Marketing in Times of Crisis

Fred Grauer Comments
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The past few years have been extremely trying for the American public. Between war, terrorism, hurricanes and the economy, we have really been tested. Recently, while visiting with a very knowledgeable international banker, I asked him how he thought the United States is faring. His answer? “Lousy.”

Now, I’m not a naysayer, but I have to ask myself if we’re really any better off than we were a year ago. Take a look at the situation with gas prices. Here’s a modern version of an old cliché: “The tank is half empty and, by the way, it costs twice as much to fill!” For those of us who serve the motoring public, what do we do to counteract the malaise? We need to encourage motorists to modify their driving habits but not their buying habits!

The gas crisis is likely to get worse. In some parts of the world, people are paying more than $5 a gallon. I don’t know whether that will happen here, but I do know putting our head in the sand and pretending the problem will go away isn’t the answer. Now is the time to be aggressive, think outside the box, and throw conventional marketing ideas to the wind.

The Marketing Edge

Nearly all sales-training classes teach you to express to customers that you understand, share and have a solution to their pain. In the car-wash or any other business that involves vehicles and driving, there’s a silver lining in the gas scenario. It's an excellent opportunity to show customers how much you really care. There are a lot of ways to do this, but probably the most obvious is through pricing. Market your services with an incentive that addresses one of the most “painful” activity customers face: buying gas.

For example, if you’re a self-storage operator, create an enticement based on the number of car trips a customer makes to move his goods into your facility or give a rebate based on the number of miles traveled. If you run a car wash, consider tying gas purchases to the cost of service. Let’s say a customer buys 12 gallons of gas on the day he visits you. You give him a discount of 10 cents per gallon off the cost of his wash.

If you choose to offer this kind of program, you need to market it. Right now, a story like this is big news. Can you imagine the local news coverage you’d get if you were to essentially roll back gas prices? I bet you’d have lines to the street, and your sales would see a healthy increase. In addition to public announcements, you need to make the most of radio, print media, the Internet, fliers and any other way you can get the word out.

Accountability and Achievement

You also need to get your team in the right frame of mind to handle this kind of promotion. Your site is going to become very popular, and business will increase. It’s important for everyone on your staff to understand the incentives you’re offering and, more important, why .

Several years ago, I was introduced to QBQ! The Question Behind the Question by John G. Miller. It’s a book about taking personal responsibility in work and life. I was so impressed by its basic tenets that I introduced it to all of my employees. I bring it up because in times of crisis, people love to point fingers at everyone but themselves. No one wants to be held accountable.

You’ve heard the expression “When times get tough, the tough get going.” In this case, the tough are those who take— and relish—responsibility. True leaders plan and then act to turn a difficult situation into a winning one. Some business owners put their head in the sand, while others seek solutions. The choice you make could mean the difference between success and failure. Market to address customers’ pain and you’ll solve more woes than your own.

Fred Grauer is president of Grauer Associates and vice president, investor services, for Mark VII Equipment LLC, a car-wash equipment manufacturer in Arvada, Colo. He has made a lifelong career of designing, selling, building and operating car washes. He can be reached at fredgrauer@comcast.net.

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