Wednesday, 31 October 2007 10:00

Clever Strategies for Drawing in New Customers

Written by Tom Franklin
After more than forty years in marketing and sales, I’ve concluded that most ineffective marketing comes down to a failure to do three things:

1. To reach out widely enough
2. To reach out frequently enough, and
3. To reach out cleverly enough
The first of these is simple enough. A shop may have to expand its advertising and promotion into the next town, community or neighborhood to reach enough prospective customers to grow. In contacting prior customers, a shop may also have to reach more widely back into the past, reconnecting with customers who came to the shop three, four or even five years earlier. Many people only have an accident or damage their vehicle once every three, four or five years.

The second is equally simple, but not often carried out effectively. How often should a shop contact prior customers? How often should a shop promote to prior referral sources? How often should a shop promote to prospective referral sources?

The answer is enough. How much is enough? Enough to provide a continual flow of business into the shop. How often do you get the same junk mail from credit card companies, insurance companies, mortgage companies, etc., etc.? If it weren’t effective to keep sending that junk mail, they would stop doing it. It may seem like a silly rule, but it is a fact that the same message repeated over and over to enough different people will motivate a certain percentage of those people to respond to the message. The larger the number of people contacted – if the percentage remains the same – the total number of people responding will increase accordingly.

The Cleverness Element
The third of this promotional threesome is not as simple as the first two, and many fail to get it right. These days we’re bombarded with TV commercials that make very little sense and hardly seem to relate to the product being sold. We see billboards with great graphic designs and photos, but the name of the product in type so small that near-sighted people like me can’t even tell what they’re selling. There is one simple rule to create an ad or promotion that will catch someone’s attention: Many ads tell you how great their product (or shop) is, but all the buyer cares about is “What’s in it for me?”

These days cost is an important factor for most people. If you’re selling your services directly to the end user – self-pay customers or commercial accounts – you need to emphasize cost savings when dealing with your shop. Even if a customer’s insurance is paying the bill, many people think their insurance fees will go up after an accident. By emphasizing your DRP or special relationship with their insurance company, you may be able to reassure the customer that you provide a cost-savings to his or her insurance company that may be passed on to the customer in the form of reduced premiums.

Another major concern may be trustworthiness and honesty. Some TV newscasters push sensationalist stories about auto shops that rip off customers and fraudulently inflate repair bills. A clever ad may mention this attack and counter it by emphasizing your shop’s relationship with the Better Business Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, Autobody Association, and other affiliations with ethical codes. This might be thought of as a “reversal technique” since you wouldn’t be expected to refer to a story that attacks the collision industry.

While these messages are fairly obvious, creative thinkers have come up with some guidelines to help the rest of us create clever promotional messages.


Some Cleverness Formulas
For many years, The Creative Education Foundation has operated out of the University of Buffalo in Buffalo, New York. One of the key organizers was Dr. Alex F. Osborn, whose book, “Applied Imagination,” provides a list of what might be called “cleverness strategies” to create interesting and effective ads and promotional campaigns.

Some of these strategies focus on adaptation, combination, reversal (noted above), minimizing and maximizing. For example, you might take a major manufacturer’s ad and adapt it to apply to your own business. One of Ford’s ads said “Only Your Mother Cares More About Your Safety.” Since this ad was used a few years ago, you could safely use some version of it to talk about your shop’s superiority in making repairs that you can guarantee for the life of the customer’s car.

A cost-effective use of “combination” is co-op advertising. If your paint company offers a co-op program, you may be able to “ride along” on Dupont, PPG, BASF, Sikkens or other paint company advertising. Major corporations also advertise in combination these days. Banks may co-op with travel agencies, cruise lines and other luxury product lines. You may be able to co-op with a related activity like racing, car shows, or even a hospital with a special accident recovery unit.

Using Size to Promote Your Shop
Minimizing and maximizing work because people’s attention is drawn to elements that are dramatically out of proportion. A giant pumpkin gets TV and newspaper coverage.  A giant vehicle on top of a building is noticed by every passing motorist.

Miniaturization is commonplace now that some cell phones have tiny TV screens and computer keyboards.  Many shops display miniature vehicles, but I’ve never seen a miniature wrecked car. A miniature before and after accident display in the waiting area would draw a lot of attention. A miniature layout of your shop’s work flow facilities could also be interesting to prospective customers.

While we don’t think of taking photos as “miniaturizing,” digital photos do make images small enough to show on a TV screen. A video display of before and after repairs in your waiting area would demonstrate vividly what your shop is capable of doing. If you add cost-savings, safety and convenience factors, you will have created an ad that tells your customer at a glance, “What’s in it for me!”

Keep a Clever Flow of Promotions
Add cleverness to the first two of the basic tools of promotion:

    1. Reach out widely enough in new and clever ways. Use minimizing and maximizing: Send out giant postcards with before and after photos, or have a different image on the back of your business cards every month.

    2. Reach out frequently enough with clever variations. Send your prior customers a new message every month. Or post photos and messages on your website and use mailings to invite customers and prospects to look at your website feature of the month.

   3. Reach out cleverly enough to keep a continuous flow of business into your shop. Notice that your bills never fail to arrive every month. Your invitations to customers and prospective customers should go out at least as frequently and consistently as those bills from your suppliers and creditors.

Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for forty years and is the author of the books, “Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops,” “Tom Franklin’s Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops,” and “Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth.” His marketing company now provides marketing solutions and services for body shops and other businesses. He can be reached for questions or comments at (323) 871-6862, by fax at (323) 465-2228, or by e-Mail (see banner)