in web design, user interface design and all of the technical pieces needed to build a high-performing website. We started with a good core and built pretty heavily upon that in the last couple of years.
What’s next for AutoNation? How do you plan to nurture and grow the business and the brand in the coming years? What’s keeping you awake at night lately?
There’s a lot on the plate. That’s very much the case for the modern CMO just about anywhere. There are always five, six or seven big things that we need to tackle. For me, it’s the perennial balance between the short-term and the long-term.
“It was important to bring in marketers who are very sophisticated at digital marketing, market research, product building and understanding what value propositions are interesting to customers based on their shopping behavior.”
On the one hand, we need to deliver sales every month and every quarter as a retailer. At the same time, we also need to position ourselves to be successful a year and two years from now. Every day, I have to find a balance by deciding how much time, effort and energy our team and I spend on hitting the sales number for the month versus, for example, making a longer-term investment in online car shopping functionality. I need to make some long-term bets like investing in our e-commerce team and in analytical capabilities; and then I need to have the discipline not to reorient everything or turn it all upside down just to focus on a short-term problem. These longer-term initiatives need constant attention or they can easily fall by the wayside.
That’s the biggest pressure for me on a day-to-day-basis: When there’s a small fire burning, how much water do we want to put on that fire if it jeopardizes some of the big picture things we’re doing? So far, I think we’ve made the right trade-offs, but it’s a constant juggle.
Greg Revelle is Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of AutoNation and is responsible for marketing and eCommerce. AutoNation is the largest automotive retailer in the United States, with over 21,000 employees and $17 billion in annual revenue. In the role, Revelle has overseen a major overhaul of the company’s marketing organization and platform, including rebranding the company’s footprint under a single national name, building organizations with expertise in digital marketing and eCommerce and launching all-new desktop and mobile web platforms. Revelle also oversaw the development a consolidated set of company-wide brand attributes to build the new brand and achieve consistency across all customer communications.
Previously, Mr. Revelle was Vice President at Expedia, where he led global online advertising spanning 27 countries. He also held various leadership roles in strategy and M&A, serving as a board member of CruiseShipCenters Inc.
Revelle graduated with an A.B. from Princeton University and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.
Karen Joslyn is Vice President of the Manufacturing and Energy organization within the Americas sales division of SAS. Joslyn leads the business and strategic operations for a variety of comprehensive industry lines within the organization, including automotive, high tech manufacturing, aerospace, industrial, oil and gas and utilities. Joslyn is responsible for directing go-to-market strategies, investments, industry-specific solution offerings, domain principals and strategic partnerships to solve the industry’s most challenging business issues and improve returns for the customer.
Joslyn has been with SAS for 11 years and has held various roles within sales management, marketing, R&D, professional services and business development. She has broad international experience and has served as General Manager for multiple business units and SAS companies, Regional Sales Director and Country Manager in Latin America. Prior to SAS, Joslyn held leadership positions in diverse areas of the software industry and has a track record of growth, new market penetration, solution development and strategic go-to-market practices.
Joslyn graduated with honors from the University of California, Davis with a Bachelor of Arts degree and has continuing post graduate education in International Relations.