If you think you’re too busy running your shop to focus on branding, you might want to think again. Thanks to longer service intervals and better-built cars, your customers don’t have to visit you as often as they did in the past. They also have more choices when it comes to service — from specialty providers to dealerships to chains that seem to have shops on every corner.
Having an established brand could certainly help you fend off the increased competition and build loyalty, despite slowing demand for repair services.
So where do you start? That’s a good question and one I often get when I talk to shop owners about branding. Developing a brand isn’t an easy or quick process, but once you create an identity, you can use that brand to not only guide your marketing efforts but also other aspects of your business, including hiring and training staff.
The first step is to craft a mission statement. Remember, the statement should reflect the values of your business and the benefits you provide. Think about why you’re in business and what your goals are. Developing a statement shouldn’t happen fast and you shouldn’t sit around a table and simply say you want to be the best shop in the area.
I know one shop that’s message is focused on serving as the area’s top-quality Mercedes service shop. That’s very specific, but that shop is very busy. Say you don’t specialize in a particular make, another option is to target your statement to appeal to a specific market. For example, you could target parents by pledging to be the shop that teaches youth to drive safely and maintain their vehicles.
As a parent, I can tell you that if you take good care of my kids, you win my business. Whatever you choose should be the first thing that comes to mind when people think of your business.
The next step is to create a compelling logo that will reinforce your mission statement. Generally speaking, a super elaborate logo isn’t the best option. I always advise shop owners to choose something that’s simple, catchy and clear. If you’re an eco-friendly shop, it makes sense to feature the color green in your logo. If you call yourself the area’s auto repair wizard or the car doctor, consider using a wizard’s hat or a stethoscope in your logo. Remember to have fun. There’s a shop in New Jersey called Sunny Sunoco, which has a logo featuring a “too cool for school”-looking dog holding a wrench. Well, when you visit Sunny Sunoco, you are greeted by a shaggy dog, who serves as sort of an unofficial mascot for the shop. Incorporating him in the logo was a great idea because it reflects the shop’s light-hearted personality.
Once you have your compelling business statement and eye-catching logo, you might be tempted to take out a full-page ad to blast your new brand out to the world. While that might sound like a worthy investment, I urge you to define your audience first. After all, how can you figure out the best methods for advertising your brand until you know who your potential customers are?
For others, figuring out which group to target may not be as clear-cut. If you’re a new shop owner, your audience might reflect the cars you most like to work on. If you’ve been in business for awhile, check your database to see what types of repairs you’re performing most often and which vehicles visit your shop most frequently.
When it comes time to spreading the word about your brand, one of your best communication tools will be a user-friendly, search-optimized website that speaks directly to your target audience. If you’re branding yourself as the most trusted name in truck repair in your area, it’s crucial that when a consumer searches for Ford F-150 auto repair, your name comes up.
The majority of sites I look at have one splash page and a lot of those are really focused on general repairs and display vehicles that are not in the target market. Avoid that mistake by ensuring your site is search optimized and truly highlights your specialty. The highest conversion rates occur when a consumer finds what they are looking for at your site.
Another key to building your brand is to cultivate fans. I use the word “fans” instead of customers because someone who is a fan of a brand is much more likely to be loyal and committed.
One way to develop those types of relationships is to become more involved in the community. Integrate yourself into the activities and events that are most likely to attract your fans. Sponsor youth soccer or adult bowling leagues and make sure your name is listed on players’ t-shirts or signage wherever participants play.
Set up a booth at a local festival or tradeshow. Arrange for a staff lunch outing each week where you can be seen spending money supporting another local business. If I see six people in the same shirt in the same place, I’m going to remember who they are.
Try to recruit fans to become ambassadors for your brand. Branded license plate frames are a great way to accomplish this goal. Provide a certain percentage off of a service or offer another incentive to fans willing to display your brand on their license plate. If you’re successful, you’ve effectively turned your customer base into mobile advertisers for you wherever they go.
Referral programs also help you turn customers into advocates for your brand. Providing discounts or gift cards for referrals will cost you less than what you would spend attracting a new customer on your own. Plus, customers who visit your business thanks to a referral often view your shop with more credibility than those who come through other channels.
Don’t forget about the role social media can play in building a dedicated fan base. Social media is like a party, so you have to approach it as you would a stranger at a party. You wouldn’t just walk up and give someone tips about their brakes. Instead, talk about what you might have in common. That translates into posting about your community. Let’s say I’m sponsoring a local team, so every Sunday I post scores from the previous day’s games. Ask about the weather or local news events. Staying current and community-focused will show fans that you’re interested in more than just selling repairs and service.
As I mentioned earlier, branding takes time and the process doesn’t end once you’ve created an identity and defined a target audience. Consistently spreading your message is the best way to connect your brand with consumers and separate yourself from the competition.