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Online, on target

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Online, on target

For more than 50 years, tire retailers have relied on mass media such as newspapers, Yellow Pages, radio and television to reach customers. And it has worked  — so well, in fact, that it managed to change media-user expectations.

However, despite that behavioral shift, mass media does not allow you to reach only tire buyers. When you see someone browsing the Sunday sports section, it’s possible that he is looking at tire prices, not box scores. But the primary reason most people read the sports page is to read about sports. A lot of eyeballs skip over tire ads.

The only exception was print Yellow Pages, because they do allow you to specifically target those people looking for tires. No wandering eyeballs there. But even that business is a shadow of its former self and very expensive.

It is much easier for consumers to go online to get the information they are seeking.

Less reach

The world of mass-media is changing. It’s reaching fewer people than ever before.
Newspaper circulations are declining at breakneck speed (see www.nytimes.com/2008/10/28/business/media/28circ.html). Yellow Pages usage now comes in second to search engines, according to WebProNews (www.webpronews.com).

People carry their own radio stations in their pocket. (“Podcast audience up 22% since last year,” see www.podcastingnews.com).

And television watching is sporadic, fractured and TIVO-ed (abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/WireStory?id=6317551&page=1). It’s becoming more and more difficult to reach consumers with mass media.

[PAGEBREAK]But all of that aside, what if you only want to reach tire buyers? With mass-media on the decline, you need another strategy... another tool. You have one. It’s called the Web.

In April 2009, Google reported more than nine million searches for the keyword “tires.” That’s nine million times that someone in the U.S. was looking for tires. Talk about reaching your target audience.

That’s the power of using the Web as the platform for your marketing and advertising initiatives.

Done correctly, you reach only those people who have raised their hands and said, “Why, yes, I’d like to buy tires. Can you sell me some?”

Making the case for online advertising

The number of people flocking to the Internet to get their daily news, information and entertainment is growing exponentially. 

With that in mind, there are three primary reasons that online advertising beats off-line advertising any day of the week.

1. Online advertising is accountable. For years, you’ve been trying to find ways to quantify the amount of business you get from individual advertising initiatives. Coupons, special codes, surveys — none of them are completely accurate. Yet with the Web, you know exactly how many times your advertisement is displayed.

You know exactly how many times it was clicked on. You know exactly how many times people visited your site afterward. And you know how many tires were purchased — and for how much.

2. Online advertising is targeted. The days of wasting valuable/expensive ads on people who aren’t interested are gone. You can target your audience not only by their behavior (e.g. keyword search), but also by geography.

You only want your ad seen in these six zip codes? Not a problem. Want it only to display on Friday and Saturday? Done. Want to only reach people who once visited your site but didn’t buy? That’s doable. Without a lot of work.

[PAGEBREAK]

3. Online advertising is cost-efficient. Targeting leads to cost efficiency; there is no waste.
Direct mail programs can cost in excess of $20 to reach 1,000 households in your market. A similar online campaign can cost one-tenth of that.

Or you can only pay for clicks, skipping the “impression” cost altogether. What about only paying when someone takes action on your site?

That’s cost per acquisition, and many online media properties have that option for you.

Figuring out your budget

I’m not so bold as to suggest you should spend 100% of your money on online advertising. My experience has been that a full 50% of customers use the Web as part of their decision-making process, so it might not be too farfetched!

I suggest a range of 10% to 30% of your total advertising budget be dedicated to online initiatives.

More is OK, but you have to be willing to support your advertising efforts with a first-class Web site. Less is also OK if you just want to test the waters.

Figuring out your strategy

Off-line advertising is fairly simple. Find the local papers. Get in the Yellow Pages. Then start looking at local radio and TV stations. A direct mail company is waiting for your call.

Online advertising, however, is different. There are millions of Web sites that sell advertising space. Where do you start?

Start with the search. Search engines allow for fantastic local targeting mixed with keyword targeting.

[PAGEBREAK]Here’s an example. You want to reach everyone searching for “tires” in Des Moines, Iowa, because you have six stores in that market. But you don’t have any in Pittsburgh, Pa., so you never want your ads to come up there. No problem.

The key to your success with search marketing — or any online advertising initiative — is the ability to measure the results. Gone are the days you threw money at a campaign and hoped your sales would increase.

Now, you’ll know. But only if you measure. Most search engines can report back not only on clicks, but also on actions taken by the people behind those clicks once they reached your site.

You may already have a robust Web site analytics program. This program should also be able to track the effectiveness of your search marketing campaign. If not, you might try Google Analytics.

It’s free, easy to install and gives you an incredible amount of information.

An effective search strategy requires some work, and there are a lot more keywords you’ll want to test.

The subject of exactly how to run a search campaign is deeper than we can get into in this article.

“Pay Per Click Search Engine Marketing For Dummies,” and dozens of other books like it, is a great place to get started.

Don’t have the people on staff? Give some thought to outsourcing. Remember, it’s all about customer behavior online, less about the organization. You might be able to get it done better and for less money by people who specialize.

[PAGEBREAK]Are you ready to advertise online?

Before you jump in head first and commit 20% (or more) of your ad budget to the Web, a moment of introspection is required. Take a good and hard look at your Web site. Does it meet your customers’ needs? Is it really something you want people to see? More importantly, is it worthy of spending money on?

Online advertising only makes sense when you can be sure that potential customers will have their needs met easily. A bad Web experience can cause you to lose customers, especially when you drove them to a site that could not meet their expectations.

It’s one thing to stumble across a Web site that isn’t very robust. It’s quite another not to be on top of your game when ad dollars were used. That’s just bad business — on both ends.    ■

In part three of our Internet marketing series in the November issue, I’ll cover the things tire customers have come to expect from a world-class Web site.

Mike Bruce, president of VTS solutions LLC (www.vtssolutions.net), enjoyed a long career with Discount Tire Co. going back to 1967. He was a store manager in the 1970s, and started and managed Discount Tire’s Dallas/Fort Worth region during the 1980s.

He was promoted to senior vice president in 1990 and moved to the Scottsdale, Ariz., corporate office to work in purchasing. Bruce started the Discount Tire Direct program in 1994, and created the www.tires.com Web site for the company in 1996.

He was responsible for e-commerce and online advertising for Discount Tire through 2007. He can be reached at (866) 798-3523.

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