When Cole’s Collision Center was just one shop, television commercials were the furthest thing from president John Cole’s mind.
But now, after adding his fifth location in 2015, his $100,000 yearly TV advertising budget has become a top priority. Cole spends his mornings, afternoons and nights thinking of new ideas for the commercials, which have gained personality and confidence as the years have passed, and have presented a unique way of branding his multi-shop operation (four of his shops do traditional collision work, and one serves heavy-duty truck customers).
“Being able to advertise yourself as one of the largest MSOs in upper New York just has a different ring to it,” he says. “It allows us to expand into new regions, and I think it’s also allowed us to get more adventurous with our sense of humor.”
For Cole, that has been the key. Once his fun and engaging commercials took off locally, his business’s expansion served as an opportunity to spread his branding tactics to potential customers who had no concept of the new Cole’s Collision Center in town. From Clifton Park to Ballston Spa to Wilton to Colonie and all the cities in between, if you own a television, you’ve probably seen a commercial for Cole’s Collision Center—and Cole has been tracking how effective his commercials are.
Achieving your desired ROI for TV commercials can be difficult, Cole says, but through a combination of demographic research, customer surveying, and cost-effective shooting, he can demonstrate just how much his $100,000 yearly investment is truly worth.
1. Track Your Demographics
Of all the tasks Cole undergoes for his ROI tracking, researching demographics actually requires the least amount of work.
Statistics are readily available through various outlets. You can simply contact local television stations selling advertising space and ask about which time slots are most heavily watched, and the various demographics (such as age and gender) of the people watching during those times. That way, you can find a slot that fits in with the demographic of your typical customer for a particular region.
Nielsen also provides a multitude of data for individual cable channels, allowing you to diversify your commercials, not only to match the demographics of a region, but also to target particular customer bases. Cole creates commercials for specific audiences—perhaps a certain age group, families, or women—and plays them on stations most commonly viewed by those parties.
2. Form a Contract
Once you actually choose a station and time slot that fits in with your demographic goals, Cole says to sign a deal with a television station to ensure stability with your branding.
Forming contracts with channels that feature local content—such as news and sporting events on ABC, CBS, and NBC—are particularly easy as an MSO, Cole says. For years, the local outlets actually contacted him directly, allowing him to negotiate a more reasonable figure.
3. Hire a Team
While he may one day buy his own camera equipment and build a team within Cole’s Collision Centers, Cole, for now, firmly believes it is worth the investment to enlist a professional team to shoot the commercials.
“I could take the time to learn what the proper equipment is, how to use it, and train my people how to use it,” he says. “But for what it currently costs us per year, it just doesn’t seem worth it. I’m more concentrated on running my business and thinking of ideas for the commercials, as opposed to all the technical stuff. That’s just too big of a learning curve.”
Cole suggests finding a team by contacting the local television stations for references, or asking fellow business owners around town (which can easily be done through the local Chamber of Commerce). Again, as a multi-shop operator who reaches a wider audience, Cole had some leeway in negotiating the best deal possible between several companies.
4. Brand Your MSO
Once the groundwork is laid, the creative juices comes into play. The content of your individual commercials should follow some basic guidelines, but also give a sense of your shop’s personality.
For Cole, several factors have remained steady since he expanded into a multi-shop operation:
Choose a tagline. Coupling your business with a slogan allows you to create a connection between multiple commercials in various markets. Even if everyone is experiencing different content, the business’s philosophy will always shine through.
Cole decided to shape his tagline around the level of trust his facilities offered over competing businesses in town:
“Trust Cole’s for a safe and quality repair.”
Boast about your services and certifications. Even though customers may not know what being an “ASE-certified technician” entails, the idea that dozens of employees across several locations are equipped with the technical knowledge and customer service skills is comforting, Cole says, and paints your business as a very professional operation committed to quality.
List your website and phone number. While that may sound simple, the first three steps are a lot to pack into a 30-second spot. Part of tracking ROI is tracking conversion rates. By listing your contact information in more places, both through your website and phone number, you’re giving your customers more ways of reaching you.
List your locations. Listing your multiple locations allows you to remind your customer that you’re a trustworthy, successful business operation that has established itself in several regions.
Give it personality. For Cole, this is what truly allowed his commercials to go to the next level and differentiate themselves from the competition. Each of Cole’s commercials features a caricature (drawn and animated by local artists) of himself discussing Cole’s quality service, creating a mascot that still allows Cole to be the face of the business. He likes to keep his commercials fun and humorous, and constantly brainstorms new ideas to implement, as he thinks the same commercial played for six months starts to grow stale.
“We try to keep our commercials fun and make light of a bad experience,” he says. “We’re trying to do something people will remember. Every other business does testimonials—be better than the next guy. Try to think of something a little different.”
5. Track the ROI
There are no two ways about it: If you want to know how well your commercials are working, you have to ask your customers.
With so many different branding strategies bringing in traffic, such as other forms of advertising and grassroots marketing, it’s important to know if television—a gigantic investment—is truly worth its budget. When customers come in, be sure to ask them how they heard about you. This allows you to track how your reach has progressed as you’ve expanded your commercials into new regions.
And then, ultimately, Cole says you have to give it time. It’s easy to get discouraged when you don’t immediately see a return on investment. But, over time, if you’re branding yourself properly and reaching your core audience, you’ll start to see results.
“It’s all about being in your business and allowing people to get to know you,” he says. “That doesn't come your first year, or even your second or third year. I've been here 10 years. After that long, people just start to know who you are and they trust you.”