Do your uniforms look like every other shop in the area? Does your waiting room look the same? Do your advertisements look exactly like what everyone else is sending?
These things are all part of your shop’s brand — its image in the community. And you can either choose to look, sound and act like everyone else, or you can choose to build your own brand, tell your own story and set yourself apart.
Why does this matter?
Most customers walk into a shop with a negative disposition. Their car broke again, and they already know it’s going to hurt their bank account. And the last time they walked into a shop like this, with these uniforms and these colors and these decorations, they may not have been treated as well as they expected.
Those other shops might be scamming new customers or using cheap parts. They might be using hard sales tactics at the front counter. And whether you wanted to or not, you’re associating your shop with theirs. You’re saying, “We’re not really any different from those guys!”
But you are different. If you were really no different than those shops, you wouldn’t be taking the time to read this article.
Here’s the secret: You have to set yourself apart from everyone else. You have to create your own brand.
You have your own story to tell. But how do you decide what it is?
Defining Your Brand
When you define your brand, you need to pick something that is true, sustainable and meaningful to your customers. But you can’t just list every trait that might be important to your customers — that is almost as ineffective as not having a brand at all.
Your business should be defined as one brand — one consistent characteristic, promise and truth that people can identify and recognize as the one thing that your business is all about.
Maybe it’s customer service. Does your shop go above and beyond for every customer, every time? Does your team treat every customer the same way they’d want somebody to treat their own grandmother? Does your team provide truly superior customer service, from the phone, to the counter, to the follow-up call? If so, this might be your angle. If not, find that characteristic about your shop that you can point to.
The point is, find something that matters to you, that is true for your shop and that you can sustain. Something you can do consistently, for every car and every customer, and something that truly matters to your customers.
Branding is about setting expectations. Before you start telling your story or even think about advertising, make sure you can live up to the promises you’re making. If your advertising says one thing, but the customer experience in the shop says another, you’re going to have a problem.
And there’s nothing more dangerous than a customer who feels betrayed.
So before you ever send out a piece of advertising, make sure every statement is 100 percent true. If you claim to be the No. 1 shop in the area, you better have an award that says just that. If you claim to employ only ASE-certified technicians, you better have a certification for every tech in the shop.
Image Is Everything
There is a difference between marketing and advertising. Ads are direct-mail pieces, radio spots or email newsletters. Marketing is EVERYTHING. It’s the experience customers have when they come in, the story they hear from the neighbor down the street, the way the building looks when they drive up. It’s how you teach them about the services you recommend. It’s fulfilling the promises that your advertisements make.
Creating a brand and perfecting your shop’s image is about mastering the small interactions. Weeks or months after their service, people often won’t remember what you said or what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel, which is why your branding — your job of creating your shop’s image — doesn’t end at the front counter, and it’s not limited to the ads you send. Your brand should carry through into every aspect of your business.
Customers should see your brand in every aspect of every interaction with you — from the direct mail you send, to your website, to the way you answer the phone, to the certifications you have hanging on the wall. When you are consistent like this — in advertising and marketing and customer service — people know what to expect from you. And, as I said earlier, branding is all about setting expectations.
Telling Your Shop’s Story
The most important takeaway from this article is this: Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
If you identify yourself as the fastest auto repair shop in town, the moment your advertising starts working and cars start filling your bays, you won’t be the fastest anymore. If you try to be the cheapest, somebody will always come along to undercut you.
Your brand — your image — is built on promises kept, not just good intentions. If there’s a problem in your shop, you have to change the way you do business before you change the way you advertise. Otherwise, the better your new ads work at attracting great customers, the worse off you are because you’ll end up burning through every new customer you worked so hard to attract.
Telling your shop’s story relies on good communication — sending the right message to the right people, being consistent across every marketing piece and every interaction with every customer, keeping promises and setting expectations.
Branding shows your customers what to expect before they even walk through your door. And when their experience matches their expectations, they’re customers for life.
David Rogers is chief operating officer of Keller Bros. Inc., president of Auto Profit Masters, Shop4D, and the award-winning Automated Marketing Group. David has a heart for service, a mind for perfecting systems, and an expert at consumer marketing. Reach David via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, toll-free at 1-866-826-7911, or online at https://autoprofitmasters.com.