Marketing Mastery

Jan. 1, 2020
For decades, the marketing mainstays in the automotive service sector have been coupons, loss-leader discounts and direct mail postcards. Consider the ever-popular value pack mailings and yellow page ads, and you'll realize that automotive marketing

The building blocks of a blockbuster program

For decades, the marketing mainstays in the automotive service sector have been coupons, loss-leader discounts and direct mail postcards. Consider the ever-popular value pack mailings and yellow page ads, and you'll realize that automotive marketing has changed very little in recent years.

While some shop owners thrive on referral business alone, the conventional formula is not cutting it for shops hungry for growth or with more than three bays to fill. Increased competition from dealers and discount franchises dictates that you approach your marketing efforts with business savvy and a solid strategy.

Before you spend another dime, let's look at these essential — albeit non-glamorous — marketing musts.

Get to Know Your Clients

While this seems obvious, a surprising number of business owners don't take time to truly examine their core client base. You need to know age ranges, gender, family status (kids or no kids), suburban or city dwellers, one-car or multi-car households and professional, stay-at-home or retired work status.

You should also have an idea of your client's media habits. What TV shows, radio stations, newspapers and magazines do they favor? Are they e-mail junkies or staples at the post office? The reason for this is simple. If you're sending postcards to 30-year-olds in an urban market or creating e-mail campaigns for seniors, you're probably missing the mark.

One important note. Not all clients are created equal. Identify your top and mid-level clients and market to them. Investing time and money in consumers who do not contribute to your bottom line is a losing proposition. (These clients also tend to be the ones who are the most demanding and most time-consuming.)

Do a S.W.O.T. Analysis

This bit of Marketing 101 stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Gather your key personnel for a meeting and make a list of your business' strengths and weaknesses. Then, consider outside forces as you do the same for opportunities and threats. It's smart to seek input from top clients on this, too. They'll have valuable third-party perspectives.

Once your lists are complete, determine which items on the list demand the most immediate attention or which offer the most opportunity. Then create marketing initiatives to address each of these priorities.

Analyze Critical Customer and Marketing Data

Every successful marketing strategy is based on information. Where are your new clients coming from? (Your service advisors should be asking every client and entering it into your shop management system (SMS) or a spreadsheet.) What is your average repair order? How many times does your average client visit per year? How much revenue does he or she generate? What is your retention rate? (If you're losing more clients than you're gaining, focus marketing on client relationship management vs. customer acquisition. It's easier and significantly less costly to bring a customer back than it is to attract a new one.)

The downside to this info-gathering mission is many SMSes fall short on reporting capabilities. If this is true for you, seek out a freelancer knowledgeable with the database your SMS uses and hire him or her to write custom queries. The investment will be well worth it, and you'll be thrilled with the information you can cull from your own database.

Measure, Measure, Measure

Return on investment (ROI) is a fancy term for knowing if an ad or promotion pays for itself. Case in point: the tens of thousands of dollars invested annually in yellow pages ads. Too many business owners have no idea how much business they're reaping in return. Is it even enough to cover the cost of the ad?

Don't launch any marketing effort unless you can measure the resulting revenue, and don't accept a coupon or authorize a giveaway without having a way to track the response rate. The easiest way to evaluate a campaign is to offer an incentive that requires customers to redeem a certificate or remember a promo code. But if you've grown weary on coupons and discounts, consider creative alternatives.

When you calculate the cost of the campaign, be sure to factor in a monetary value for the time invested by any in-house personnel. And when weighing a new marketing idea, ask yourself how many repair orders it has to generate to make a profit? You'll be surprised at how black and white this makes most of your decisions.

Break the Mold

Be creative and think outside the box with your marketing projects. Do postcards work for you? If the answer is a half-hearted yes, then consider what might work better. An e-mail newsletter? A customer referral program? There is an entire online world of e-mail marketing, blogs, social networking sites and pay-per-click ads that have turned traditional marketing upside down in recent years. Now is as good a time as any to become familiar with the quirks, benefits and drawbacks of this new "world."

Establish Goals

If you decide to drive cross-country without a road map, how much longer will it take you to reach your destination than if you arm yourself with directions? Marketing and business growth is no different. To avoid wandering aimlessly from one fiscal year to the next, decide what you want your marketing to achieve. A 10 percent increase in revenue? A $25 increase in your average repair order?

Once you've set your goals, brainstorm ways of how to get there. Use all of the information you've gathered through the exercises above. Look to other industries for ideas. Read case studies in marketing forums, magazines and books. You'll soon find you have more ideas than you'll have time to implement. Pick the ones that offer the most payoff potential with the lowest time and cost investments.

If you go through this process with a critical eye, you should find yourself taking a long look at your existing marketing projects. Do you want to continue a program because it works or because it's a personal favorite? You will face difficult decisions, but focus on the goals you've set and the impact to the bottom line. Only then can you replace the old tried and true coupons with the new true blue of effective marketing.

Angi Semler is director of operations at C&M Auto Service in Vernon Hills, Ill. She has more than 10 years' experience in the automotive aftermarket, including four with ABRN, Motor Age's sister publication.

Sponsored Recommendations

Best Body Shop and the 360-Degree-Concept

Spanesi ‘360-Degree-Concept’ Enables Kansas Body Shop to Complete High-Quality Repairs

How Fender Bender Operator of the Year, Morrow Collision Center, Achieves Their Spot-On Measurements

Learn how Fender Bender Operator of the Year, Morrison Collision Center, equipped their new collision facility with “sleek and modern” equipment and tools from Spanesi Americas...

ADAS Applications: What They Are & What They Do

Learn how ADAS utilizes sensors such as radar, sonar, lidar and cameras to perceive the world around the vehicle, and either provide critical information to the driver or take...

Banking on Bigger Profits with a Heavy-Duty Truck Paint Booth

The addition of a heavy-duty paint booth for oversized trucks & vehicles can open the door to new or expanded service opportunities.