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Marketing in the Modern Age

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Last month I had the honor of speaking on marketing at the FenderBender Management Conference. My session was on “Marketing in the Modern Age.” In my opening remarks, I talked about how not a lot has changed, but what has changed has changed dramatically. In that sense it
sometimes can feel like everything has changed, and for that reason marketing can seem overwhelming and disorienting. But that does not have to be the case if you understand a few basic ideas about what has changed.

So what has not changed? Word of mouth is still the best and most affordable way to grow your shop. Integrity matters. That means you cannot market yourself out of having bad service or quality repairs. Your extended community still drives the growth of your business. Your network of friends, family, neighbors, vendors, previous customers (and on and on) are the ones who are really building or tearing down your business. The internal culture of your shop has a lot to do with marketing as well. How you treat your employees is how they will treat your customers and your customers’ cars. 

What has changed then? I can summarize what has changed in three words: amplification, opportunity,
and direction. 

Amplification has to do with the speed and volume at which marketing messages move in the modern world. Yes, word of mouth is still king, but now word of mouth is not passed person to person, one at a time. Instead, imagine that your customers all have bull horns the size of the Statue of Liberty and can crank the volume to 11. 

That’s the Internet and the power of social media and online reviews. What gets said online lives there forever and millions of people have instant access to it. The Internet has put classic word of mouth on steroids. This is why paying attention to things like search engine optimization, social media profiles, and online reviews are so important. Specifically, I encourage shop owners to pay attention to Google reviews (Google your shop name often and see what reviews come up) and Yelp reviews. Good Google and Yelp reviews also help with SEO, so it can be a win-win if your shop does well. 

Secondly, opportunity. I used to really sweat the large chains and their marketing budgets. I would see my competitors advertise on TV and hear them on the radio and it would really upset me. I used to wonder, “How in the world could I ever compete with those budgets! I can barely afford the small advertising that I am doing!” 

At the time, I just figured there was really no answer to that question. I was just voicing my frustration more than anything. But it turns out after 10 years that there was and is an answer to that question! I have already alluded to it in this column—yep, the good ol’ Internet. I had a friend build me a website and I started studying SEO on the weekends from the book SEO for Dummies

It didn’t cost me anything in terms of cash—at least at the beginning—and it allowed me to achieve some pretty staggering results after only about a year’s worth of
part-time effort. I got myself to page one on Google for several key words in my city. We started having people drive from very far away, passing dozens of good shops along the way, because they read our reviews online or saw our shop’s website when they did a search. 

Last, I want to touch on the direction of marketing. A lot of the discussion of marketing in the modern age can be summed up in the idea of “inbound marketing” vs. “outbound marketing.” Inbound marketing is all about being found or remembered when someone has a need for your service. Outbound marketing is all about interrupting people with your message, whether that be on a billboard, a radio ad, TV, or a pop-up ad. 

Inbound  is about being found at just the right time, or remembered at the moment someone has a need. Inbound is much less expensive, but requires the investment of time to write fresh content online on a regular basis, interacting as a normal human being (and not an ad-bot) in social media, and telling vivid stories whenever and wherever you are given the opportunity. 

The good news here is that word of mouth is still king and you have a great opportunity to amplify your marketing exponentially on a limited budget just by positioning your shop to be found right when people
are in need. 

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