NEW ORLEANS-``Don't rush into advertising,'' speaker Herb Gross warned tire dealers at the recent National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association convention. ``You have to have a plan.''
Conducting a workshop on ``How to win the ad war,'' the owner of Pittsford, N.Y.-based Herb Gross & Co. gave this formula for developing more effective advertising:
1) Have a clear sales goal. Where are you trying to take your business? If you did $1 million in volume last year and think you can move the business up to $1.2 million-that's going to be your sales goal, he said.
2) Write down the kind of image you want your company's advertising to project.
3) Decide on your objective. Are you looking to increase your market share? Do you want to be the largest tire dealer in the area? The largest automotive service dealer? What? Your advertising must be directed toward meeting that objective.
4) Write down the advantages and benefits to customers in doing business with you. What makes your company different? Whatever that is, it has to be communicated to customers in your advertising, Mr. Gross said.
``If all the benefits you list might also apply to your competition, you'd better come up with something new,'' he added.
5) Do a competitive analysis. Cut out all of your competitors' ads from the newspaper. Record their radio and TV ads, and call the stations and ask how much advertising time they're buying. Then analyze the material you've assembled.
``You don't want your ads to look or sound like those of your competitors,'' Mr. Gross advised dealers. If everyone's advertising is alike, only those with megabuck advertising budgets can expect to win the ad war.
Also, clip and save other types of retail ads you like, he suggested. ``Often, such ideas can be adapted for your own use.''
Write down the average profit margins in various sales categories, he advised. Perhaps you should be allocating more advertising dollars to those areas that are the most profitable.
Identify your customer base. ``Anyone who says, `Everyone is my customer' doesn't know his customers,'' Mr. Gross said.
A customer data base can be developed economically, he said, using the dealership's own sales tickets and population data, and other information available from suppliers and local sources such as the public library, chamber of commerce and local media.
Market directly to that customer base with two or three mailings per year, Mr. Gross recommended.
``Over 50 percent of your business comes from either existing customers or their referrals,'' he said.
Chart your company's sales by month and invest advertising dollars during those periods when sales volume normally is high, he advised. Don't attempt to ``force the market'' by spending a disproportionate amount during traditionally low-volume months.
Successful retailers in other fields regularly budget 5-10 percent of their projected gross annual sales for advertising. Yet most tire dealers spend only 1 to 2 percent, Mr. Gross observed.
Don't start by advertising in every possible medium, he advised dealers. ``Do a great job in just one medium before spreading your advertising dollars to others.''
``All types of advertising will work provided you stick with it and keep your message simple,'' he said.
The following are some of Mr. Gross' other suggestions:
Print advertising. ``Don't put your advertising insert in Sunday's newspaper.'' Pick a day when there is less advertising to compete for the reader's attention.
Paid circulation is a good indication that a newspaper is being read, he said. But insist on obtaining good positioning for your ad.
And why, Mr. Gross asked, is every tire ad in the sports section of the newspaper when women represent an important and growing segment of the tire-buying public?
Adding color also can help make your ad stand out from the pack, he said.
Shoppers. These unpaid-circulation papers can saturate the local market at comparatively low cost to advertisers, but are they actually read? One way to determine this is to include a coupon with your add and monitor the returns, Mr. Gross said.
``There's a big difference between circulation and readership.''
Direct mail. This type of advertising lets you target customers by a variety of demographics or by their proximity to your business location. But the cost of such advertising is high-and 15 percent of direct mail is never even opened by potential customers, according to Mr. Gross.
Therefore, carefully measure the results of your direct mail advertising to make certain it's working, he said.
Large, oversize postcards are an economical way to advertise special promotions. The use of color also can be critical to a mailing's success.
Outdoor advertising. Billboards can be an effective medium for increasing buyer awareness of your dealership, he said. But keep your message short and simple. While driving by a billboard at 50 mph, the motorist typically has only five seconds to read what's written there.
Radio can be very cost-effective and easily targeted to a specific listening audience, Mr. Gross said.
If, for example, you want to reach men between the ages of 25 and 29 years of age, there are radio stations specifically targeting them, he said. Also, radio stations often will ``partner'' with advertisers by doing live remote broadcasts from their business sites.
Television is the maximum impact medium, Mr. Gross said. It is now the No. 1 medium for news and information in America. ``Only on television can your ads offer color, sound, motion and emotion and at no additional cost,'' he said.
Television time is expensive, but one way to reduce the cost of entry is through cable television, which sells for a fraction of what broadcast TV costs.
``You can (effectively) sell (your company's) image on television, but you have to be out there on a regular basis,'' Mr. Gross said.
Yellow pages. In many markets there is more than one yellow-page telephone book. Mr. Gross recommends that a dealership advertise in only one: the book of the official local telephone company.