Tracking: Your Best Marketing Tool

Ten years ago, the word marketing was little used in the self-storage industry. Most operators used only the Yellow Pages to advertise their facilities, and a half-page ad was big time, costing about $500 per month. Then, as more investors learned about the possibilities of storage, facilities began popping up all over the nation. Competition increased, and marketing became a regular part of operators vocabulary.

But even then, advertising was mostly about Yellow Pages. Sure, some customers came to us by seeing our signs on the side of the road and remembering us when the need arose; but most of the time, they found us under the storage heading in the phone book. As competition grew, operators increased the size of their adsand their monthly Yellow Pages bill. It became one of a facilitys largest expenses next to mortgage, property taxes and employee wages.

After a while, however, Yellow Pages advertising didnt seem to draw business as well as it once did. Thats when we began to look at other industries and copy some of their marketing ideas. Direct mail, ads in print media such as local newspapers and shopper magazines, and shoe-leather marketing began to play a major role. Some operators even began to promote their service on cable TV, which did a tremendous job of educating the public.

Did It Work?

Most of us have tried various methods. Some have worked, while others were a complete waste of money, time and effort. But how do you know what works? One of the best ways is to simply ask customers: How did you hear about our facility? Sometimes this needs to be followed up with other qualifying questions. For example, if youre in a larger metropolitan area, you might have ads running in more than one phone directory. If thats the case, youll need to ask the customer the page number of the ad hes calling from to determine which book hes using.

If youve used other forms of advertising such as a coupon in a local paper, coupon clipper or shopper magazine, youll need some way to code these methods so you can trace their source. All employees must be trained to ask customers where they found the ad or coupon and to get a code, when applicable.

If you mail post cards to different target markets such as tenants of local apartments, condos or mobile homes, print them on different colored cardstock, which makes it easy to recognize the source of business when the customer brings it in. When you do mailings, some cards will inevitably come back to you as undeliverable. Make sure you cross these addresses off your list to avoid wasting resources in the future.

Keep in mind that with whatever marketing method you use, you may not achieve the desired response on the first attempt. You must be persistent and consistent. If youre placing an ad in a daily/weekly publication or using direct mail, run your piece once a week for three months. In the case of a monthly publication or service, run for three or four months in a row. Youll need to track any method for at least this long to accurately evaluate its effectiveness.

Knowing the source of your business and evaluating the success of various advertising techniques is the best way to plan future efforts. These days, you have several options; but tracking is the most important marketing tool youll ever use.

Pamela Alton-Truitt is the owner of Mini-Management, a nationwide manager-placement service. Mini- Management also offers full-service and "operations only" facility management, training manuals, inspections and audits, feasibility studies, consulting and training seminars. For more information, call 800.646.4648.

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