Auto Detailing - September 2001

Marketing: Getting to Know You
By John Lamade

    How do people know your business exists? If consumers in your city want their vehicle detailed, will they come to you?
    Making the connection between a customer's need and your business is the heart of marketing. This month we will perform some open-heart surgery.


    The pulse of your business is your marketing plan. You do have a written marketing plan, right? A marketing plan has five elements:

1. Situation Analysis. In this section you consider how well you are meeting the needs of your customers and how you compare with your competitors. In addition, you look at the challenges you face and how well you are prepared to meet those challenges.
2. Target Audience. Who are your customers?
3. Goals. What do you want to accomplish both in the coming year and the years ahead? Try to make the goals quantifiable; this will help you know when you have reached the goal.
4. Strategies and Tactics. This is the core of the plan. Strategies define what you are going to do. Tactics are how you are going to do it. Advertising, PR, promotions, and other marketing programs are some of the tools you use in strategies and tactics.
5. Budget. How much of your resources - usually money - do you plan to allocate for each of your tactics?

    By taking your business's pulse you are able to determine whether you are on track toward reaching your goals. Ask yourself how well your strategies and tactics are working. Change your budget allocations or tactics if you are not making progress.
    One of the most important strategies in your marketing plan is building consumer awareness of your business. If your goal is to sustain or grow your business, you need to make others aware of your business and then get them to visit your establishment and purchase services. In short, you need to develop a communications strategy.


    The first thing you need to know is your target customer. To whom are you offering your services? Are your customers retail or wholesale? What mix of retail and wholesale customers do you want? You need to know your customers because your message needs to be communicated in a way that reaches your target. For example, a Yellow Pages advertisement is usually directed toward retail customers rather than wholesale customers. Writing the yellow page ad for wholesale customers probably will not bring in much dealer business and justify the expense of the placement.
    Some of the strategic issues are as follows:

• How often do you need to communicate with your target customers?
• What do you want to accomplish?
• If your company is your brand, how well do you want your target audience to recognize the name and where you are located?
• How much money are you willing to spend to communicate to your target customers?
• What tools - newspaper, PR, Yellow Pages, etc. - are available?
• How can you evaluate the success of your communications efforts?

Knowing the answers to these questions is vital. If you do not know how to develop an appropriate message, there are several things that you can do:

• See what your competition is doing. How and where do they advertise and communicate? Emulate successful businesses. Notice I did not say copy. What works for one person might not work for you.
• Talk with other detailers. There are message boards and web sites devoted to detailing. You can exchange information. Trade shows are a good opportunity to meet and discuss issues. Associations, like the ICA, can be useful.
• Talk with other business people in related businesses. Find out how body shops, service garages, and other businesses communicate with their target markets.
• Seek assistance. Visit the library or small business-oriented web sites for assistance. One good web site to visit is


    Some common marketing-plan errors can make running your business more challenging, if not impossible. By knowing what can go wrong, you can avoid these errors and move forward toward your goals.

1. Why? Do your target customers know why you offer your services? Many detailers do not understand their target customers' needs and the customers do not understand how you can satisfy those needs.
2. No Written Plan. If you don't have a written plan, you are not organized to profit by your activities. Your efforts are largely by whim and by what worked yesterday.
3. Fear of Change. The Situation Analysis portion of your marketing plan provides you with an opportunity to investigate changes in your marketing area. Avoiding change means missing opportunity. For example, the increased percentage of leased vehicles changed peoples' attitudes toward vehicle ownership, but turn-in fees created opportunities to minimize vehicle wear and tear. The glut of leased vehicles returning to the market also has dealers and automakers scrambling to make previously leased vehicles more attractive to customers.
4. Communications Tactics Don't Work. Many programs are ineffective because they fail to find a receptive audience.
5. Personal Preferences vs. Customer Preferences. Too often, business owners follow their own preferences rather than those of their customers, because they understand themselves better than they understand their targeted customers.
6. Misspent Advertising Budget. This is closely related to the above error, but the difference lies in spending an inappropriate amount of money on a single channel - the "more-is-better" fallacy.
7. Doing It All Yourself. Sometimes you need the expertise of others. After all, detailing exists because consumers are either unwilling or unable to preserve the appearance of their vehicle. Why should you assume that you know how to produce your advertising, PR, and communications programs?
8. Resisting New Technology. Are you taking advantage of new means of communicating with your target audience and providing better service? For example, investing in an extraction cleaning machine and related products benefits both you and your customers.
9. Under-Budgeted. You are not alone in this area. While overspending can be a problem, under-spending is more serious. If you do not invest in your business, how can you expect a return?
10. Missed Opportunity. When you fail to understand your customers and their needs you may fail to recognize other business opportunities. For example, many of your target customers would like to know where they could have small dents and scratches on their vehicles repaired without the expense and inconvenience of going to a body shop. If you don't provide the service, you are missing an opportunity for additional sales.


    There are two issues I want to discuss this month in greater detail:

* Signage
* Let someone else sing your praise

    Each of these two topics can be useful in helping you build your business.

Tell the World About You
    One of the most important and economical marketing tools is your sign. Every day, potential customers pass your business. Do they see you? Do they understand the activity? Very few businesses seek anonymity. An attractive sign that helps identify what you do can help pull in business. For example, if you invested $8,000 in a sign and 1,500 potential customers passed your business per day, in five years your sign would have been seen over 2.5 million times. The cost per viewing would be $0.0032. That could be a bargain. Remember that a good sign can cost as little as $1,000. There are many sign options, rather than rush into an expensive sign, talk with several sign companies and have them help you select the sign that will help build your business.

Let Someone Else Sing Your Praises
    This section has two parts: Using PR effectively and Generating positive word of mouth recommendations.

PR Is Not Advertising
    Many people confuse PR with advertising. In advertising you are communicating directly with your customer, and in PR somebody else is doing the communication. Many people tend to believe PR more than advertising because they believe it to be less biased. The challenge of PR is getting noticed and getting somebody else to tell your customers about what you do. While it is possible to do PR yourself, you probably should consider the benefits of hiring a PR agency.

Word of Mouth
    Without a doubt the most powerful marketing tool available to you is Word of Mouth (WOM) advertising. Remember that WOM can build and destroy a business. Because WOM is based on other people's references, you can only shape what is said.
    WOM is not well understood. There are relatively few hard rules about generating positive WOM. Here are some observations about generating positive WOM:

• Meet and exceed customer expectations. Do whatever it takes to satisfy your customer. This may mean re-doing jobs to make a customer happy, but by ensuring that customers are elated with your work, they will share their joy with others.
• Find the source of positive referrals. Find out who is saying the great things about your business. Ask new customers why they came to you. The people who provide positive referrals are "opinion leaders" and they can
be the champions that will help you succeed. Take care of your opinion leaders. In addition, look for other influential people, either current or potential customers, who can become opinion leaders. Nurture them.
• WOM takes time. For some businesses it takes three years to generate half of new business from referrals and all new business in five years. Make sure that you are meeting customer needs and expectations by conducting frequent surveys. Stay in touch with your customers and ensure their satisfaction.
• Advertising should be consistent with WOM messages. Make sure that your advertising message supports the messages that you want your customers to communicate.
• Increase your exposure to the public. For example, give free car care seminars or lessons, or support community activities. This helps people form positive attitudes about your business. This can be a basis for positive PR and WOM.


    As you can see, there are multiple issues to consider. Creating a powerful marketing program that helps you reach your business and personal goals takes effort and an approach. Over the coming months we will investigate different elements of successful market planning and suggest things that you can do to enhance your business. I would like to investigate and discuss Yellow Page advertising. I would appreciate receiving e-mail ( or hard copy (care of ALN) regarding your experience and level of investment in Yellow Pages advertising. I would like to know what works and what doesn't work.

John Lamade has extensive experience in the marketing of detailing products and is a contributing editor to Auto Laundry News. Contact John via e-mail at


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