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Editor's Notebook

‘Big Company’ Marketing Savvy Can be Great for Tire Dealers

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In very basic terms, marketers consider two primary groups: Leaders and Followers. Because most consumer goods and services evolve over time, Leaders can become Followers and vice versa. So these targets are regularly sifted, sought and catered to.

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Leaders seek out the latest technology or design or performance, constantly seeking an edge in their lives. Some are out front, most are invisible. Leaders set the pace, establish new standards and help the product/­service get out there. They are the makers and the breakers.

Followers may appear to blindly pursue the latest trends or what their friends or family do. But that’s not always the case. Some wait to see how “the next big thing” pans out, some buy purely on need and not desire.

Leaders equate fuel efficiency with value, Followers see treadwear as the value proposition. And you can easily see how this will shift over time.

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Being a Leader or a Follower is not socio-economically based. Rather, it is one’s “ability” to adopt and persuade that determines Leaders, or adapt and persuade that creates Followers.

Notice the key word “persuade.”

There is nothing wrong with either group; both are vital targets, and their attitudes and attributes help shape every aspect of a product/service and its marketing.

Because people can be both types depending on the product/service, identifying Leaders and Followers is hard. Corporations spend millions trying to identify “true” Leaders. Tire dealers don’t have that luxury. Ask yourself this: From among all of the customers you know – and pertaining to your products and services – can you clearly sort out the Leaders from the Followers? Didn’t think so.

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But addressing Leaders and Fol­low­ers is every bit as important to you as it is to a mega-corporation.

So how can you find them, and then find ways to leverage their power to persuade (there’s that word again)?

Used to be that the easy way was to link up with “enthusiasts” – the racers and sports car owners and car clubs. They were the key to the “high performance” segment. But now that high performance tires are OE on nearly all new cars, CUVs and SUVs – even some pickups – everyone has unwittingly become a high performance tire customer.

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Enthusiasts are also the hot rodders, the muscle car lovers, the high-end performance car owners and expensive-ride drivers. And within their realms, they probably remain Leaders. But on a broader scale, what with consumer shifts to smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles, the enthusiast reign as a market Leader has waned. What they buy and drive and love does not hold the same fascination for a general public that has turned away from the car-as-personal-statement.

The battle line for the hearts and minds of Joe and Joan Consumer have shifted dramatically in other ways, most notably how consumers get their vehicle and tire and service info. Web sites, searches, and social media like Facebook and Twitter have displaced phone books and newspapers – even TV and radio – as resour­ces about products, services and pro­viders. And, of course, word-of-mouth remains one of the top ways consumers determine where they will shop.

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So how can you isolate Leaders and leverage them to attract customers?

You need to be a Leader yourself.

Do you have an active, regularly updated Web site that provides more than just basic information? Product info and reviews? Coupons and sales? Feedback from customers? E-newsletters about hot new products or services you have added? Instructional and event videos and photos?

Are you using Twitter, Facebook or YouTube? Dozens of tire dealers are using social media for everything from building “communities” to offering instant coupons to providing updates on special events to delivering vital consumer education on tires, cars and their care.

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What about texting your customers? Yes, texting…that thing your teenagers do all the time. Many small companies are taking their messages direct to specific customers.

Yes, the nuts-n-bolts things like community relations and PR are great too, but these activities can be bolstered by using social media to spread your name and news around.

Being on the leading edge is not hard or expensive. While it does require discipline, effort and creativity on your part, any standard issue teenager could probably do more to help you navigate through the basics of social media than most so-called “social media experts.”

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But you need to take that first step, and become a Leader yourself.

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