Personalize Your Marketing Efforts
Ron Stamm always knew the importance of a successful marketing plan, but putting one into practice and sticking with it … well, that was another thing entirely. The body shop manager at Fort Mitchell Garage in Park Hills, Ky., tried several different ways to reach prospective customers: radio, billboards, cable TV. But the results were never what he expected.
“The collision industry is a weird animal when it comes to marketing,” Stamm says of searching for a strategy that would stick. The fact that people tend to get in a car accident just once every seven years—thus, needing your services less than twice a decade—makes for one tough marketing game. The good news? When you play it consistently, it’s a game you can win.
CURRENT CUSTOMERS FIRST
A solid marketing plan starts with a written document that spells out your plans to achieve your marketing objectives. It works best, experts say, when it’s focused on your current customers. “Eighty percent of your marketing dollars should be spent on existing customers,” says George Zabrecky, owner and chief executive officer of NWZ WORX Multimedia, a marketing consultancy in Cincinnati, Ohio. “It costs five times more to get someone new than to keep an existing customer.” If you successfully connect with current customers, they’re likely to sing your praises to family and friends, and that’s a great way to bring in new business.
—George Zabrecky, owner and chief executive officer,
NWZ WORX Multimedia
While there are myriad marketing options out there, Zabrecky says some of the best are found in print: a newsletter, a flyer, a postcard. What makes them work so well? They’re a direct, consistent way for you to promote your shop’s image and to identify with your customers, he says.
For Stamm, a shop newsletter was the perfect marketing strategy. Rather than hit-or-miss attempts, such as radio or television, the newsletter provided a way to accurately reflect Fort Mitchell’s image and directly connect with current customers. Published twice a year, the newsletters “far and away get people’s attention. They want that personal touch,” he says. “They want to get to know you. It’s amazing, absolutely amazing, the feedback we get from the newsletters. It’s much more successful than any other marketing medium.”
Consistency is crucial to the success of your marketing plan. Too often, shop owners and managers get preoccupied with daily business and bail on their marketing plan. “There’s no question that other influences dictate consistency. Most shop owners use marketing plans as floor mats,” Zabrecky says. “They’ll be really diligent and go with it for a few months. Then, they’ll hear about what someone else is doing, and they’ll try that. There’s no consistency.”
A good rule of thumb to follow? Avoid fads. “When a lot of shops lose their way, it’s because people will say, ‘I tried this new thing, and it works!’ In our industry, everyone is looking for something new to try that is less expensive. Stick with yourself. Trust your gut. Don’t be taken in by fast-talking marketing people.”
Stamm realizes the need for consistency, though he admits it’s hard to maintain at times. “I still struggle with the discipline,” he says, “but you figure out what works.” When the shop staff made the commitment to stick with the newsletter, it allowed them to weed out other marketing tactics that weren’t working.
“They’ll be really diligent and go with it for a few months. Then, they’ll hear about what someone else is doing, and they’ll try that.”
Zabrecky suggests publishing a newsletter or flyer semiannually. “You’re trying to be top of mind,” he says. Keep in mind that you may be reaching more people than you realize. You may mail or email a newsletter to 1,000 people, but some of those folks are certain to share the information with their friends and family network—especially if they’ve had a good experience with you, and if your newsletter contains some information or promotion of real value.
To really connect with your customers, it’s important to know who you are. “Every one of the shops I talk to doesn’t know who they are or what their image is,” Zabrecky says. “Every business has a personality. [Your] marketing has to flavor that image.” Without an identity for your shop, customers will have a hard time relating to you.
“I take a mirror to workshops and tell shop owners to take a look in that mirror,” Zabrecky says. “[Then I tell them to] tell that person what you’ve done today. Everyone starts talking to the mirror but finishes their sentence looking at me. They have a hard time looking at themselves.” Zabrecky encourages people to figure out their personality, whether it’s funny or straightforward, analytical or warm. Getting comfortable with yourself helps other people get comfortable with you. That connection creates trust, he suggests, and that’s the basis for a good customer relationship.
“There is some introspection that has to go on, because you can’t be all things to all people,” says Stamm, who spent time reflecting on his business before writing his shop’s newsletter. “I have always wanted to project an image of quality and thoroughness and personal attention to the customer. You have to understand your own attitude.” Once you’ve put the best your shop has to offer out there, Stamm says, then you hope those are the things your customers want.
KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER
Aside from knowing yourself, it’s important to know your customer. “[You] have to understand the buying public. Where are your customers coming from?” Zabrecky asks. “What is their income? Are they coming from insurance companies? If so, which ones? What types of cars are they driving? You have to analyze the data.” Getting a feel for the demographics of your customers will help you better identify with them.
Stamm connects with his customers via holiday cards. Since his shop is in a religious area (it’s predominantly Catholic), he sends Christmas cards. The cards send a positive reminder of the shop, its image and the fact that the staff is there and ready to help.
KEEP YOUR PROMISE
For Stamm, a good marketing plan is all about holding him accountable as a shop operator. “It holds your feet to the fire. If you make a promise, you better keep it. [If] you say, ‘We use the highest quality materials on your car’ and you use an inferior part and something falls off that car, you lose that trust,” he says. “If you make claims in your marketing that you’re a high quality shop, you better deliver.”