Advertising Within A Budget
By William Douglas Little
March 11, 2009
One of the easiest places to lose one’s butt is with advertising. Many dealership owners, (and managers alike), look at advertising with a hidden fear. They venture to the edge of the deep abyss of the unknown, knowing that they have to dive into that pool, but unsure of how to swim. Just standing on the edge looking down at the water’s murky surface is enough to drive many men and women mad. After all, most people don’t open a motorcycle dealership for their love of marketing.
So, what works? Where do I spend my money and how do I get the best results? These are not questions to ask of your local media salesperson: they’ll tell you that their paper or their radio station is the only way to go. “Spend lots and spend often it’s all about consistency,” they’ll say. Hmmm. I disagree. At one time, I bought annual contracts for the entire back page of the local paper. I laid-out a fictitious newspaper that covered stories of our sponsored racers, our sale items, our growth … it was neat, but ultimately a huge waste of dollars. Had I continued, my kids would grow up without the hope of straight teeth or a college education.
Soon after, the local cable rep talked me out of newspaper ads and onto the tube. I purchased commercial airtime and a friend and I hosted a 30-minute weekly TV show, which ran on the local cable access channel. Modeled after Home Improvement, we did crazy things like pull office chairs behind ATVs and even tow a running push-mower behind a KTM 380SX. Why? Who the hell knows? It was popular as heck, but the cable viewers remained loyal only from the seat of their couches.
After spending like I was mad at money, how is it that I’m still alive? I finally remembered a concept that I learned from a former radio station GM, with station promotions that we ran. “Peppy and cheap!” he would say. The guy knew his stuff.
My typical ad campaign changed quickly. First, I created an event planner spreadsheet including a two-week, pre-event window by day and all of the local media outlets as row-headers. With this spreadsheet, I‘d plug in the amount of money to spend with each medium on the day that that outlet’s ad copy was due. At the bottom, a running total tracked my total event investment, (that way there are never any surprises). I’d spend a smaller amount in week one and then blitz for the second week leading into the event. My philosophy was to advertise the way I would respond to ads at the last minute. Drill it into my head at the last minute and I might possibly respond. Guess what? It works. I’m not the only forgetful person reading the papers!
Direct mail is a biggie for me. Big and flashy isn’t always the best bet on these pieces. Trust me, I’ve bulk-mailed everything shy of my own mother in an attempt to bring in the masses. It’s my experience that an impression is an impression: you’ll attract the attention of the A-buyer so long as the picture and the copy are good. The picture has to catch the eye of the buyer, and the copy has to tease something gripping enough that you inspire a slight delay in action, what I refer to as the “pitch-stop.” If a buyer is looking through his mail, (e-mail, newspaper or even watching/listening to electronic media), you have a fraction of a second to catch his or her attention. This is a big reason why I like mail you can target the demographic that is most likely to pause that fraction of a second and actually look over your ad rather than pitch it.
However, I never spend all my money in one place. Direct mail, radio, newsprint, television, billboards they’re like employees some may be a little slow in some areas, but they’ve all got their strong points or you wouldn’t keep them around. Plus, you can cross-promote your efforts through multiple sources, giving the buyer the perception that you’re everywhere. This is important, because by ganging up, you increase your chances to win. Always cross-sell your media efforts! (Radio: “See our ad in this week’s Journal” or Television: “Check your mailbox for valuable coupons”). This type of cross-promotion makes an impact, even on those that don’t know why they’re interested. A 99-year-old grandmother will watch her mailbox for coupons if the radio tells her to, even if she has no idea what you’re selling. It’s pretty doubtful that she’ll be in for a full-dresser … but you never know. Maybe she’s into leather or has a family member with an upcoming birthday.
For me, the best campaigns are always those that target a single demographic. For example, if I’m going to sell a cruiser that typically does well with males, 45 to 65 years of age who own their own home and have more than $100,000 in annual income, I’ll hit them every way that I can. Direct mail will give me a list of that exact demo, but I also check to see what radio station they’re listening to. Are they a key demo touted by the cable or broadcast TV stations? If so, what shows do they watch? Will I be best served to place ads on FOX News or ESPN? Focusing a sales event on a specific demo and then cross-promoting the various mediums will not only reach the most likely respondents, it’ll also be more likely to hit them in a manner that they’ll respond to. Remember, a rifle is always more accurate than a shotgun.