Thursday, July 7, 2011

Buying Good Word Of Mouth

Plenty of small business owners consider advertising a total waste of money. According to them, word of mouth is the best advertising and that’s something you can’t buy. They’re right, but only partly: word of mouth is the best, but you can buy it. That’s what good advertising does-—it buys word of mouth. Keep in mind, that “advertising” doesn’t have to be a million-dollar TV commercial on American Idol. A fifty-cent postcard announcing your new selection of life-enhancing widgets mailed to a targeted list of a couple of hundred potential customers is advertising, too. It’s the kind of advertising that buys some word of mouth.

When to advertise, how much to spend on advertising, even whether to advertise at all are questions that are at best difficult to answer for businesses in the automotive performance industry (or any other). On the one hand, you like to think that your reputation for good work and fair prices will draw people into your shop. On the other, you have to realize that if they don’t hear about you in some way, that elusive new customer isn’t going to even know you exist, much less that you have a strong reputation. And when you factor in all the competition you face, advertising becomes much more imperative.

Linda Hietala, who owns Reliable Welding and Speed in Enfield, Connecticut, with her husband Brad, agrees that you have to keep trying to attract new customers. “The best form of advertising is word of mouth and referrals,” she says, “but you can’t totally rely on that. You need to be in different publications so people can find your name and phone number.”

So how do advocates of small business advertising go about it? Hietala believes in the scattergun approach, using as many different promotion vehicles as she can afford and not relying on any single medium to hit all the targets. “We try to reach everybody in every different way,” she says. Reliable advertises in Speedway Scene and regional racing papers and also does track programs and similar publications. She’s also a believer in the Internet.

Like many speed shops, Reliable is also a heavy supporter of the local race scene. “We have a forty-foot parts trailer that we bring to one of the local race tracks,” Hietala explains. “That’s a good way for us to advertise because the track (Stafford Speedway) has, in addition to their weekly racing, special events through the year where they’re bringing in other touring series like the featherweight modifieds and the Busch North. Being visible there with a trailer, we’re reaching a lot of people.” Constantly assessing how well advertising performs is also vital Hietala believes. But she also gives each promotional outlet plenty of time to prove itself.

While these advertising opportunities are specific to speed shops and other automotive-related businesses, many similar ones exist for small business owners serving other markets. Many pet shops support their local animal shelter, for example, and clothing retailers are often big sponsors of local fashion shows. Of course, as with everything, one of the keys to success in advertising is consistency. This will require large amounts of time and money but in the long run it can pay off.

Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, hiring, firing, and motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.

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