Collision shops are unique from the standpoint that, for the most part, customers know what services they provide. Most shops don’t necessarily have to advertise those base services, because most customers these days assume that shops are going to be able to fix their car.
That fact is a double-edged sword: On one hand, with customers assuming quality, your shop doesn’t need to convince people that you can do the basic work required. On the other hand, however, with almost every shop earning that benefit of the doubt from customers, shops need to do something different in order to stand out.
Tony Mercury, vice president of revenue of Auto Shop Solutions digital marketing agency, says that need to stand out has turned digital marketing into the key battleground in the industry. The internet is a level playing field for shops to vie for consumer interest, but those shops need to know how to navigate that field in order to compete effectively.
“The biggest thing for independent shops is that they’re competing against the consolidators. Those companies have large budgets, but as long as you have a presence, a website, you will get found,” Mercury says. “One company isn’t going to be able to buy up all of the first-page slots on Google. If you’re an independent owner, you have an opportunity to get found.”
Learning how to use digital marketing effectively can help your shop get the most out of your online presence, improve your customers’ experience with your shop and boost your reputation.
Everywhere at the Same Time
Jerry McNee, president of Ultimate Collision Repair in New Jersey, says the key to digital marketing is figuring out your identity as a shop. Knowing who your customers are and what they value in their customer service experience is critical.
“It’s key to your future,” McNee says. “Ultimately, if you get stagnant or complacent, you start drying up and withering away.
For example, McNee’s shop in the middle of a city with more than 100,000 people is going to have customers that have different expectations – and most likely different cars – than a shop in a more rural part of the country.
Mercury says that understanding of your customer base should inform your entire digital marketing strategy. And in today’s online-dominated marketplace, he says, there really is no room to compromise on digital marketing.
“If we were talking about it 15 years ago, I would say [you need] just a website. Now, you really have to be everywhere at the same time, because you don’t know where a customer is going to start their journey,” he says. “There’s one scenario where they could search ‘collision shop near me’ on Google and click on an ad. Maybe they post on a local Facebook page asking for recommendations. There’s not a definitive place anymore.”
There are four key components to digital marketing according to Mercury: website, search engine optimization, paid search engine advertising and social media. It’s no longer feasible for a shop to have just a website or Facebook page anymore; you need to have a strong presence in each of those four pillars.
Don’t Paint Your Own Car
Advertising your shop and building an online reputation is becoming increasingly complex. Mercury says that his company sees a lot of shop owners and managers that have a ‘do it yourself’ mentality. They’ve built their business and brought this far, he says, so why wouldn’t they be able to learn how to build and manage their own website?
Mercury equates that to a customer painting their own car.
“They could technically do it, but it would look terrible. They’re way better off paying someone who has the skill set and expertise to make it look like it’s supposed to,” he says. “It’s not inexpensive to do it, but the ROI is always stronger than what you’re paying for it.”
Working with a marketing agency can help transform your digital presence and vastly improve your customers’ user experience. Mercury says shops will pay an average of $1,000 to $2,000 a month for strong digital marketing, and they’ll need to spend a little more for Google ads.
That sometimes can be a hard sell for shops that are so focused on making sure they maximize their return on investment. However, McNee says the return on investment is well worth the upfront cost.
“Shops that are doing absolutely nothing, they’re not reaching the people they need to reach,” McNee says.
Not every marketing agency is built equally, though, and you’ll need to do some research when selecting a partner. Mercury says to make sure any agency your shop works with is specific to the automotive industry, knows your ideal customer and what types of vehicles you’re working on.
“Make sure whatever agency you work with aligns with your goals,” Mercury says.
Mercury also says to make sure that whatever agency your shop works with has a reporting dashboard. Auto Shop Solutions has a dashboard called the Auto Shop lab that monitors call volume, rankings of key words on Google and other search platforms, and other key performance indicators to see how well your marketing campaign is working.
Marketing agencies will have vast knowledge of optimizing customer experience, helping target those customers through online advertising and boosting businesses’ online credibility.
While it is possible for shops to do all of that in-house, Mercury says in order to do it effectively, shop owners and managers are going to have to put in even more time than they already are.
“As a business owner, if you’re consistently putting in 50, 60 hours a week, do you really want to devote another eight hours a week to marketing?” he says. “Time isn’t something you can buy back.”
While it might cost more upfront, letting a professional agency handle your digital marketing can help make your online presence the best it can be and save you time in the long run, which can help your business even more.
“What’s your time worth in other departments?” he asks. “What’s your time worth in doing other things that your better at to help grow your business?”