Marketing is less a position or function than it is a philosophy. The core of that philosophy is your vision for your company – and no one else’s. Every decision you make relating to your company image represents your Marketing Department.
If you are pressed for time today, here is a very short version of this article:
“The marketing department is everywhere. The End.”
If you have time, let me entertain you with a conversation about exactly what you do with this information. In your heart of hearts, you knew this already, but “knowing” and “institutionalizing” are two very different things.
If you kept the January issue of Tire Review, drag it out and look at the article I wrote about “Inverse Marketing.” If you bought into the logic of that article, you understand that danger lurks at every turn. And, so does opportunity.
Everyone is a Critic
Amazon started madness years ago when it asked customers to comment about the books they bought. Today, there’s not a business – pizza joints to funeral parlors – immune from customer reviews.
Every part of your business from sales, to service, to accounting is really part of the marketing process. Virtually every function touches the customer in some way. It takes more than perfectly balanced, fairly priced tires to win the day. If the restroom is disgusting or the bill is wrong or it’s the third visit to correct a problem, people will hear about it.
As the owner of a service business, to allow any employee or supervisor to operate without an acute awareness of that fact is severe mismanagement on your part.
Marketing is all about image – both the one you project and the one you “earn.” And everyone on your team is responsible for marketing – because the marketing department is everywhere.
Top tire dealers understand that. Go to a top quality tire dealership and walk by a service tech. Chances are very good that you will get a smile and a warm greeting. Is this tech on the sales team? Probably not. But are they on the marketing team? Absolutely.
Contrast that with the last time you went to the post office or visited a cellular provider. While there are notable exceptions, you have experienced those occasions where you were made to feel that your business was an interruption of their day, not the reason they are there to begin with.
Do you remember walking into an establishment for the very first time? What did you see? Chances are you did not “see” anything; rather you “felt” it. Impressions are made without conscious thinking or focused observation.
If you moved to a conscious assessment and you saw hand-scrawled signs, dirty carpeting, unclean windows and a receptionist chewing gum like there’s no tomorrow, you got more than an impression, you got a full assessment.
Alternatively, if you walked in and the signage was professionally produced, the public areas are spotless and the gumless receptionist is dressed in a company shirt with a nametag, you got a different impression.
When you enter any business for the first time, you get an immediate impression. In five seconds you know a significant amount about the business, the owner and the people who work there. That leads to a mental assumption about the quality of the product you’ll receive from the transaction. Possibly, the better the place looks, the less price sensitive you become.
And, all of this happens without you even thinking about it. It’s totally subconscious. It is a powerful moment in time, that first impression.
See It With New Eyes
One way to get a clear picture of your customers’ first impression is to take a video camera and walk in your front door. Scan right and left. Zoom in on items that might catch a customer’s eye, like broken linoleum or a faded old sign. Perhaps it’s a well done display or an instructive poster or a clean waiting area.
Don’t worry about what you’re filming, shoot it all. Allow yourself to go wherever a customer might go or see. The parking lot, the restroom, the front desk, the waiting area or the garage – go everywhere.
In the quiet of your office, play the video back. Imagine you’re seeing your dealership for the first time. There is something about watching it on a screen that is far more focused than looking in person. Consider (and write down) what you would notice if it were someone else’s business. Think about the impression you would get.
Admittedly this is hard to do. Whether it’s our home or office or store, we can become blind to the way things appear to others. We see that smudged wall or dinged counter every day. Same with the dirty bar of soap in the restroom or broken toilet paper holder or stacks of paperwork on the counter. You get busy, you forget, things don’t get done. It happens.
But customers see those things – simple things that anyone should be able to manage. How does that dirty bar of soap reflect on your brand, your reputation, your “ability” to properly address a customer’s vehicle?
You’ve seen it dozens of times in good restaurants. On the back of the restroom door is a one-day calendar with the hours broken into 30-minute segments. Each half hour, someone is assigned to go into the restroom and check for specific things such as adequate toilet paper, flushed toilets, clean floors, dry sink areas and adequate paper towels.
The restaurant owner never even remotely thinks about these things. There is a system, and the signature in the little box on the calendar page on the inside of the door assigns accountability to the activity.
Your dealership may not need 30-minute restroom inspections as a restaurant might. The point is, a system made it someone’s responsibility. A system oriented to the customer experience means little things like smudged walls and damaged counters are dispatched quickly so as to not become nagging reasons why someone might take their business elsewhere.
Systems and responsibility are as important to your marketing as the employees that execute them.
Consistent marketing pretty much excludes the concept of employee “rights.” The fact is your employees do not have the right to “be themselves” or “dress for comfort” or pierce their face with metal decorations and ink. Their “rights” cannot be in conflict with your marketing model, your image, your vision.
If your model, image and vision accommodates a more relaxed appearance by your employees, fine. But it is always your decision, not theirs. Too often employers get caught up in the notion that they must be open minded about young people. That is not true.
Your employees should dress the way you want them to look. If they cannot remove their piercings before work, you have no obligation to keep them up front, or hire them.
Think about the day when your business is finally for sale. What will the prospective owner think when he reviews your team? For example, does he see a group of employees in clean company-logoed shirts or a hodge-podge of randomly selected, “comfortably dressed” people. Every day between this one and that, your customers will be making the same observation.
You developed the vision. You are the boss. Do your job!
No discussion of marketing would be complete without discussing strategic relationships.
With millions of businesses selling billions of items, it would be impossible not to find synergy right in your own backyard. Perhaps the least expensive path to growth in sales is to cooperate with people who are selling to the same clientele. In the automobile service business, that can be as obvious as a gas station, towing companies, body shops, auto parts stores or other tire shops that carry SKUs that you don’t.
Less obvious, but equally important, are barbershops and salons, golf course pro shops, even bars – places where people talk, people listen, people make recommendations.
Look around for cross-selling or mutual-benefit arrangements where both parties gain from the relationship. It is important, however, that your selected partners match up to the image you’re trying to convey in your marketing efforts. Poor partnering selections can do serious damage.
Most marketing books deal with the mechanics of marketing, like the four “P’s” (Product, Place, Promotion and Price). And those are important, but winning and keeping customers today takes more than that.
You can nail the mechanics of marketing and push as hard as you can. But without an intuitive look at how the market sees you – your company seen through the eyes of the customer – that effort may fall short of helping you achieve your objectives
Everything is marketing. And everyone is responsible.
Roger McManus, author of “Entrepreneurial Insanity in the Tire Industry” (Amazon), is a principal at a digital marketing company that helps dealers with their online efforts. He can be reached at [email protected] or 702-809-8044.