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Online vs. Print Advertising: What's Right for Your Auto Shop

8/18/17 1:00 PM

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The debate remains heated between online and print advertising in 2017. Auto shops and other small businesses find themselves in the middle of this debate, wondering which marketing channels they should focus on. As a business owner, you might hear that “print is dead” and “online is your only smart option” in 2017. On the other hand, you might hear that online advertising doesn’t deliver as great an impact as you might think, because audiences are sick of popup and banner ads.

So what’s the answer? Various elements in the online versus print advertising debate are different for auto shops than for other local small businesses such as restaurants, hair salons, or real estate agents. Here are 3 things you should consider when weighing online versus print advertising and what’s right for your auto shop:

Ad Design Consistency

Consistency of your message means that no matter where your customers see your ad, they get the same value proposition. When tied to repetition, having consistent ads increases the chances that customers will remember and act on your ad.

Online ads can take a large number of formats. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) lists 6 formats for online advertising for websites alone. When you start looking at mobile and social media formats as well, consistency will require either a narrow selection of media or some good planning.

Of course, print advertising is king when it comes to variety, which is a challenge for the brand-conscious advertiser. That being said, most print campaigns focus on only one or two versions of the ad, so it may be easier to maintain your consistency here.

Delivery

Consistency is important not only in your ad design, but how you deliver it is also crucial. The frequency as well as the number of impressions combine to make ads effective.  Even the best value proposition delivered over large amounts of times or worse, only once, will result in wasted effort.

Your online message will only be effective if it is published consistently. When prospective customers see that you haven’t updated your website since 2014, or posted on Facebook in a month, they may think you don’t take your business, or your customers, seriously. Even worse, they may never walk through your doors because they think you’ve gone out of business!  

Print advertising can have a much better chance of being distributed to your customers on a consistent basis if it is in a high-visibility location or provided to your target market regularly. Take shopping cart advertising, for example. Your auto shop’s message will be in front of your prospective customer each time they go grocery shopping for an entire year, and you won’t have to lift a finger.

Targeting

Targeting is the process of identifying where your prospective customers are and ensuring that your ads are there to meet them. Targeting can occur by demographics, geography, behaviors, and more. To target effectively, you must first decide who is your ideal customer and work to understand how to reach them.

There’s no doubt about it, many of your customers are connected online. People check their social media accounts on smartphones throughout the day. Moreover, for the first time ever, more internet users are browsing online via mobile devices than on traditional computers. Your advertising efforts can reach customers just about anywhere they can be connected, but not every car owner fits this description. Although smartphones dominate the lives of many people, not every potential customer is comfortable online or uses a mobile phone for anything but calls. As a result, a digital-only strategy might miss an important segment of your customer base.

Obviously, digital advertising plays into this trend by delivering ads where your customers are. But did you know that the concept of targeting dates well before the dawn of Facebook? In fact, the basics of modern marketing really developed in the early 1900s and the term “marketing” itself first started appearing in dictionaries in 1897. So while it is true that customers can be found online, there remain a number of effective ways to target prospects through other mediums. Print advertising is most commonly associated with newspapers, but it also encompasses other media such as direct mail and phone directories. While you may assume that only older customers look at newspapers or coupon inserts, millennials have been extremely responsive to print advertising. Print advertising can even be hyper-local by taking advantage of shopper behavior. For example, advertising at grocery stores—where 85 percent of shoppers live within 3 miles of the store—can deliver your message right where it needs to be.

Cost

The one requirement for every kind of advertising is to get a positive return on investment. Calculating ROI is not just a simple equation, but an easy go-by is that cheaper ads or higher results mean an increased profit.

Online advertising channels have a huge range of costs, from repeating pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns to a one-time expense (such as hiring someone to build your shop’s website) to virtually free efforts (such as setting up a Facebook page). No matter the venue, keep in mind you need to manage your campaigns or pay to have it done to be effective, and your time is money. Other paid options, such as Google AdWords and Facebook ads, can be cheaper than traditional forms of advertising such as TV and radio, but they are a pay-to-play model: When the ads stop, so do the customers.

In print advertising, the costs are usually divided between the initial setup and then repeating fees for delivery. For example, with direct mail, you will need to have an ad designed, which usually is a small charge compared to the cost of each “drop.” So how can you get the best bang for your buck with print advertising? Look for solutions that directly relate cost to the number of local impressions you’ll receive. Think of it this way: If you knew that every $5 you spent on advertising would be seen by 1,000 local, qualified consumers, how much would you be willing to spend?

Finding the Perfect Balance

No clear winner emerges in the online versus print advertising debate, particularly for auto shops. The answer doesn't lie in choosing one over the other, but in developing a strategy that encompasses the best of both worlds. Online and print should be complementary advertising methods. A strong online presence reaches an audience who wouldn’t be reached on other channels, while print offers opportunities for coupons and other advertising reachable by consumers with or without a WiFi connection.

Register tape advertising has been shown to be an effective print-based means to move auto shops toward this balance. The concept is simple: Coupons are printed on the backs of receipts handed to customers when they make a grocery store purchase. Register tape advertising is less expensive than other print marketing, reaches a wide audience, and is easy to initiate and maintain—thus freeing up resources to, say, update your shop’s Facebook page. By including your website address on receipt coupons, you move that much closer to balancing your online and print advertising efforts.

What types of advertising—online or print—have worked well or not so well for your auto shop?

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Anna Ruby

Written by Anna Ruby

Marketing Analyst. Theatre nerd. Dog-lover. Obstacle course-racer. Small business owner.