Q: My business repairs Lexus, Mercedes, BMW and Land Rover cars. I have been using direct mail for five years and want to cross over to cable. What networks, times slots and frequency should I buy so that I can reach my audience?
A: You might think that drivers of Lexus, Mercedes, BMW and Land Rover automobiles can be successfully targeted through a careful selection of cable networks and time slots. However, this isn't really the case. Much like ZIP code-targeted direct mail and location-specific billboards, zoned cable is wonderful for targeting a specific geographic area, but psychographic targeting through channel selection is mostly an overrated myth.
How many different channels do you watch in a week? Which one "targets" you? Likewise, how would you categorize a person who owns these three vehicles: a new Mercedes sedan, a late-model Dodge pickup and an old Corvette? Is he a refined Mercedes customer, a green-teeth pickup driver or a romantic who lives in the past? Believe it or not, this is not a hypothetical example--I speak of a real person. My point is, your customers are much more complex than you might have realized.
The idea of targeting a certain type of car buyer through mass media is largely a pipe dream perpetuated by sales reps who want you to believe they have an efficient and cost-effective way of reaching your perfect customer. Generally speaking, mass media (TV, cable, radio and newspaper) should be used for building a reputation since they'll reach not only your customers, but also those people who influence your customers. The truth is, decisions are rarely made in a vacuum, but emerge far more often from word-of-mouth recommendations that come from friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members whom you reached with a memorable message. Unless you can get a printout from the DMV that lists everyone who has registered a Lexus, Mercedes, BMW or Land Rover, I'd suggest against trying to target through mass media. Concentrate instead on creating a powerful message that will be remembered by everyone who hears it. I've never seen a business fail due to reaching the wrong people, but I've seen hundreds fail because they were saying the wrong thing.
Having set aside mass media, is there a way to target customers who live in your town, drive the cars you prefer to repair and are currently in need of your service? Actually, there is. Allow me to share the story of Russell Taylor, a real-life example of how our society is quietly going digital. Taylor is a university-degreed geographer, a husband and a homeowner:
"I can't believe that a city the size of Austin doesn't have a carpet-cleaning company or a lawn-care service," he said to his mother one day.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I just spent 30 minutes on the Internet trying to find a carpet-cleaning company," Taylor replied. "Evidently, Austin doesn't have one."
Russell's mother, who's from a different generation--one that doesn't immediately think of searching the Internet when they have questions about a product or service--reached inside her kitchen cabinet and quietly handed her son a telephone book. "I think this might solve your problem."
Staring at it, Russell replied, "Gee, that never crossed my mind."
The Internet is no longer a new and strange phenomenon. America has grown accustomed to it, and we're turning to it for information with increasing regularity. According to Google.com, more than 55 billion searches were conducted on their search engine alone last year, and nearly 80 million searches of a commercial nature are conducted each day. That's a number equal to about one-third of the total U.S. population. And that's per day. Your customers are among those conducting commercial searches. Is your information online for them to find?
My advice: Buy mass media--radio from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. and/or cable from 7 p.m. to midnight--to reach the baby boomers. And use dirt-cheap, pay-per-click Internet ads tied to specific keyword strings (such as "Lexus repair Austin") to reach the Gen X customer who's using the Internet like a phonebook. As time passes, you'll see your Internet ads begin to outperform the much more expensive traditional media because, day after day, boomers get older and the Xers become a little more in charge of America. Remember, those Xers are already 27 to 38 years old.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.