NEW ORLEANS-``Advertising is an investment in the growth of your business; it's not an expense,'' speaker Herb Gross told his audience at the recent National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association convention. ``If you're looking at advertising as an expense, you looking at it the wrong way.''
Conducting a work shop titled ``How to win the ad war,'' the owner of a Rochester, N.Y-area ad agency reminded dealers they not only must deal with increasing competition and shrinking profit margins in today's marketplace-but also less customer loyalty.
The last is especially true in the case of those dealers using nothing but ``price-and-item'' advertising to attract customers. Such advertising merely encourages customers to shop wherever they get the lowest price, he said.
``Retailers selling only price have forgotten the most important thing-they should be selling value,'' said Mr. Gross, while pointing to a typical retail tire ad consisting of little more than a listing of tire sizes and prices.
To be effective in today's competitive market, a dealership's sales message must stand out from the clutter of other advertising-which is everywhere today, he said.
``Your customer-the average consumer-is pelted with over 5,000 advertising messages a day,'' he said. ``From the time you wake up in the morning to the time you go to sleep at night, someone is trying to sell you something.''
Television is becoming the No. 1 medium for news and information. The average U.S. household has the television turned on seven hours a day, Mr. Gross said.
``You have to learn to use that medium to reach your customers,'' he told dealers.
Today's successful businesses focus on customers' needs. ``You really have to understand what your customer wants.''
Moreover, today's successful retailer is one who can provide the customer with real value, Mr. Gross continued. ``Notice that I'm not saying the lowest price,'' he added. ``Value is more than merely the lowest price.''
Such businesses are offering value to customers in the form of exceptional service, said Mr. Gross. ``And you have to teach your customers how to enjoy the experience.''
In preparation for his New Orleans talk, Mr. Gross said he telephoned several highly successful tire dealers across the U.S. ``Not one of them mentioned price as the No. 1 reason why people are doing business with them. They all focused on customer service,'' he told dealers. ``So you have to ask: `What can I do to serve my customers better?' ''
Mr. Gross told the audience these dealers mentioned such features as free shuttle service for customers and rapid turnaround. ``One dealership took customers to a McDonald's restaurant for a free breakfast, and another took customers to a nearby mall while their cars were being serviced. Customers at the mall were given beepers so they could be notified when their cars were ready, he explained.
Not only does such service attract customers-it also is one way a dealership can successfully compete without sacrificing its profitability, Mr. Gross pointed out.
Marketing is the key to success or failure in today's competitive environment. And marketing includes every aspect of how you present your business to customers, he said.
``It's how your people are dressed, their enthusiasm, how your trucks are painted, how clean your operation looks, how informative your people are and your advertising.
``Advertising does just one thing-it brings people in,'' he said. ``It's up to you to get them back again next time.''
``Today's consumers want to be informed-not sold,'' said Mr. Gross. ``People want to know why they should pay more for a specific tire or why it's important to have their car's front end aligned.''
Informational advertising works, he said. ``If you're still advertising the way you did seven or eight years ago, you'd better change,'' he advised dealers.
Mr. Gross showed examples of effective advertising tire retailers are using to cut through the clutter on television. All three spots had one thing in common: the ability to capture and hold the viewer's interest.
``Color, sound, motion and emotion-that's the way to reach your customers today and inform them of why they should do business with you,'' he told dealers.
He listed six areas dealers should focus on in order to improve their advertising:
1) Have a plan of action covering at least 12 months or longer. ``Know where you're going with your advertising.''
2) Focus on the effectiveness of your ad message. ``Are you clearly communicating why people should do business with you? ''
3) Keep your ad plan cohesive. ``Does everything tie together?''
4) Make sure you're in the right medium.
There's no right answer for everyone. ``You have to pick the best medium to reach whatever market you're going after.''
5) Remain flexible to change. ``If something is not working there's absolutely no reason to stay with it. You don't need to change the plan-just the message; and,
6) Set up a tracking system to measure advertising results.