invest a lot of time researching what's working in today's marketing and just spent more than 16 months looking at more than 637 auto repair shops, exploring what's working for them.
In doing that, I uncovered five dangerous trends that every service shop owner faces.
When you understand them, it becomes easy to see how you should be spending your marketing dollars and (more importantly) how your marketing may actually be driving customers to your competitors.
Clutter and confusion: If nobody has told you, it's pretty much common knowledge that we're bombarded with messages (of all kinds) every day. So how do you stand out in the clutter and confusion? How do you get new prospects to choose you?
What's critical is to be able to stand out and be found where car owners are actually looking.
Increased competition: I probably didn't have to tell you this, but think about it for a minute. Competition comes from all different angles. From the new guy who just opened up, to the price cutter down the street. Then there are the big box stores and national chains. Add to them the new car dealers who are becoming more aggressive at targeting your customer.
Interestingly, we uncovered a Forbes magazine article detailing a study by Sageworks Inc., a financial information company. The research looked at how independent repair shops compare to new car dealerships when it comes to service and repair work.
Their findings were disturbing if you're an independent shop owner. The independent auto service sector is, as of 2013, experiencing a growth rate of 1.7 percent compared with the auto dealers' 11.8. Add to that the fact independents, on average, take home about 2 cents for every dollar brought in. Ouch.
Peter Brown, a Sageworks analyst, said these numbers make the independent auto service sector one of the slowest growing of all industries.
Increased costs of marketing and the diminishing returns: Shop owners constantly complain about poor results from various campaigns and the fact that they struggle to make them break even, let alone be profitable.
Part of that is due to the ever-increasing number of platforms and media. How many different places do you have to advertise?
If you want to be cost-effective, you need to be serious about being in front of car owners where they're actually lookingnot necessarily where you think they should be looking.
'Eat what you kill' and neglecting 'lead generation': I see it all the time. Flyers, postcards and all sorts of marketing that screams, Buy me, buy me.
In fact less than 2 percent of your market is actively looking for service or repairs at any given timeso your screaming is falling on deaf ears.
On the other hand, generating leads and then converting them to customers once you've had an opportunity to demonstrate your authority is, by far, the easiest way to bring in new customers.
How do you do that? With simple information. In fact, statistics show that requests for free information is the highest converting 'Free Offer' either on- or off-line.
So what about The 5 Questions You Should Ask Your Repair Shop Before You Book an Appointment or other helpful information that instantly puts you in the authority position?
You can make these downloadable items from your website or small brochure type reports that get mailed out to customers.
Either way, they separate you from the competition and help establish you as the authority in the market while get-ting prospects to know, trust and like you before they need your service.
As you develop your list of prospects (leads), you focus your marketing towards them, as they already have an interest in what you're doing. It's a lot less expensiveand far more fruitful.
Ignoring where car owners are actually looking: I say this tongue in cheek, but only 96 percent of computer owners do searches for local business online. On top of that, surveys reveal that 79 percent of smartphone users and 81 percent of tablet owners do the exact same thing.
Google Inc. reports that there are more than 30 billion mobile searches annuallywith about 12 billion (or about 40 percent of them) local searches.
Even better, it's claimed that almost 80 percent of those mobile searches end up in a sale. In fact, digital research firm eMarketer Inc. reports that local mobile searches are expected to exceed desktop searches for the first time in 2015.
If that's not enough, Google claims it conducts more than 30 million click-to-calls each month. (Click to calls are from a mobile-friendly site where the user doesn't have to copy your number downthey just click or tap to connect.)
So what does your repair shop look like on a smartphone? Just because your site can be accessed doesn't mean it's doing anything. Actually, it could be driving business to your competition.
When surveyed, smartphone users claim they will not pinch and squeeze to view a website that is impossible to read. A study by Icebreaker Consulting L.L.C., a social media marketing firm, revealed when a site is impossible to read, 40 percent of mobile users click to another site; 46 percent of them are unlikely to return; and if that's not bad enough, 34 percent said they would visit a competitor's website.
What's the one fix?: Get serious about your online presence. It used to be that having a mobile-responsive website was a nice featuretoday it's a must.
But just having a mobile-responsive site may not be enough. When going mobile, it's important to consider what information your website makes visible first. I say that because my rule of thumb is that the smaller the screen, the more important some information becomes.
Although smartphone users do watch video and read articles on their phonesif you're in the service business, contact info, maps and coupons are most critical and must display first.
But with thousands of local auto service-related searches being done in every market across North America, it's time you look seriously at what those users are seeingand make it easy for them to find you, call you and visit you.
Matthew Lee is an auto service marketing specialist and author of The Official Guide to Auto Service Marketing, which offers no-cost and low-cost marketing strategies. A free copy is available on his website, www.JustTheBestMarketing.com.