Rule Number One: Know Thy Customer

Institutional advertising programs like print media, electronic media, etc., have their place. Clearly they can help you keep the name of your company at the top of people’s minds, and in the world of advertising, that’s a good place to be. But regardless of how much name awareness your company carries, one thing is for certain: you sell a service, not a product. If you sell inexpensive commodities, like a box of soap, you can bet that the overwhelming majority of your customers are going to make impulse purchasing decisions. Unfortunately, that’s not the case when it comes to purchasing an intangible, regardless of whether it’s a service being provided by a doctor, an accountant, an attorney or someone who is going to take care of your automobile.

There is no doubt about it: When people have to choose a service provider their level of anxiety goes up, and it gives them pause in making their decision. So how do you influence people who are looking for a service provider? Do what most of your competitors would never dream of doing: think like a customer. If you do, then I imagine you will reach the following conclusions…

First, your customers are no different than you. They are most influenced by their friends and family. GE commissioned a study during which they discovered that word-of-mouth advertising is three to five times more effective than any other media. Why? Because people are leery when it comes to believing what they see or read in paid ads, but they believe their friends. They have learned to trust that their friends don’t have hidden agendas.

The second point you’ll need to accept is that people do business with people, not with businesses. The more you can “humanize” your company, the more credible your brand will become. This is why so many of the Fortune 500 companies like to show supposed employees in their ads, and why many of these very same companies will air ads with the Chairman or CEO speaking to the camera. These are the companies that understand that people do business with people.

So here’s a list of some easily implemented marketing strategies that will bring in the right kind of customers, in the most affordable way.

1. Humanize your business. In your print and electronic media, use photos of you and your employees whenever possible. Ads that carry images of people draw in the attention of the reader in two ways: the reader will be curious as to whether they know the person in the ad, and secondly, people have a tendency to compare their own image to the image of people they see in ads. Either way you win by capturing the customer’s attention. Not only will your ad more effectively draw the reader in, but the images will humanize your business. Remember, you’re in a service business, not a product business.

2. If you haven’t already done so, get involved in at least one community organization. Regardless of whether it’s your Chamber of Commerce, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, etc., you need to become an integral part of your community. When you are “off the clock” at these events, you pose no sales threat to the people you’ll meet. This will allow you to build relationships in a matter of minutes, that otherwise could take a lifetime.

3. Get involved with your local schools. You’ll find that there are plenty of opportunities to speak about auto safety, maintenance, choosing a repair facility, career opportunities, etc. Not only can you have an amazing impact on both the faculty and the parents, but you’ll have a powerful impact on the students, who are your future customers. And don’t forget: if the student recognizes you as the “expert”, when they hear their parents talking about auto repair, they’ll become a salesperson for you and your shop.

4. Hospitals, fire departments and police departments are what we call “communities within communities.” You need to find ways of showing your appreciation for what these community heroes do for the town you live in. If you do, your name can become a household name throughout the entire community in no time.

So if you think like a customer, then you’ll agree with me when I say that if you were looking for a good doctor, you may very well search for one online. However, I suspect that before you’d make any final decision, you would ask your friends if they know a doctor they would recommend, or if they knew anything about the doctor you were considering. In either case, the doctor that you would ultimately choose wouldn’t be the one who has done the best job at dumping money into advertising programs, but the one who has done the best job at touching the lives of other people. If you agree with my conclusion, then why would you expect it would be any different with a service business like yours?

The best kept secret of marketing an auto service business? Never forget: people do business with people, not with businesses, and people will always refer their friends to people … not to businesses. At every customer panel we have done at Elite, each panelist has always said the same two things: they are most influenced by what their friends say, and they are always drawn towards companies that are actively engaged in their community. So do this: make a point to meet as many people as you can, and touch as many lives as you can along the way.

For additional help improving your marketing programs and increasing your car counts, learn more about the 1-on-1 coaching offered through the Elite Coaching Program.

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