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  Management Feature

Implementing Customer-Focused Advertising for Your Shop

Posted 7/17/2006
By Melanie Bockmann

Don't be just like your competition when it comes to advertising. Get creative and implement ideas to make your shop stand out, especially when it comes to your on-hold advertising.

As a business owner with goals for the future, you've done it all. You've hired well-trained techs. You offer reasonable prices. You've even sent coupon fliers to seven different ZIP codes. Sound familiar? If it does, then you've officially done the same thing most of your competitors are doing, and you're blending in nicely. But if you're aiming for success in growing your business, "blending in" is a bad idea.

When it comes to advertising in the automotive service industry, there is a temptation to go with "the norm" - to style your advertising so it matches what others in the industry are doing because it's familiar. And you're not alone. Without thinking about it, many shop owners allow their competitors to set the advertising standard for that line of business and then follow along.

Think about it. If your direct mailings or phone book ads mimic what everyone else is doing, what is really making you stand out to your customers? Why would a customer pay more attention to your advertising than to your competitors' advertising? What can you do to draw them to you instead?

The answer: customer-focused advertising. Most shop owners already know it's important, yet the amount of non-customer-focused advertising that is floating around confirms that they don't know how to make it work. The main key to customer-focused advertising is simple: remember that it's not about you.

The psychology of the new consumer age has left business owners largely without the cushion of customer loyalty. Customers are fully aware of their buying power and aren't afraid to establish their expectations when it comes to products and services or to keep their options open for the possibility of something better. Most consumers will readily admit their "what's in it for me and how does it solve my needs" approach, and this affects their attention span for advertising as well - which is why customer-focused advertising is so important. For example:

  • Sure, it's nice that you've been family-owned for three generations, but how does that apply to your customers?
  • It's great that you have three bays open and have hired knowledgeable technicians, but how does that directly relate to the service your customers will be receiving?
  • You use OEM parts? Terrific. What does that have to do with your customers' expectations of driving away in a vehicle that works properly? (Many of your customers don't even know what OEM means. Your customers aren't auto repair experts, so be careful not to alienate them with jargon that may sound impressive but doesn't really mean anything to them.)

The same goes for your on-hold advertising. When your callers are on hold, do they hear things that are important to them or do they fall asleep listening to the sound of the things that are important to you? Applying customer focus in a practical way when you are putting together the "nuts and bolts" of your advertising requires an extra step - the step into the inner workings of your customer's mind.

A good way to begin the transition is to review your current advertising message and ask yourself if it actually answers the questions your customers have. As you read through the features of your shop, insert an explanation of why and how each one directly benefits your customers. If you have mentioned a feature that doesn't have a convincing direct customer benefit, delete it. And on behalf of weary consumers everywhere, please remove the following phrases from your advertising vocabulary:

  • "We're dedicated to meeting your needs."
  • "We have a convenient location to serve you."
  • "You have our personal guarantee." "We really care."

Everyone knows that even the dishonest schmucks use those lines.

What you have when you are finished will be exactly what you are after: customer-focused copy. Sure, throw in your tagline and a few other phrases that mention your shop's greatness, but immediately justify those phrases with "what's in it" for your customers because your customers don't care about anything else. Here are a few examples:

  • Family owned for three generations? That means the way I treat my customers reflects on my family name; it's important to me that this business is here for the next generation, so you know I'm going to treat you well. Besides, if I don't live up to the standards of customer service my grandfather established, he's going to write me out of the will and I'll have to sit at the kids' table next Thanksgiving.
  • Three bays and knowledgeable technicians? That means when you call with a problem, we can get you in immediately. Your car won't collect dust in the parking lot until we get to it. We'll get it in now. And because our technicians know what they're doing, they'll be able to diagnose the problem, get it repaired and back on the road before you know it.
  • Original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts? That means we use the same parts that the manufacturer of your car used.

Those are the things your customers want to know. Not surprisingly, they're more interested in their bottom line than yours. So when people begin responding to your customer-focused advertising, make sure you have customer-focused service to back you up.

In an effort toward a customer-focused approach for his shop, Brian Hohman, owner of Accurate Automotive in Burlington, Mass., compared what his shop offered with other shops and started thinking about how he could be one step ahead of his customers' needs. As a result, Accurate Automotive customers now enjoy a service called "Batteries to You," which means if they're stuck with a dead battery, Hohman or one of his employees will bring them a new battery. Customers can also access their entire Accurate Automotive service and repair history online, which means no more digging through the glove compartment for paper records. Hohman also offers shuttle service, car rentals, postcard or e-mail reminders for services due, and an on-hold advertising program that keeps his customers on hold informed and reminded about other services available to them. Hohman's customer focus has earned him a solid business base that continues to grow.

If you are like most shop owners, chances are you don't have a large advertising budget but there's no need to despair. There are affordable options out there. For instance, on-hold advertising is one of the least expensive advertising methods available, compared with radio, television and print ads. In addition to being cost-effective, on-hold advertising is targeted specifically to your audience. It contributes to the relationship between your business and your customers by communicating your information in an entertaining way. And, a professional on-hold advertising team can help you make sure your program is truly customer-focused.

Ask yourself: what customer-focused services can I offer that will differentiate me from my competitors? What changes do I need to make to turn my advertising around so that it focuses on what my customers want instead of a list of my shop's features? Your customers will appreciate it.

And in the end, your bottom line will be more than just the visual you get when one of your technicians bends over. Trust me.

Melanie Bockmann Melanie Bockmann is a writer at OnHold Concepts Inc./Woodstock Media Group based in University Place, Wash. The firm is an ASA associate member and benefit provider, and provides customized soundtracks for all sizes and types of companies nationwide. You can reach her at

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