Depending on what part of the country you're in, most body shops are highly dependent on their insurance partnerships (DRPs).
Every once in a while, a shop owner or manager will ask me, "Why do we market to the consumer, when in the end we get most of our work through our DRPs?"
It's a logical question, so what is the answer? Should shops' advertising and marketing efforts focus more on insurers than customers? Many of them must agree because some large shops are cutting back their marketing budgets and moving away from consumer advertising, such as broadcast, print, collateral, direct mail or various forms of online marketing. Is it a wise move or will it come back to hurt them down the road?
Jim Keller, president of 1Collision Network, has heard the same question time and time again. His 45 locations nationwide are always aggressively marketing themselves to their DRPs under his organization's direction.
"We do a significant amount of marketing for our locations in addition to all of our many other programs and have seen positive results by developing unique programs catering to DRPs and agents," he said. "Through marketing efforts that are specifically designed for both insurers and insurance agents, our shops are more likely to land a new DRP(s) when the opportunity presents itself, which can help drive revenue and the bottom line. Our performance system also enhances shop operations to gain more work from existing DRPs."
Pursuing and attaining OE certifications is another way to attract DRPs because it indicates to the insurer that a shop is committed to repairing vehicles properly and using OE procedures and recommended equipment.
Keller said, "This is a huge opportunity for shops to get onboard because now we have four parties involved in the claim procedure: the shop, the customer, the insurance company and the OE car manufacturers. The certifications are becoming recognized by the insurers, including those that have DRP programs. We make certain to promote our location’s OE certifications and I-CAR Gold Class status on their websites, social media, collateral advertising and other forms of marketing. A body shop with multiple certifications creates an added level of legitimacy and integrity, making that shop more attractive to insurers, DRPs, agents and the consumer. We also believe certifications will aid in recruiting the better technicians to our shops because it ‘raises the bar’ within the industry.”
An effective strategy for marketing to insurance agents is beneficial because in the end, a percentage of agencies will make referrals and often are connected to their clients.
"At 1Collision Network, we have programs that we use to get in front of the agents and build relationships with them," Keller said. "The biggest concern for any insurance agent is retaining their customers because they rely on those renewals, along with new customers, each year to grow their business. We believe marketing to agents is a necessary component to a solid marketing [strategy]."
In the end, shops must address all parties involved---the consumer, the repairer, the insurer and the OE---when it comes to their marketing, public relations and advertising, Keller explained.
"Yes, the OEs are becoming more important now, but the insurance companies aren't going away. To be successful, we must cater to all parties involved, and to leave any of them out of the loop is short-sighted. Good companies adapt and change as the market changes and continually seek new methods and techniques to increase their visibility," he said.
Interacting with insurance agents remains an effective way to connect with them and harvest referrals, but that approach has changed as well.
"Meeting with insurance agents and bringing them donuts is not effective anymore," Keller said. "We continue to have a strategy with the agents and make sure that we get enough touches per year with them because they're the front line when it comes to the customers. We focus more on conveying a strong, relevant message through our marketing, and the results have been very positive. We stress things like driving safety education, CE classes and the dangers of distracted driving programs, rather than social media messages about how to make the best cookies or what breed of dog is the best to buy. 1Collision has also developed a simple and effective policy retention program for agents that involves making the customer feel special, on behalf of the agent, upon completion of the repairs at the point of delivery at the collision center. This has proved to increase agent loyalty and in turn, referrals."
When it comes to any effective form of marketing, Keller said that it all comes down to conveying your shop integrity and creating brand and name recognition.
"When someone gets into an accident and contacts their insurance company, they will often ask about a shop that they've seen through the media or various forms of advertising,” he said. “If a shop has a positive, meaningful presence and continually leverages it, customers will inquire about that shop over others for obvious reasons. Having a strategic mixture of marketing and advertising will lend itself to strengthening the relationships with the DRPs. Being on their list is important, but that's only the first step."