Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2007   by Jim Anderton, Technical Editor

How Advertising Works

Ever wonder how some shops seem to be everywhere, all the time? From local print, TV, radio, billboards and just street-level awareness by the public, winning shops seem to have a knack for building a...

Ever wonder how some shops seem to be everywhere, all the time? From local print, TV, radio, billboards and just street-level awareness by the public, winning shops seem to have a knack for building and enhancing their reputation with their local consumer base. Want to know how the big league players make advertising work? They follow a few basic rules:

1.Know your market. Your goal is to sell vehicle service to everyone, everywhere; but there is a natural target market for your business. Part of it is geographic. How far will consumers drive to use your shop compared to others? Important factors are gender, age and income. How do you find these stats to determine the profile of your customer base? You can hire market research people, but a great resource is on your desk: work orders. Many software packages let you search your work orders and customer database using keywords you choose. Group them by neighborhood, vehicle brand, amount spent, type of service etc., and you have a valuable insight into who’s using your services, both to plan advertising and identify weak spots in your marketing strategy.

2.Pick a target. You don’t have unlimited money, time or customers, so figure out who you’re going to target your message to. The focus breaks down into two basic subsets: new business and current customers. New business means those currently using dealers or other independents for service, as well as those whose vehicles are coming off warranty programs. Existing customers means those who are at risk of jumping to another service provider (“Get a free oil change with new struts!”) and loyal customers who under maintain their vehicles. You can further refine your target by vehicle type, disposable income, etc. The narrower the focus, the easier it is to get a clear message across.

3.Choose your weapon. Your advertising options include print, Web, broadcast and outdoor display advertising as well as direct mail and sponsorship opportunities. Which one works best for your business depends on how carefully you know and define the target audience. Want more affluent professionals driving high-end European imports? A billboard at the drag strip probably won’t do it. A display ad next to golf coverage in the local paper, however, might be ideal. Sell a lot of used tires? The local “buy and sell” newspaper or a shopping cart ad in the “no frills” supermarket could be a winner. There is no best way to do it, nor is there a guarantee that one medium is better than the other, but it’s critical to match the audience to the service you’re selling.

4.Go for maximum impact. Everyone who sells ads will tell you that their “vehicle” delivers maximum impact. The reality is that there are a few rules which will deliver better results if you follow them religiously. The most basic is frequency. Once is probably not enough; the more often you put the message in front of eyeballs, the better the chance that it will be remembered. Another rule of thumb is that bigger is better. You have fractions of a second to grab a consumer’s attention, so small print isn’t enough. Depending on your target audience, two or more different “vehicles” can reinforce each other, like radio and print, or sponsorship and billboards.

5.Budget for creative. “Creative” is ad speak for the ad content itself. Few local businesses budget for this, but money spent here avoids the annoying, cheap look of lots of local advertising. If you can’t afford professional production values, strip your message down to the basics and remember to repeat both the value proposition and the contact phone/Website/address information often. Talk to your ad seller about possible packages that include creative.

6. Measure effectiveness. Traditional ad sellers talk about “reach” and “cost per thousand,” and that’s important; but remember to measure the effectiveness of local advertising by increased sales. Leave the big-time “image” advertising for the big guys and strip your message down to the basics. If you’re promoting your new alignment services, for example, measure sales before and after, and ask customers how they heard about it. Coupons can work wonders in measuring effectiveness, but remember that redemption rates are fractions of the numbers that see the ad. Frequency of advertising is essential to measure the effectiveness of a campaign.

There’s a lot more to learn about advertising for success, but starting simply is a great idea. The key thing, however, is to start because “word of mouth” is not enough.

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