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Inverse Marketing

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Every tire business relies on marketing, but times are changing. Imagine lower-cost, more impactful messages reaching people who may have never even heard of your shop.

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Marketing is a process of you telling people how good you are. It is a well-established practice, and has been effective for decades.

But today something called “inverse marketing” is coming into play. Inverse marketing is the process of getting complete strangers to willingly deliver your marketing message for you.

These message carriers are not complete strangers to you, of course, as they’re your happy customers. But they are complete strangers to your market audience. And even though they’re perceived to have more credibility than you and the process of engaging them as marketers is entirely free, very few tire dealers use inverse marketing at all.

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Billions of dollars have been spent to set up the structure to make inverse marketing possible. Consider the aggregate impact of Google, Yelp, Yahoo, Bing and hundreds of other online services upon which the average consumer relies to make purchase decisions. Your strategy is simple: “feed” these organizations the information you want your prospective customers to see.

In 2009, research company A.C. Nielsen surveyed 25,000 people in 50 countries about how much they trust sources of recommendation. Perhaps not surprisingly, 90% of respondents said they trusted the recommendations of those people they knew personally. What was surprising was that more than 70% trusted the recommendations they read online from total strangers.

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You have to think that over the past five years that number has increased. Direct communication from you is far down the list, for example your website (58%), advertising (50%), and text messaging (29%).

Unfair Advantage

The fact that the term “inverse marketing” is not widely known term today is good for you, actually. Relatively few tire dealers understand what it is and how to use it, so understanding it gives you a significant advantage over those who don’t understand its impact.

This will not always be the case. In the not-too-distant future, it will become mainstream. But, at least for today, just by knowing the concept, you have gained that unfair advantage.

Reputation Management

One concept that has been made popular by its proponents is “reputation management.” Though the words are frequently used, there is confusion about the terminology: reputation management can be either offensive or defensive.reviews

On the offensive side, companies proactively do what is necessary to reflect the best possible public image through the words of those whom they serve. This is what we call inverse marketing.

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Defensive reputation management, on the other hand, comes when a customer is criticizing the business online. Negative online reviews are usually the result of lack of attention on the part of a business owner or a member of the staff.

Removing negative reviews is a difficult and often expensive exercise. Unless a law or website rule is broken, they cannot be removed easily or quickly. The strategy then is to ply the site with enough legitimate positive reviews to bury the negative report. This is where inverse marketing be-comes an effective online tool.

The Marketing World

Search engines like Google or Yahoo are a permanent fixture. They actively encourage people to write reviews themselves and read the reviews of others. To prove this point, try typing the name of your business in the Google search box. Notice how the predictive typing that shows up will likely include the word “reviews” after the name of your business? Even if a prospective customer only wanted to look up your phone number, the reviews are front and center.

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Conversely, Google rewards you for having more reviews by displaying your business more prominently to prospective customers searching for your business type.

Google  also rewards you with stars, the more the better. It is sort of a dark science, but attempts have been made to place a value on a “star.”  In 2011, Michael Luca of Harvard University conducted a study of restaurants that suggests a Yelp star brings a gross volume increase of between 5%-9%.

It is unclear how such data could be extrapolated to the tire business, but there must be some correlation. Since 78% of people believe reviews from perfect strangers – more than editorial reviews or advertising and only slightly less than recommendations from people they know – it’s fair to think  ratings can be a factor to your revenue.

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Negative Bias

People who do business with you expect to receive good service and quality products. And, businesses that survive over time, by and large, deliver on that expectation.

It does not, however, mean that customers are inclined to go home and write about an experience that they consider pretty normal. They got good service from your dealership – and they expected that experience.

But, disappoint that same customer, make the experience exceptional in a negative way and look out. These “pissed pontificators” will go out of their way to warn others by blasting you online. This behavior can be very dangerous to your business.

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It takes five minutes for the unhappy customer to get it off their chest, but you live with the words for years.

Therefore, part of your inverse marketing system means being vigilant in looking out for people who feel they are not getting your best. Train your staff and managers to observe and listen.

Mistakes happen, and people really understand that. You can’t stop all mistakes, but with aware personnel you can usually stop a customer from leaving so unhappy that they start yapping on Yelp.

Tertiary Benefits

Even though an effective system will have as its core objective to keep as many negative online reviews as possible from being posted, it should also make sure you get them without filtering. As uncomfortable as it is to hear or read them, customer criticism can be helpful.

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Negative reviews should be looked at as marketing research that helps you catch problems. Business owners cannot possibly be everywhere, so an unhappy customer can be extremely valuable in plugging leaks in your system.

Age-old expressions like “the customer is always right,” or “service with a smile” are vague platitudes. So is: “Please a customer and they will tell a friend. Displease a customer and they will tell seven other people.” Not anymore.

The Internet has changed that. Seven can be a thousand or 7,000. While a satisfied customer is certainly a good thing, a dissatisfied customer with an Internet connection can be a disaster. And, an Internet connection is as close as a smartphone. The only real antidote is a satisfied customer with an Internet connection and a motivation to speak up.

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So it is incumbent on you to establish systems to assure that not only that customers are happy, but that a certain (preferably large) percentage of them are motivated to say so online.

Caution: “motivated” is not the same as “bribed.” It is not legal to pay for positive reviews. You may reward them after the fact, but rewards cannot be promised lest you run afoul of the Federal Trade Commission’s rules about paid advertising.

There are systems that automatically solicit reviews from customers. They even reroute unhappy customers back to management while facilitating the posting of positive reviews online.

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The reality is you cannot “opt out” of the online review process. The problem is, you don’t have to sign up for it, agree to participate or give permission. The fact that you exist as an active business means any person can go online and review your product or service.

It is imperative that every person on your staff  understand that they are in the marketing department every minute of every day. Just doing the job is not enough, they have to go one step further. Consumers are spoiled and the system gives them a very loud – and dangerous – voice. You can manage that voice, but it starts at the front lines, not after a negative post is made.

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Future of Marketing

Many business owners are oblivious to the impact that online reviews have on their business and its valuation. Management of your online reputation is the future of marketing – and, ultimately, the market valuation of your business.

It adds a further complication to an already complex business. But you need to stay ahead of your reputation by strengthening it with each transaction.

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