Recently I was asked what I thought the three most important issues were regarding advertising. In order, they would be perception, relevance and recency. These three cover a broad marketing spectrum. Perception, the most critical, defines how you are thought of in the marketplace. Simply, you are what you are perceived to be. You can be the most upstanding, honest, charitable, kind soul on the planet, but if the general population’s perception is that you are a conniving thief, that is how you are thought of. Conversely, despite the fact that you hold the highest grosses in the market place, never sell wholesale junk, enjoy the highest customer paid labor rate in the county and are perceived by the general population as a place to get a ‘great deal,’ your perception is reality. Relevance and recency are closely tied to one another in our crowded, often confusing, usually spontaneous marketplace. Relevance is the ‘what’s in it for me’ and ‘why should I buy right now,’ and recency is the timing of the message that maximizes the relevance intervention.
Perception is our reality
Picture this. A friend calls you to say he’ll be in town just for the day and wants to know where to get a great steak. And you say_____. Your daughter needs a new computer and she needs it now. You tell her she’ll get a good price and probably find what she wants in stock at ________. These answers came right off the top of your head. No long thought process was needed.
Transpose this to your business model. How are you thought of? Where are you in the selection, service, pricing and customer service spectrum? One of the easiest ways to determine that is to ask your best customers through research. You can hire a company to do that for you or just pick up the phone. I personally know several dealers who still call every single new and used vehicle customer. The benefit of this direct method is the ability to read between the lines.
Years ago I owned a restaurant. I discovered that when people had a good experience they would tell you. When they didn’t they’d tell everyone else. I got the very best feedback by standing near the door when the customers were leaving. If they didn’t volunteer a compliment I would probe and most of the time I’d uncover some area of concern whether it be service or food. I was able to fix things fast based on this information, make my customers feel important and have an opportunity to short circuit any negative comments to others. When is the last time you talked to a satisfied (or dissatisfied) customer? What was their perceptions of your business. Pricing/deal? Location/hours/ease of doing business? Service department? Quality/warranty on used vehicles? How can you reflect these perceptions in marketing messages? Remember, it is that customer’s perception…the pictures-in-their-mind, developed over a period of time or created spontaneously, and reinforced along the path to purchase, that solidify the dealership of choice to shop first.
A true master, marketing genius, the late Sam Walton, knew how to develop these pictures in the consumers’ mind. He knew the importance of creating a perception of bigness, discount pricing, customer convenience and trust. Sam knew that his marketing had to do more than just make a claim. It had to constantly remind people of how Wal-Mart’s ‘bigness’ translated to better value for the customer.
Relevance speaks to the individual
The closer you can get to specific needs, wants, desires of individuals in the marketplace, the better the chance you have of hitting a home run. Once again, nothing can put your ear closer to the pavement than thoughtful, consistent research on the wants, needs and specific areas of interest to your customer. About a year ago I was going thru a mid-size city on the Atlantic seaboard and I heard a car dealer talking about his ‘renew like new’ program. On this particular radio station, the dealer was suggesting that he might be able to ‘renew’ any vehicle with less than 120,000 miles on it to make it look and run like new at a reasonable cost. He offered a free safety check and appraisal. Let me paraphrase a sample of the radio copy he used:
“If the only reason you’re considering a trade is a shiny new look, you might be able to save thousands with our ‘renew to new’ program. First we go over all the mechanicals on your vehicle to see if fixing it up is a good investment. Then we send it to our ‘renew’ department to buff and wax and shine and detail it inside an out. We do it all for a reasonable price and when we’re done, we give you a guaranteed trade in value good for six months in the event you decide to trade anyway! So what do you have to lose? You might get a thousands more happy miles out of your car for a whole lot less than a trade up. We offer a guarantee on any parts we replace and if you really do need another vehicle, we’ll give you top dollar for yours in trade. You just can’t lose with our ‘renew to new’ program!”
Intrigued, I called the dealer to ask how it was working. His response…one word: “gangbusters.” His service business was up 20% and he was selling quite a few used and new directly related to the ad. Testing different ads for sub-prime, service, financing offers, fuel mileage, etc. can often yield unique responses that not only ring the register but differentiate you in the marketplace, enhancing the perception that you are more than just a car dealership, but a transportation expert truly interested in satisfying the unique and specific needs of individuals.
I love the quote someone passed along to me a few weeks back by the late Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary K Cosmetics. “Imagine every person you meet has a sign around the neck that says ‘make me feel special” Remember, relevance is not a collective term, it’s unique, specific, custom. Everyone wants to be a V.I.P.”
Forget about reach and frequency, recency is where it’s at
A few years back I wrote an article on ‘Recency,’ a term I picked up from one of the most brilliant media minds in America, Erwin Ephron. As Erwin describe, ‘reach and frequency’ are the old paradigms. How many people you reach with what frequency. The new paradigm is ‘Recency,’ defined as media placement as close to the active shopping cycle as possible. While consistency is important in advertising, and being in the marketplace most of the year, recency is the art of placing media where and when your customers are most likely to peak in their shopping cycle. Without going into a long-winded explanation, let me highlight one example. For most dealers Monday has the potential of being the second busiest delivery day of the week, yet most dealers don’t advertise on Monday. Nor on Sunday. Think about this scenario. A young family finally decides to embark on a vehicle shopping venture. By the time they get out of the house on Saturday morning its almost noon. So they have lunch at Wendys then arrive at your dealership around 2 p.m. Of course your dealership is busy so there is a little wait. Then we start talking and walking and looking and talking. It is almost 4:30 p.m. now, the kids are hungry. Mom’s feet are sore. “Honey, let’s think about this and shop around tomorrow.” Sunday comes. The family drives through several dealer lots. Now it’s confusion time. Model. Size. Color. Mileage. Lease? Buy?
Now imagine a radio spot talking about a big sale at your place tomorrow, Monday.
And Sunday evening, there are your sale spots on several of the most popular cable channels. Sunday afternoon, an email went out to all who visited that week with extra special savings and even more reasons to buy before close of business Monday.
Monday, you delay your normal sales meeting ‘til Tuesday and have a pep rally to prepare for the huge sale in progress ‘til 10 p.m. tonight. No need to go out, the dealership is providing pizza. Get on the phone, call every prospect you’ve talked to. They waited, they win. Today’s the day.
That’s ‘recency.’ Combined with a relevant message and the perception that this is the only place to buy/lease a car/truck/suv in the next 24 hours, means you’re going to be busy.
Think about your advertising! How is the messaging helping develop and/or reinforce a positive, unique perception of your enterprise? How relevant is your advertising message to specific individuals who need a nudge to action? Is your advertising placed in the optimum time frame/medium to reach the greatest number of folks in the current buying cycle?
If you’d like a free copy of the 10 Rules for Building a Brand, e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org.