You can't escape it. Advertising inundates people every day in their inboxes, mailboxes, televisions and radios, yet actually creating some can be a difficult prospect for many independent tire dealers.
To break the system down, Tim Hellige, a partner at Bandy Carroll Hellige Advertising in Louisville, Ky., said dealers must look at both product advertising and brand advertising. Mr. Hellige's firm recently was retained as the agency of record for Big O Tires Inc. in the Louisville metro market and other contiguous secondary markets.
Product advertising is the usual promotional vehicle that describes various sales or specials while brand advertising creates an image or identity for the business. Simply put, Mr. Hellige said, product advertising gives customers an incentive to buy, and brand advertising gives people a reason to buy.
``Everybody's got tires and everybody's going to have tires at all the various price points,'' he said. ``The branding part of it, the brand advertising, is going to tell somebody why you would go to this guy over that guy.''
For an example, he pointed to BMW A.G. Participating in the same class as Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo models, BMW can't just advertise itself as a luxury car. Instead, the German auto maker goes for the identity as the ``ultimate driving machine.'' For their identities, Volvo turned to safety and Mercedes to prestige, Mr. Hellige said.
``That's what anybody who markets products and services needs to do, so everything you talk about, the images you have in your ads and all that somehow speaks to a higher performance car,'' he said.
When dealers set out to advertise, they first must identify their target audience and how best to reach them.
``That's one of the most common mistakes,'' Mr. Hellige said. ``People choose a medium just based on their own usage patterns or what they hear, and they don't do enough analysis of where are (the) customers coming from and what is the profile of that customer.''
He suggests dealers poll a majority of their customers, asking for their zip codes, income levels, age, media preferences and other identifiers.
Matt McCallum, senior account manager and retail team leader at Hitchcock Fleming and Associates in Akron, said many people often get comfortable with a media representative or two and advertise on habit. ``They're not charting what their objectives are,'' said Mr. McCallum, whose firm is the retail agency of record for Goodyear.
After dealers target their audience and the best media to reach them, they should then turn their focus on the competition, noting what qualities other businesses are pushing in their advertising, whether it's low prices, better service or more locations.
``You have to do that analysis to what your competitors are saying about themselves and then you look at yourself and say, `OK, what can I say to combat that?''' Mr. Hellige said.
But the difference needs to be a stark one. Customers may not see a difference among blanket ``good service'' descriptions, so dealers should find-or create-a real difference. ``You have to dig down deeper and really determine what is different about what I do vs. my competitors,'' he added.
The customer polling exercise may also pay off here if the dealer asks what customers would like to see from the shop, then considers instituting that, Mr. Hellige recommended.
Once these two determinations are made, Mr. Hellige said dealers then should look at the various media available. Newspapers are generally the best place for product advertising while billboards and TV rule brand advertising. Since people rarely look for tires until they need them, the newspaper and Yellow Pages are generally the first things they refer to for deals on tires. And for that reason, he said, independents who want to highlight service still have to include pricing.
``Consumers are going to look for a price, and they're going to compare,'' Mr. Hellige said. ``If you're going to run an ad in a newspaper and everybody else in there always puts a price in, then you have to put in a price. You're going to have to find some product that you have that is at least competitive with (others' prices). If it's not lower than everybody else, it's got to be at least competitive or consumers aren't going to look at you.''
Direct mail-a staple of tire dealers' plans-still can be effective in the digital age, said Kathy Kobliski, owner of Silent Partner Advertising in Syracuse, N.Y. But the key is to make the pieces as attractive as possible to catch a consumer's attention before it's thrown out as junk mail. Glossy postcards can be helpful, she said.
Print media can have some downfalls. Ms. Kobliski said newspapers and Yellow Pages give away which businesses are larger than others because consumers can directly compare the size of various ads. ``It's very evident who can afford the big ad and who can't, and that's not exactly something that you as a small business want to scream,'' she said.
On the other hand, television, radio and billboards hide those facts since advertisers don't share the exact same space or time. For TV, Ms. Kobliski strongly urges business owners to rely on professionals and not to try to do the ad themselves. She also suggests dealers use tire maker advertising, starting with their biggest-selling brand and working down the chain.
``You don't want some nice slick national ad running then here you are with a grainy picture of your dog with a cigar in his mouth sitting in a chair,'' she said. ``It makes it so obvious, so take advice from professionals.''
The one area she strongly suggests dealers not listen to media reps is regarding the business owner appearing in the video. She said some reps encourage advertisers to put themselves and their families in an ad, knowing the ad will be run more often because of its emotional appeal to the advertiser. But she said generally business owners don't have the look or genuine appeal that works in television ads.
Ms. Kobliski-a 25-year veteran of the business whose book ``Advertising Without an Agency Made Easy'' is in its third edition-said she's used actual business owners only twice because they came across well. Otherwise it can spell disaster.
``Professionals will give your message the spotlight, they don't absorb the spotlight themselves as would your kids or your pets or your brother-in-law trying to sing your jingle (would) take the total focus off your message,'' she said.
With the professionals from the TV station shooting the commercial, Ms. Kobliski suggested dealers ask for the raw footage to save production costs on future ads.
For billboards, she suggested very punchy taglines in eight to 10 words maximum. Dealers can map out roads leading to their business and target those, especially two- and four-lane highways.
Regardless of which medium dealers choose, both Mr. Hellige and Ms. Kobliski said the overall brand or image message must be the same theme throughout.
``You want it to all look like it's coming from the same voice,'' Mr. Hellige said.