9 ways to get the biggest bang for your advertising buck

 By Bob Clements

As we begin the New Year, it’s time to start thinking about the upcoming season and how to maximize your impact in the marketplace. Many in the media and the industry are talking about the jobless recovery and how the economy is on its way to improving. I am not convinced that anyone really knows what is going to happen, but I do know that we must continue to keep our belts tight and work hard to get as much of the business that is going to take place.

You have all heard the old business saying that it “takes money to make money,” and I am sure that most, if not all, of you would agree that it’s true. The challenge is how do you make money if you have very little to invest? As a dealer, it’s a fact that every dollar you spend is a dollar that you don’t get to take home. So, spending money wisely, especially on advertising and marketing, is critical to your ability to enjoy all those things you work hard for in life.

Since the success of your marketing and advertising efforts is often hard to measure, it’s imperative that you invest your money in them wisely. Let’s take a look at nine simple ways to hold down your marketing and advertising costs while maximizing your profits.

#1 Consider your Web site

With the advent of the Internet and a well-designed Web site, you have many cost-effective ways to advertise and promote your dealership and products.

If you are looking for a quick, free review of your Web site, log on to www.websitegrader.com. Website Grader is a free tool that lets you measure the effectiveness of your Web site and compare it to one of your competitor’s sites. All you have to do is log on, and provide your e-mail address and your Web address. Click “go,” and in about 60 seconds, you will receive a score that incorporates things like Website traffic and search engine optimization. The quick report also will give you some ideas on how to enhance your site’s ability to generate traffic to your dealership. Give it a try. I think you will gain some great insight on ways to make your site have greater impact. 

#2 Try classified ads

When it comes to newspaper advertising, most dealers think about display ads and how costly it is to run them on a consistent basis to reach their customers. If you are looking at lowering your advertising costs, then I would recommend you give some thought to investing a few dollars in the classified section of your local newspaper or weekly shopper.

Classified ads are substantially less expensive than small display ads, and, if they are well designed, will generate leads into your dealership. You should limit your ad to about 16 to 20 words, which includes your dealership name, address and phone number. Before writing your ad, go to your local library and look through the back issues of your local papers. Find ads that catch your eye or that are repeated week after week; those repeat ads wouldn’t be in there each week if they weren’t making the advertiser money. Use those eye-catching and repeat ads as springboards for ideas when you write your own classifieds.

Test your ads in the cheapest paper possible, so you can find out what’s working and what’s not. Play with them, and tweak them. Once you’ve got an ad that works, keep using it. You can run it more than once in a single publication, or in more than one publication at a time. When it quits bringing in customers, or you start noticing a drop in effectiveness, then it’s time to change it.

The key to writing an effective ad is to catch the customer’s eye in the first three to four words. Using a headine like “Lawn Mowers Cheap!” will capture the attention of someone who is considering buying a lawn mower. Since there are hundreds of ads in any given newspaper, in 20 words or less, you have to create a message that will make a reader stop and either call or visit you. It’s as simple and as complicated as that. Simple because you know what you want to accomplish, but complicated because it has to be done with so few words.

Evaluate the cost effectiveness of your ad by the cost per inquiry and not the cost of the ad. For example, if a $75 ad generates seven inquiries, it’s better than a $40 ad that generates three inquiries. 

#3 Don’t forget your envelopes, statements, faxes and e-mails

Most of you have business cards, and all of you have product information sheets that you hand out or place in brochure racks in your showroom. But you also put out a lot of other documents in the course of doing business. Take some time and check to make sure that you are using everything you send out to its fullest promotional advantage. For example, your business stationery is a perfect promotion tool; check it to make sure your dealership name, logo, contact information (including your Web address) and slogan are on both it and your envelopes.

Many dealers set up their stationary correctly, but only include their name and return address on the envelope. Don’t waste the opportunity to have your phone, fax, Web address, company logo and company slogan on your envelopes. An envelope is not just an envelope — it’s also a business promotional tool. When you send out a letter or a bid, why not make the envelope work for you as well?

The same goes for outgoing faxes, bill payments, receipts; whatever paper you send out should carry your full company message. And don’t forget to make sure that your e-mail has a complete signature that provides all your business information and a company slogan.

E-mail is simple to update with your latest business promotion information, whether it be a special price on a product or service, or letting customers know that your service technicians have just completed advanced service training. Take advantage of every opportunity to promote your dealership for free. 

#4 Become your own ad agency

If you are already running newspaper, radio or TV ads, consider setting up your own ad agency and asking for a discounted rate. Most media offer a 15-percent discount to agencies that purchase advertising for companies, so act as your own ad agency and you might qualify for the special rate.

Don’t forget about offering to buy leftover space or airtime. This is advertising that the newspaper, radio or television station hasn’t filled by its usual deadline. Of course, you’ll have to take the spots that are available, but it might be worth the discount and the exposure you’ll receive.

#5 Barter

Bartering has been around before there was money, and it’s still a great way to lower your advertising costs. Think about equipment that you have already purchased — not something still on floor plan — and see if your local radio, newspaper or TV station will accept a trade for its retail value. Many will use it to do a promotion for their listeners, readers and viewers, so it can turn into a great promotion for you. If the unsold equipment is merely collecting dust, you are better off to convert it into ad dollars rather than taking your real dollars and spending them.

#6 Use cross marketing

Cross marketing is another great way to reduce your promotion costs. Think about a business with a mutual customer base, but doesn’t compete against you. An example might be a greenhouse or even an independent car service center. If you send out a mailer, you could include a leaflet and/or business card of another business, which agreed to do the same for you. This gives you the chance to reach a whole new pool of potential customers.

You might also plan and carry out business promotions with each other. This can cut down the cost of business promotion considerably, and allow each of you to use promotion techniques that would be too expensive to implement alone.

#7 Send out a press release

Press releases are a great way to get free promotions through your local newspapers and radio. The key to doing a press release that will actually get published or aired is that it must contain information that is newsworthy and engaging. If you have recently expanded your dealership or are bringing in a new product that is environmentally friendly, you should do a press release. If you have been involved in a local charity or sponsored a youth sports team, you should do a press release. If your technicians just completed training so that they can deliver better service to the local customers or if you won an award from a vendor for any reason, you should do a press release. Your goal is to capitalize on any recent company news to get some free promotion for your dealership.

#8 Promote your business on a talk show

Check with your local radio or TV station to see if either might consider airing a green industry program and use you as the expert. You could talk about service, new types of equipment that are environmentally friendly, answer questions about parts, or just become the grass expert. If there is no program that currently offers the kind of expert advice that you can bring to the audience, put together a proposal and talk to the program director about possibly making you a part of the programming. 

#9 Promote with your trucks

Regardless of where you live, if you have driven down the road in the past week, you have undoubtedly seen a truck decorated with custom vinyl graphics. Almost every major company, which hauls its own products to customers, covers its trucks with graphics that reflect what that company is and does. I recently spotted a McDonald’s truck with great-looking graphics of a Big Mac and fries covering it. You can do the same thing with your dealership’s trucks. Turn your trucks into mobile billboards and use them to promote your business while you are picking up and delivering equipment to your customers. The best thing about having your trucks covered with great-looking graphics is that you only have to buy them once, and, for as long as you have those trucks moving around, they keep selling people on your business.

The key to being successful with your advertising and promotion, regardless of what you do, is to focus on your target market. The better you define your target market and focus specifically on that group of potential buyers, the better your chances of finding new customers and making the most for your advertising buck.

 Bob Clements is the president of Bob Clements International, Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in the development of high-performance dealerships. His organization works hands on with dealerships throughout North America, helping them attain the personal freedom and financial wealth all owners strive to achieve. For more information, contact Bob Clements at (800) 480-0737 or bob@bobclements.com or visit his Web site at www.bobclements.com

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