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Get Your Message Heard: Executing an Effective Marketing Plan

Creating and then executing an effective marketing plan isn’t easy. Here are some tips to help you succeed in getting your message out…and avoid wasting too much of your hard-earned money.

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Michael Quinn is co-founder and CEO of 911 Collision Centers & Autoglass. From a start-up in August 1998, 911 Collision Centers & Autoglass has grown to five locations in Tucson, Ariz., and two locations in Las Vegas. 911rnCollision Centers & Autoglass received the National Auto Body Council’s “Pride Award” for its commitment to community service. The company was also a runner-up in the Better Business Bureau’s International “Ethics in Business” award and AAA’s “Top Shop” awards for service and repairrnexcellence. In 2006, it was given the DuPont Joe Jackson award for community service.

So, you want to advertise your business. Increase your sales. Create more customer loyalty. You say you have a shop that needs to stay busy.

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Then obviously you need a course in Marketing 101.

I’ve been commercially marketing our 911 Collision Centers to consumers for more than eight years now and wasted many dollars on ineffective mediums. My goal is to help you navigate these choppy waters so you don’t waste too much of your hard-earned money.

Marketing vs. Salesmanship
“Marketing” and “salesmanship” go hand in hand, but there’s an important distinction between the two. Marketing consists of any and all efforts to get the customer to your door; salesmanship is getting the customer to choose your shop.

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Marketing will not automatically increase business. It may bring additional business to your door, but good sales training will be needed to close that business. I learned this the hard way many years ago by spending a fortune on advertising and gaining no additional work. You need to work with staff to qualify and capture the additional business that an effective marketing plan will bring to your door.

The ever-changing and competitive collision repair industry landscape demands that we budget for both marketing and sales training. Why? Because name or “brand” recognition is essential to a body shop’s success. Consumers, whether they’re insurance referred or paying cash, need to know who you are and what your company is about.

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The problem is that shops traditionally haven’t marketed because they’ve either had long-standing relationships in the community with little or no competition, or they’ve had insurers driving business to their doors. For many, that’s all changed, which has created an even greater need for marketing. The importance of name recognition is evident when the insurer pitches its direct-repair program to its customers and your shop is one of the several options it offers. You want the consumer to recognize your name and select your business.

Getting the Word Out
Let’s talk about direct advertising to consumers. I’ll define that as any print, audio, video or other means of communicating directly to the public. First, you need to determine who your “target market” is. Who are you trying to reach (effectively hit your demographic) with your message? Are you targeting everyone in your market? That may not be wise. Marketing to the masses in general will probably cost you much more than you can afford and not “hit” a specific target enough times. Remember: frequency, frequency, frequency (which is how often your spot runs). One example is that we decided to target females aged 30 years and older because some statistics suggested that females make more than 60 percent of all buying decisions. And we all know women feel like they get taken advantage of in the automotive repair experience. So we tailored our services to make sure to give the people we targeted all the time in making a decision and helping them with their needs. Obviously, if you market effectively, you’ll see more than just your
target market showing up at
your door.

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I don’t believe in print (Yellow Pages, newspapers, etc.) People, especially the younger generation today, don’t look in the Yellow Pages or at newspaper advertisements anymore. They get their news and information electronically, and that’s becoming more prevalent by the day. Google this or Google that – the Internet has changed everything. We’ve found that billboards, however, are a good secondary medium. I say secondary because I believe a billboard by itself is only as good as the primary medium message you’re trying to deliver.

That leaves audio and video or radio and TV. We believe in TV first and foremost because its visual capability helps further implant your shop name in the consumer’s mind. Radio is also effective but not as much as TV…and it’s also expensive. We do traffic report sponsorships and actually have the traffic reporter “imbed” our message right into the report (if there’s an accident). For example:

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“Traffic is tied up on Main Street. An accident has occurred on the south side, so those folks better call 911 Collision Centers, they’ll help them get back on the road in no time. Further south, the traffic is moving smoothly…”

You get the idea. Studies show that consumers need to hear your message a minimum of seven times within one week for it to stick in their brains. But that’s not to say you need to only run it seven times per week.

There are all kinds of messages you can send. When creating a script and storyboard for your TV spot, I believe it’s important to show your shop and services in quick succession as it relates to a vehicle repair. In other words, from the customer dropping off her vehicle, to appraising the damages, frame and metal work, to the smiling customer picking up her completed, shiny car. It’ll take some work to fit that into a 30-second spot, but I believe it has quite an impact.

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Starting with the script, take your time. Review it, show it to others, change it and show it to others again. The same thing holds true with production. I preface my meeting with the head production guy by saying, “I want to make sure this commercial is the absolute best it can be. I know you’re a busy guy, but I’m going to make you go through five or six revisions until I’m happy. Are you OK with that?” As many times as I’ve said this, I’ve never heard “no” back. And when I sense they’re growing tired of my search for perfection, I remind them of our earlier conversation.

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Also, make sure when production people are out “shooting” at your shop that they get all different kinds of footage. This will be useful for editing the one spot or having excess footage “in the can” for future spots. Testimonial commercials where people say what a great job you did are hands-down the best message senders…but use real customers, not actors!

You can also create a “jingle” or catchy song. We have a great one that’s imbedded into our 30-second TV spots and 60-second radio spots. Kids (and parents) all over town have raved about it and often sing it. You’re welcome to listen to it at www.911collision.com. If done correctly, your own jingle can add
much value to brand awareness
and loyalty.

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Stale messages are ones that run over and over. But just because you think it might be stale doesn’t mean Joe Consumer thinks so. Once you create a message that works, run with it over and over. Production companies will want you to change your message or convince you that you need multiple spots. But guess who wins here? We tried that and paid for five spots – more money for them, but it didn’t work that much better for us. While having consistent selling points is important, I don’t believe constantly changing your spot is warranted provided it’s a great one to
begin with.

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If you’re not sure you’ve created an effective TV or radio spot, get feedback from your neighbors, friends and family before it hits the air. Wear them out. This is your hard-earned money, and you must protect it.

Internet Advertising
We also do Internet advertising on Google. Along with our ability to hit high on “organic searches,” we wanted to try Google Sponsored Links (top left and right side). Sponsored links are a reasonable way to connect with people looking for your goods and services.
Web sites need ongoing maintenance to remain active and to ensure they’re viewed high up on searches. When was the last time you checked your shop’s ranking in a search engine? Ask your Web designer about spiders and robots. These little devils go out and scrub Web sites for relevance and date sensitivity. If your Web site hasn’t been “updated” for a year, it won’t hit high enough when consumers search for collision repair shops.

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By the way, make sure your keyword strings have the words “auto body” in them, not just “collision repair.” We like to use collision repair for today’s highly sophisticated repair facilities, but for some consumers, we’re still just auto body shops. Utilize many different keywords to increase the chance of people finding you: auto body, collision repair, fender repair, fender bender, accident, auto accident, auto body + your hometown, etc.

We worked on this so much that my Web designer stumbled upon an opportunity to increase his services to all of his clients. We pay a monthly fee for him to maintain both our sponsored advertising on Google and to update our site to ensure that it’s viewed high in the organic search rankings (Google pays him a small fee as well). “Click-through” ads or sponsored links cost about $2 a piece, and the report information from Google is very useful. We’ve written several different messages that rotate, and we review these reports monthly
to determine which are most
effective. Use what works; drop the rest – and that goes for all of
your advertising.

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Dealing with Ad Reps
To make media buys, you can either go through an advertising agency or you may choose to do it yourself. If you work with an ad agency, negotiation will be key.

I live to negotiate, don’t you? I’ve found that ad agencies have to “live” with the media companies and vice versa. It’s similar to two realtors working together – they’re not always looking out for your best interest, but rather what will make them both the most money and not rock the boat too much so they can together consummate a deal. Because of this dynamic, I’ve had to go around my agency. On the plus side, ad agencies usually have their own graphic designers on staff and sometimes even video/audio production personnel.
Ad agencies work on commissions on the media buys and then charge you for production costs. This can work for people who don’t have the time to tinker with what they want.

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Remember, though, you still need to be involved and review run sheets to see what happened with your money from the prior month.

Early on, when we started on a small budget, we used the cable company’s production department. Local network stations usually have production people too. Again, take caution as to what you believe and they believe to be a “finished product.” You’re the customer; you drive and make
the decisions.

Once you make up your mind to “pull the trigger” on a campaign and the salespeople have you excited, take your time. They’ll try to push you to get this done ASAP. Why? Because their commission doesn’t kick in until you run spots.

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Remember, as with any expenditure, caution is key. I’ve never met a salesperson who told me they had the worst product and that it wouldn’t make an impact on my target demographic. It’s like interviewing people for a job. Everyone is Superman during the interview, right? You never find out what they’re really like until the rubber hits the road. Also, an important point to note is that if a sales rep tells you they have a “good deal,” it’s probably unsold inventory nobody
else wants.

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I’m going to repeat this statement again: Regarding your media message and selected mediums, ask everyone around you for their feedback…neighbors, friends and family. My best ideas have come from these people. And doesn’t it make sense to go to them? After all, they’re consumers too! Once you have enough feedback, trust it exclusively!

FYI: I’m the last person who should make these decisions. Who cares about my best guess? I’m not a marketing expert, nor do I represent our target market. If I left it up to my TV viewing and radio-listening habits to make “buys,” we wouldn’t hit our target market. We advertise on American Idol even though I’ve never even watched an entire show. But our target market sure has. We advertise on the radio, but I listen to satellite radio. So you can see the importance of gaining perspective from others. Don’t let your own viewing and listening habits determine your buys.

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Spending the Dough
This is the tough part…spending your hard-earned money. We selected cable TV because at the time it was the best value for our money. We knew we could easily hit our demographic and proceeded by selecting (from a menu) the channels these people most often watched. We bought 8 a.m.-midnight “rotators” rather than specific time slots. We also made the assumption that most people with cable would have income over $40,000 a year and have a late-model car with insurance. One advertising expert told me, “If you cannot afford the daytime, own the nighttime.” Don’t waste money running one spot per day. If you jump in, “own” one station or two stations day or night. In other words, own that demographic watching that channel.

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Most ad reps on their initial visit will bring a suggested schedule to propose a number of TV channels with times for a specific dollar amount. Negotiate! It’s similar to negotiating an estimate on a car: if you don’t ask, you never get it. Ask your neighbors and friends what channels they watch and when they watch them.

The most important part of marketing is consistency. You need to market when you’re busy and slow. An effective campaign will take approximately eight months to see a Return on Investment. You’ll see work before then, but not enough to offset the costs. Hang in there. There’s an old saying in advertising that goes, “The hardest check to get (from the advertiser) is the third check.” The advertiser is excited he’s going to have his company on TV and gladly hands over the first check. The next month, business hasn’t increased, but he saw the ads and a customer mentioned seeing them. He or she grudgingly gives over the second check. The third month, the advertiser stops! You must commit to a planned budget and wait it out to reap the benefits. Think of it as money that must be paid just like rent or mortgage. After a few months, you won’t miss it, and eventually you’ll see it driving business to your door.

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Watch what others advertise on TV and when they advertise, regardless of whether they’re small or large companies. You too will become a marketing student and study this great avenue that can help your business grow.

The end result? People will see your spots and see your company in a positive light. Success! Another great point: We do a lot of outside marketing to insurance agents too, and guess what? They watch TV too! It’s a great way to kill two birds with
one stone.

Final advice: Pull the trigger, create a marketing budget and plan, get the spots on and stay the course. And don’t forget, it’s a process with two distinct parts: driving the business to your door and then closing the sale.

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Marketing and Advertising Terms You Need to Know

Medium: The method by which you get your marketing message out. There are three types of mediums: print (Yellow Pages, newspapers, magazines, flyers, brochures, billboards), audio (radio, on-hold message system) and video (T.V. commercials, Web site).

Media buy: Advertising schedule or purchase. The cost and specific medium used for a given period.

Maintenance schedule: A schedule or “buy” that’s smaller than your normal campaign (in both cost and frequency). One might use a maintenance schedule after an aggressive schedule has been run.

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Rotators: Spots can be purchased on specific times, channels and programs. Rotators are the opposite and will do exactly as described. A “prime time” rotator will run on a specific channel from, say, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Rotators can be 24 hours or specific time frames. Costs are generally cheaper for 24-hour rotators but you don’t know when they might appear.

Brand: The name of your organization or entity but more importantly the perception the consumer has of your organization or “brand.”

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Demographic, or “demo”: Mediums allow you to focus on specific individuals with specific household income levels, sex, etc. For example, our “demo” is females aged 30 years and older with household income levels above $35,000 per year. These statistics are gathered by third parties, such as Nielsen Media Research.

Imbed: Imbed is to place into a spot. For example, you have a standard T.V. or radio spot and you can have the production company imbed (or insert) a special you’re running for the month. “Detail your car, this month only $100..”

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Script: Script is the written story of the commercial – who says what, when and how. This is thought through and revised until you find the verbage that you believe best represents your company and meets the time frame (30 second/60 second).

Storyboard: This is a “visual” of the script for T.V. This may be necessary if you have no prior experience in marketing to give you an understanding of what the commercial might look like. It’s important that the background (what consumers “see” in your spot) looks professional.

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Web Terms

Click-through: This term relates to the actual number of individuals who click through to your Web site from a search engine page.

Organic search rankings: This is the area on a return search page that indicates the relevant companies/ organizations from an individual’s search inquiry.

Keyword string: Keywords allow search engines to “see” your goods and services and their relevance to the needs of the person seeking them.

Spiders and robots: These are electronic Web site scrubbers that go out from search engines to check Web sites for relevance and time sensitivity. Does the Web site have current information relevant to a possible search? These checks aren’t done during routine searches. The search engine then stores this information for future search relevance.

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Sponsored link: Sponsored links are the “ads” placed by companies to hit high on the search engines. These can be purchased on a “click-through” cost or “pay per click.” In other words, you’re not charged just for the search engine showing your ad, it must be “clicked-through.”

Sample Marketing Budget

How much should you spend on marketing? As much as you possibly can and then some more! Experts say five to seven percent of your total gross sales is a good budget for body shops. As your company grows, you can decrease that percentage and still maintain your presence with a “maintenance schedule.” When we first started marketing, we were spending around 12 percent, but we had no relationships, no work, an empty shop and techs to feed. If you can afford it, spend it. This is your future. Here’s a sample advertising budget:

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Media – $10,000
Cable T.V. – $5,000   
Billboards – $3,000
Radio – $1,000
Google – $500
Media production – $500

Outside marketing – $3,000

Marketing rep – $2,800
Expenses – $200

Outside events – $1,000

Sporting events – $500
Cocktail reception – $250
Misc. – $250


Collateral materials/trinkets – $500

Business cards
Flyers
Brochures
Post-it notes
Pens
Candy/cookies        


Sponsorships –  $500

(Little League, etc.)             

 
Total………..    $15,000.

A facility grossing $200,000 in monthly sales using the above sample budget
would then be spending 5% of its sales for marketing.


Michael Quinn is co-founder and CEO of 911 Collision Centers & Autoglass. From a start-up in August 1998, 911 Collision Centers & Autoglass has grown to five locations in Tucson, Ariz., and two locations in Las Vegas. 911 Collision Centers & Autoglass received the National Auto Body Council’s “Pride Award” for its commitment to community service. The company was also a runner-up in the Better Business Bureau’s International “Ethics in Business” award and AAA’s “Top Shop” awards for service and repair excellence. In 2006, it was given the DuPont Joe Jackson award for community service. Quinn can be reached at [email protected].

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