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Direct Discourse: Have a Plane Spell Out Your Company Name in Smoke

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Have a plane spell out your company name in smoke. Hire someone to stand on the street corner in a monkey suit holding a sign. If you’re the conservative type, add store signage or buy an ad on TV, in the local newspaper or on radio.

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When it comes to advertising, independent tire dealers have no shortage of options. The consumer, too, has a wide range of choices – about where to shop. Where a consumer decides to buy tires depends on several factors, not the least of which is that customer’s personality, lifestyle, age, income and more. Factors affecting a typical buying decision are nearly endless.

So, how can an independent tire dealer target the best possible customer – the one most likely to walk in the shop and buy?

Try the direct approach – direct mail.

Done right, a mailing’s message goes straight to those likely to bring the most sales and profits. Hence the name.

And that’s the beauty of direct mail, “the most cost-effective means of advertising for tire dealers,” says Angie Nielsen, president and CEO of Mail America Inc. Founded in 1984, Mail America (www.mailamerica.net) has only one focus and provides only one service – direct-mail advertising.

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“A dealer can choose to mail to only a three-mile radius of its store,” says Nielsen, “versus running a newspaper or radio ad, which reaches mass markets.” Mail America customizes all of its direct-mail campaigns to each client’s specific needs, according to Nielsen. So, in addition to geography, clients can also select recipients based on income, age, household size and more. In contrast, mass media, Nielsen says, target everyone and anyone, even those who will never or rarely use automotive services or buy tires.

And what’s the point of advertising tire services to an eight-year old who can’t drive? Maybe the child will tell his or her parents about your special tire promotion, but that’s unlikely. Why not tell the parents directly?

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Forty percent of the success of a direct-mail campaign is dependent on the accuracy and relevance of the mailing list, says Nielsen. Have you heard those stories about Spot the dog getting credit card offers in the mail? The concept is similar.

Advertising budgets being what they generally are for independent tire dealers – small – it only makes sense to spend every dollar going after customers who will actually buy.

And Nielsen claims she can pinpoint them for dealers. Ninety-eight percent of Mail America’s customer base is made up of automotive service shops and independent tire dealers, according to Nielsen. Her clients range from small, one-shop dealers to multi-location distributors. In addition, Mail America is a “preferred vendor” for American Car Care Center’s dealer network. Being close to the tire industry gives Mail America an advantage over other marketing firms, Nielsen says.

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“We try to stay in tune with what’s going on in the marketplace,” offers Nielsen. “That way, in a mailing piece, we can go into great detail about what a client does, such as alignments and other automotive services.”

That’s important, but even more critical is that Nielsen feels she understands a tire dealer’s specific pain points when it comes to competing in the marketplace. “Oftentimes, dealers can’t compete with the big chains on price, but customers will go back because of good customer service,” she states.

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Granted, one of Mail America’s direct-mail services includes custom coupon books that offer sale prices and discounts. But, for Nielsen, an attractive price is just bait. Service is the hook that lures them in again and again. “People tend to price shop,” Nielsen says. “But we make sure the customer-service element of the message is very strong.”

Custom coupon books mailed directly to a targeted demographic have a 2%-7% response rate, says Nielsen. That may sound low, but compare it to the direct-mail industry norm of 1%-2%.

Nielsen helps independent tire dealers put together pricing specials that won’t break the bank but will bring in traffic. And that’s what advertising should do. According to the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, for every 100 items shoppers plan to buy, they make 30 unplanned purchases. Clearly, advertising should not be just about getting a sale. It should be about getting a customer.

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“Word of mouth is effective, but good advertising is a numbers game,” Nielsen says. So, use your advertising dollars where they count, and take that credit card offer away from Spot.

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