What a Dentist, a Car Wash, and an Auto Repair shop can teach us about marketing in a difficult Economy


What’s a business to do when their phone does not ring as often or stops all together? Sure the newspaper says you need to run an ad, and the local direct marketing firm says you need to do a mass mailing. You have a friend who “knows a guy” that makes these pens with your logo….The problem is each of these tactics to reach buyers who have problems you solve cost money and have uncertain results.You are going to have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince. Don’t these sales reps know your business is hurting? If you knew, for sure, what they were trying to sell you worked, and would help your target buyers find you, you would do it.

First,please keep in mind you may know more than you may be aware. Have you run ads in the local paper before? How did that work for you? Market leaders measure every marketing expenditure and track the results it generates. If an ad in the paper or yellow pages has driven revenue, then by all means keep doing it, heck you may want to do more!

The secret is to intimately know your market buyers, the process they use to buy and where they hang out. When you engage with new leads, qualified leads as well as service past customers …ask. Ask why they choose you. Ask who influenced their decision; learn as much as you can about them and how they found you.family pics 074

Here’s a couple of good examples. So I wander into my gym at 5:00 am with serious bed hair and after checking in I see a standee advertising a Dentist. It’s not a flier, or an inexpensive poster, but a very well designed free standing floor display. It turns out this is my families’ dentist Dr. Zana Alnaqie of Smiles by Design…how cool! My family is very happy with their service and the creative I am viewing does a good job of illustrating their high quality as well as friendliness. As I walked to the lock room I thought …how smart! People who work out at Gyms on a regular basis obviously care about their health and how they look. One of the profitable services for dentists is the  dental cosmetics and or whitening services. One of the reasons I do not smile often I am very self conscious about how my teeth look. So as I walk into my gym, I see a friendly reminder about my professional dentist who is friendly and the picture has a beautiful smile. I am reminded of my last cleaning and how she explained they can fix teeth like mine. In addition to having good creative that matches the buyer demographic for those that frequent this gym, her office is within a mile of this gym.

Another example occurred when I took my car to the carwash this weekend. I do not remember washing my car so often when I lived in Ohio, but out here in Arizona people seem to wash their cars often. In addition when I did wash my car in Ohio I would go through a carwash at a gas station or I would pull in to a self service bay, drop about six quarters and power hose off the salt and dirt before my time ran out. Here in Arizona you can spend from $11.99 to $18.00 to $24.00 per wash. Add a detail, and you will be spending well over $100.

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While at McDonald’s recently I noticed a standee with various local retailer coupons. I saw a coupon for $4.00 off at my favorite car wash called Francis and Son’s. So Saturday I used my coupon, and received a good wash, hand dry, clean windows and interior dusting for $7.99. After they motioned that my car was ready I got back in my car. (and my seat was in the position I left it in). Is it just me, or do clean cars run better? As I drove home I  notice a neon green promotional flier on my console…interesting. When I returned home I read the flier assuming it was a bounce back coupon, but instead it was a promotion announcement from another local business that does auto repair and body work. Smart! So I am a consumer who cares about my car. As I get back in my car after a great experience from someone I trust, I find a flier for someone to make those nasty car door dings go away, and this same guy can help me with the tune up I need. The flier was nothing expensive, but connected with me when I was thinking about my car,while in my car,  again…very smart.



So what did we learn other than Mark is cheap, has bad teeth and needs a new car soon?


Marketing through complimentary businesses , influencers, and your referral network makes sense and provides a much greater return than traditional ; “ throw it out there and see if it sticks” marketing.


So what are some considerations if you want to try this strategy?

· Relevance – the more relevance the better, window cleaners leaving behind maid service fliers, and maid services leaving behind the window cleaner

· Proximity – if you lack or have limited relevance have proximity

· Quality – when you refer another business, whether you mean to or not you are endorsing them. Do not work with partners who do not have a high quality standard

· Trust – make sure if you work with another business , make sure they do not use the marketing to bait and switch those who respond

· Inspect what you expect – before you agree to work with someone, visit their business and shop it. How well did they treat you? Does their customer service mirror your standards?

· Creative must support your brand – my dentist hired someone to make a high quality free standing display. An auto repair shop can get away with a neon green two sided flier, but my dentist could not

· Know your buyers– Get to know your buyers and you will find complimentary products and or service that you could be working with today


As I drove home tonight I needed to pick up some groceries, so as I entered Safeway (because I no longer shop at Albertsons since they cut my trust with a customer loyalty program) I see my dentist’s creative on each shopping cart. Awesome!


How about your business?


Who has complimentary relevant products you could work with?


What businesses have proximity to your business that could be a high quality referral partner?


Who are key influencers that shape your buyer’s attitudes and perceptions of your buyer and how can you equip them to talk about you?


I can hear the big company executives in my head saying …” yah, well this is great for little small businesses but this does not add any value to me”. You could say that…but you would be wrong! Challenge me, post a comment about your type of business and I am sure we can find referral partners.


4 thoughts on “What a Dentist, a Car Wash, and an Auto Repair shop can teach us about marketing in a difficult Economy

  1. This blog resonates well. I actually made some similar points about relationship based marketing on Referral Key

    Stop by and say hi.

    Chris O.
    Referral Key
    “Your Trusted Referral Network”

  2. Ok, you want challenge, here’s challenge: I’m a freelance English into Spanish translator, as well as being an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher.
    While my teaching business goes well (I actually had to let some students go b/c of my newborn son taking up a lot of my time) my translating business seems to never finishing taking off for good. Thinking od referrals, I have a few colleagues in the same language pair as well as in other language pairs, but there’s not enough work to give to others!
    I have my very own website, a blog (okay, it only has like 2 posts, but I promise more in the future), I’m member of one of the most important webportals in the trade…. you name it, I’ve probably done it…
    Any ideas?

    • Thank you for the comment and challenge. If you were one of my clients I would have a number of questions for you as well as your past clients and those you quoted but failed to win.
      I recommend you ask your customers questions; how did they find you? Would they refer you to others? When they decided they needed a service like yours what buying process did they follow? What criteria were important when the “shopped” for someone like you? I would interview at least 12 past customers and listen for common answers. I would also listen for a common voice…how customers describe the service you provide. I would also speak with people who inquired to use your service but failed to buy…Why?
      Once you gather market information, what the market perceives that you provide. I would compare their perception with what you say you provide, and correct your positioning as needed. Then I would ask you a simple but important question; what problem does your product or service solve? Then I would ask what makes you unique? Some people say what is your core competency, but a number of others could share that competency…what makes you unique?
      Once we gathered that information, then we would size your market…how big is it? Are there any adjacent markets you could easily enter? For example; you could explore translating marketing content into Spanish for companies selling Hispanic consumers.
      Once we gathered information we would create a roadmap for your business.
      Throughout the process we would constantly we checking in with the market to verify the direction we were moving in and road mapping to be valued, and the market is willing to pay for.

      Sorry for the long answer, but what you are describing is no different than service businesses I have helped, construction companies, machine shops, and even an Advertising firm.

      I hope this was useful to you.


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