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Benches, Buses and Billboards

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It’s 2008, and you’re probably thinking the Internet trumps just about every other advertising strategy out there. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s efficient—and it reaches a lot of people. But, while the web is a great tool to use to advertise your shop, it’s also a good idea to keep in mind that traditional advertising techniques have a lot of merit, too. Because no matter the power of the Internet, if someone is searching online, it means they’re already trying to choose where to have their car repaired. Traditional advertising, however, hits potential customers before they even touch the keyboard. Bus benches, billboards, and even church bulletins—they’re all conventional forms of advertising that boost your brand recognition before a prospective customer needs his or her car repaired. In the long run, that will bring you more customers.


Jim MacLachlan, principal and director of strategy for Tartan Marketing in Maple Grove, Minn., says you never know when someone will need a body shop, but when they eventually do, you want to be the shop that jumps to the front of someone’s mind. “People have a lot of choices out there, and the key is to set yourself apart,” he says. “If someone puts the effort into separating themselves from the other guys, pulling out something unique they can do—they’ll rise to the top.”

If you’re advertising on the Internet, you’re reaching people already looking for a body shop. If you’re advertising on a bus bench, you’re reaching thousands

A memorable advertising campaign can help create a recognizable brand in people’s minds—so can simply getting your name in front of potential customers. If a person remembers your company name before they get in an accident, he says, “You’re jumping way ahead of everyone in the Yellow Pages.”

While it’s important to advertise on the Internet, MacLachlan says traditional advertising strategies allow you to broaden your potential pool of customers. “There’s a certain group out there—the younger kids—that doesn’t read and does everything online, and they’re the ones who get into accidents the most. But there is a whole other group of folks who are more reachable by old-school advertising. It’s going to reach a whole different audience.” Having a marketing mix, he says, covers your bases. “You want to make as many impressions with as many people as possible.”


Some conventional advertising methods that not only boost name recognition but also add to a great marketing mix include billboards, benches, buses, radio, newsletters and signs. Kyle Crago, body shop manager for Dick’s Body Shop in Mitchell, S.D., says billboards have been successful for them. “The billboards have been the best. We put them on the interstate—three of them close to Mitchell. The billboards say, ‘24 Hour Toe Service.’ People call in all the time to say, ‘You spelled it wrong on your sign!’ But, at least we know people are looking at them.” For Dick’s Body Shop, a purposefully misspelled ad is genius, because it sticks in people’s mind, creating strong brand recognition. Crago says he also keeps the shop’s name out there through radio advertisements. “Every time a new radio station opens up, we’ll talk to them,” he says. “I hear people comment, ‘I heard you on the radio.’”

Tony Bonfe, owner of Bonfe’s Auto Service and Body Repair in St. Paul, Minn, on the other hand, attributes a lot of his success to benches. “We’ve seen the most results [from] the bus benches,” he says. “They’ve been really effective. People say all the time that they saw the name on bus benches.” He currently has advertisements on 40 benches in the Twin Cities. “If you’re advertising on the Internet, you’re reaching people already looking for a body shop. If you’re advertising on the bus bench, you’re reaching thousands,” says Bonfe.

Another successful conventional marketing tactic Bonfe’s uses? Church bulletins. Bonfe says he’s currently advertising in 14 bulletins, with the aim of creating name recognition with as many people as possible. “Hopefully, when they get into an accident, they’ll think Bonfe’s.”
Is one form of traditional advertising better than another? No, says MacLachlan. “It’s not that one is wrong and the other is right; it’s how you mix them to have the biggest impact,” he says. “How many different ways can you make muffins? They’re all different, and they’re all good. There’s never one right way to do it. Everyone has a different media mix.” And, integrating these methods with others such as the Internet and blogs, for example, creates well-rounded advertising. As Bonfe says, “It’s a package deal.”


Establishing brand recognition and seeing tangible results takes time, though. “This is not like a switch you flip on; this thing builds and you have to be patient—your brand builds over time.” MacLachlan says. “All those little impressions you make keep reinforcing your brand. The companies that are advertising are the ones people will remember.”

Bonfe agrees. “Advertising is a tough thing,” he says. “And people don’t do it because you don’t see instant results. You need to think long-term. I know a lot of shops that start something and then don’t see results so they give up. But, two years later, someone might remember you. Believe me, it works.”

The more unique the advertising, the better. Crago, for example, hands out hats. “I hand them out to people when I get done with a collision job,” he says. Bonfe has taken an entirely different approach. He’s currently running ads in the restrooms of bars and restaurants in St. Paul. The slogan, “Car care by people who care” flashes across a screen in digital print. And, what do people think? Bonfe laughs. “A friend told me, ‘I see you on the billboards, I see you when I’m at church, and now I can’t go to the bathroom without seeing you!” Now, that’s great advertising and brand recognition.

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