Lessons From an Oil Change Sticker

Probably one of the most effective and innovating marketing tools of recent times is also one of the most humble: the oil change sticker put on your windshield by companies such as Jiffy Lube. That little piece of clear plastic, emblazoned with Jiffy Lube’s logo, a handwritten date, and a mileage number (along with a promise of a future discount) probably does more to sell oil changes and drive customer loyalty than customer retention programs costing millions.

Why is it so effective? First, it’s always there. Unobtrusive yet noticeable, that little reminder sticker serves up a subliminal reminder to the driver every time he gets behind the wheel.

Second, it provides a valuable service the customer appreciates. Though it probably isn’t absolutely necessary to change your oil every 3,000 miles (even the Car Talk guys say 5,000 miles is OK), most of us have a hard time remembering when the heck we got the oil changed at all. Having that number there really helps us keep track of routine maintenance.

Finally, by bearing the brand of the company providing the oil change (and offering a discount for an oil change at that shop) the company stays top of mind for the customer — an increasingly important task in an increasingly price-driven world.

In short, the sticker works because it gives the customer the tools to sell herself on the product. Some marketing messages just hope to catch the right person at the right moment, but this one is there all the time. Also, the sticker isn’t perceived as a sales tool aiming to sell something the customer doesn’t necessarily want or need. It’s seen, instead, as a helpful touch: Those helpful folks are just trying to help you keep your expensive vehicle maintained! Aren’t they just the best?

Complex Offerings: Buried at the Bottom

So, what does this have to do with online marketing? A lot. Although many of us craft finely honed strategies involving complicated targeting schemes, live salespeople, exotic rich media deliveries, and catchy creative, we may be neglecting the simple things that help our customers sell themselves and become loyal to our brands.

Recently I’ve received plenty of calls from well-meaning salespeople who follow up by shipping a packet of information or emailing a sell sheet. Many of these products are expensive, complex offerings their purveyors are trying to get me to sell to my clients. And though it may be irritating to get the calls sometimes, I’m always grateful to learn about new products and services I may not have run across otherwise. (Note: This is not an invitation for salespeople reading this to call me!)

As a prospect, I’ve gotten the marketing message, I’ve checked out the Web site, and, after receiving the information packets, I’ve dutifully filed the info away for later perusal. Sometimes the timing is perfect and fits exactly with a client need. Most of the time, it’s not. Then I forget all about it.

What I as a prospect (and, I’d suspect, many of our prospects) need is the equivalent of the oil change sticker. I’m interested in the product, but I may not have an immediate need for it, so the company pitching me has lost an opportunity. On top of that, the information it’s sent me, while often well crafted and beautiful, doesn’t keep selling after the initial contact. Worse than that, the information doesn’t help me sell to my clients. Instead of continuing to work for the company pitching me, the collateral sits in a drawer.

As marketers and salespeople, we need to remember the lessons of the oil change sticker. We need to stay in front of our prospects (or our clients’ prospects) and give them the tools they need to sell themselves when the need arises. We need to build loyalty and drive repeat business.

Unfortunately, many of us still market using the approach that emphasizes timing, targeting, and messaging. Though all of these definitely are important, our efforts often go unnoticed. As online and offline marketers, we carefully place media, spend big bucks on lists, create stunning rich media, and use just about every high tech trick in the book to reach our customers. But once we’ve cast the net (pun intended), we consider our job over. Sure, we’ll optimize and follow up, but still that element of timing is always there, elusively taunting us with its unfulfilled promise.

Simple Things: Stay Top of Mind

Think back to the oil change sticker as a model. Where does that lead you? First, it says providing tools to your customers to help them sell themselves is a vital strategy. Brochures and emails are wonderful, but what if they need to sell your product or service up the chain in their organization? Providing tools such as PowerPoint slides they can put into their own internal presentations is one tactic that can help your prospects keep selling for you.

The power of the Internet doesn’t just lie in its ability to deliver information; its real promise is the ability to connect vast numbers of people with that information. Think of your Web site and your electronic sales materials not just as offers to get your prospects into the store, but as window stickers that are always in front of them, keeping them coming back.

The second lesson is if you can help your customers solve a problem with your marketing materials, those materials will gain a coveted front-and-center position. Just as the oil change sticker solves the perennial consumer problem of remembering when the heck to get oil changed, it’s often appropriate to think of apps, not ads, when trying to stay in front of customers. Calculation tools on Web sites, reminders that are downloadable into electronic calendars, online “wizards” to help customers figure out what products are right for them — all of these tactics involve the customer in the brand, solve their problems, and help demonstrate the value of the company.

Finally, branded tools or toys customers can download can help keep your brand in front of customers long after they’ve forgotten about that spiffy email or online ad. This is the secret to the success of well-done advergames: They’re in front of the consumer for a long time, subtly (or not so subtly) reinforcing the brand message time and again.

So next time you’re considering pulling out all the stops for a big one-time campaign, consider the lesson of the humble oil change sticker. It could help you think of innovative ways to market that truly takes you far beyond the banner (or email).

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