To design an effective advertising program, you must first know the type of customer and market segment you are going after and then select the appropriate medium to get your advertising message across. Too often, those new to the industry jump in "head first" and use all possible methods of advertising, all at once. This tactic can make it nearly impossible to judge the effectiveness of each method, and also thins out the pocketbook as well.
However, recent studies do illustrate that the best advertising strategy is a carefully coordinated marketing campaign that uses all appropriate media, including business-to-business print media, trade shows, directories, the Web, newsletters and data bases. The secret for newcomers may be in starting with one method at a time.
Simply stated, effective advertising helps to sell your services, and at the same time, can change opinions and attitudes. "Advertising, or marketing as I prefer to call it, is a three dimensional process," says Bill Goerl, owner of Clique Limousine Service in Bay Shore, N.Y. "It's a matter of naturally building revenues, developing relationships with clients, and also developing a sense of goodwill in the community."
New Operators: Getting Started
Write out a marketing plan. "Most large companies have a written marketing plan and most refer to it throughout the year," says Paul S. Ford, senior vice president of Regal Limousine Service in North Hampton, N.H. "If a small operator chooses to be successful and chooses to grow, then he or she should emulate that type of program.
Write it down, no matter how small it is, and go from there. And when the 12 months is up, add to it. You should always be adding to your marketing program."
Ford adds that often it's not easy to know what has worked until months afterward. Watch your monthly sales figures, track them monthly, and find out what you did in the 60 days previous to make your sales drop or spike. "Whatever made your sales spike, you're going to want to repeat," Ford says.
Goerl advises a growing company to spend 10 percent of its gross annual sales toward building the business via advertising. "No less than six percent for any company which plans on staying in business for the long haul," he says. "The key is how you spend that six to 10 percent."
Start a mailing list. Although many large companies do purchase mailing lists and focus on high income households that travel, you don't have to purchase an expensive mailing list right away. Starting your own mailing list can be as simple as starting a handwritten list with your first customer, and then staying in touch. "The more you're in touch with your clients, the greater chance they'll use you," Ford says. "It's important to stay in front of your current clients while prospecting simultaneously for new customers."
Another method is to pick a profession within your community and target everybody engaged in that profession. "For instance, if you were going to focus on doctors, you could use the Yellow Pages to make a listing," Ford says. "Write them all down. If there are 14 doctors, then you have a mailing list of 14 people with some disposable income. Take the time to enter them into your ledger or computer data base."
Ford says if you don't do anything else with your 12-month marketing program, focus on this specific list. After 12 months, look at how many of the people on the list you served. "If you served 10 or 20 percent of them, I'd say that's a victory," he says. "From there, add another professional group, such as lawyers. Write them down and add them to your data base." Continue to market to the people you previously marketed to, but add the new ones. "This is how you build your mailing list if you don't choose to go buy one," Ford says. "Target a profession and run with it. And track it for results." Launch a direct mail campaign. "We're a big proponent of direct mail marketing," Ford says. "We do at least three postcards a year, at least three client newsletters, and usually some type of holiday theme letter or greeting. That's the minimum amount of direct mail we'll do."
Depending on the market you're targeting, you can create one all-purpose brochure and incorporate all of your services with the appropriate photos, or design two brochures - one for the corporate market and one for retail business.
"In my brochures, I'll include a photo of a bride and groom, or a vehicle by a church, and a vehicle doing an airport run," says A.C. Poppenberg, owner of Denver Lincoln Limousine, Inc.
Poppenberg advises those new to the industry to design a general brochure or flier that can be taken to a bridal show, a corporate client, and any other client, such as a funeral home. "We also do work for medical transportation, so I'll throw in a vehicle by an emergency room," he says.
When designing your brochure, use color and make it interesting. "Get pictures of the car driving on the street or going through intersections, instead of just sitting there," Poppenberg says. I've had pictures of vehicles at the gas station, at a nice car wash, even McDonald's! I believe in real action-type photos rather than stock photography."
Place an ad in the Yellow Pages. "Do this only for your area in a 10-15 mile radius," Goerl advises. "We all hate the Yellow Pages because it's expensive, but the bottom line is, it works! The key to Yellow Page ad success is to have a limousine and chauffeur available and ready to go for the last minute call on Friday and Saturday evening."
Yellow Pages works primarily when you're targeting retail accounts. "Corporate might find you in the Yellow Pages, but usually you're going to want to target specific people," says Mike Pazzaneze, owner of Continental Limousine Co., in Marlboro Mass. "Over the years, I found the Yellow Pages didn't hurt. We used to spend $800 a month ($9,600 per year) in Yellow Pages ads which would generate probably $100,000 in sales ($50,000 a piece for two cars), between the nights out and the weddings. If a prom is in your neighborhood, you've got a limousine, and you're in the book - they're going to call you. It doesn't matter how big or small of an ad it is, they just go right down the list. So the Yellow Pages will be specifically targeting your nights out and your wedding business." Try trade-for-mention advertising. "If you can hook up with a show that needs transportation and trade that for mention on the show, that is the best type of advertising you can possibly get," Poppenberg says. "If they use two cars for three hours, four times a month, that's all it takes. But if they don't use the service, the cars sit and I still get my ad. Trade-for-mention advertising is a huge way to get recognition, and you're investing your time. For a new company, an investment in time is going to be a lot easier to make than an investment in money."
Network with other operators. Join your local association to network with other operators and discuss various aspects of the business. "Networking with other operators will give you your best bang for you buck," Goerl says. "And experienced operators love the new guy on the block, because they're usually available and eager to do any last minute job which they can't cover."
Donate your services for charities and fundraisers. "This is much more powerful than writing out a check," Goerl says.
"Try and turn the situation into a press release with a photo," Ford says. Send the press release to the local paper and ask if they can publish it, whenever they have the space and the interest.
"The newspapers need news, and it's good to do charitable work," Ford says. "But don't be afraid to stand up and take a piece of recognition, too."
Remember that charities need that additional recognition so they can get other people to contribute. So it's a win-win situation for the business owner, the charity and the media which often needs lightweight yet newsworthy articles.
Join the local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, Lions Club. Attend all the meetings and bring a limousine with you. "It's a great source of conversation if you park it out front," Goerl says.
Attend trade shows. "I can't stress enough that the information you will get from educational seminars is priceless," Goerl says.
Established Operators: More Bang for Your Buck
After being in business for one to two years and having established some cash flow and a client base, now your 10 percent can add other marketing avenues.
Develop a Web site and Internet presence. "With the advent of the Internet, I've ended up pulling most of my Yellow Pages advertising," Poppenberg says. "Now, whether or not you can afford a Yellow Pages ad, you essentially get one because of the Internet listing. With the Internet, you can make a change to your fleet and update your advertising instantly."
Pazzanese says most of his advertising money is now primarily focused on the Internet. "We spend $700 a year just on reindexing our site, and updating it," he says. "Never mind at least $1,200 on the Web page itself, from the Web hosting company."
Launch a print campaign. Whether you have a new service or product to advertise, you want to improve your company image, or you're announcing a company anniversary, an impact advertising program consisting of multi-page ads or inserts can help you reach your advertising goals. According to the American Business Press, nothing is more effective than a high frequency, consistent advertising program concentrated in one or two leading publications in your market. All of ABP's data shows that a concentrated ad campaign provides a greater return on investment.
In order for this type of advertising to be most effective, you must always include good illustrations, strong colors, and headlines that attract attention.
Develop a company newsletter. "Mail it out each month and give clients information from your local association and the NLA on what's happening in your company and the industry," Goerl says. "After all, you're the expert!"
Join larger organizations. "The NLA and your local visitors and convention bureau are excellent sources for corporate business," Goerl says.
Give gifts to existing clients. Gifts to your clients, such as shirts with your company logo, gift baskets, or coupons for special services, go a long toward building customer loyalty.
Finally, remember that whatever advertising method you start with, it's essential that you track the results and make adjustments to your marketing program accordingly.
"We blew a lot of money with the flyer campaigns when we first started," Poppenberg says. "I was uneducated how to market my business. I didn't track where my calls were coming in from, and we did too much at once. Now we give something a good year to figure out whether or not it's going to work. The biggest thing is tracking the responses to see where the sales are coming from. If you don't do that, no matter what type of advertising you do, you're wasting your money because you don't know if it's working or not."