Want Success in 2015? Get Your Marketing Plan Ready


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You’re a mastermind at assessing complex projects. It’s what you do. You walk around a site and quickly see how many crewmembers are needed for the job. Your mind pieces together an initial budget. A tentative timeline takes shape.

The average person would be clueless. But for you, planning a project comes natural. You just get it.

But what about marketing? How do you effectively tell the world about your company’s talents and snag a stream of satisfied consumers? Last time we checked, marketing isn’t taught in trade schools—and you won’t find any helpful chapters in training manuals.

As a professional HVAC contractor, marketing may not be a natural skill. Guess what? That’s fine. The danger comes when you guess or refuse to plan.
Like gearing up for a big project, it takes time to build a fully formed marketing plan (let alone execute one), which is why you must outline your overall strategy for 2015… now.

If you’re serious about growing your business, you need to evaluate the different marketing options available and maximize specific platforms. The 21st century offers many methods to reach consumers—each with advantages and disadvantages.

Over the airwaves
When it comes to savvy marketing, Adams Hudson has one of the sharpest minds (and copywriting pens) around. As the founder of Hudson, Ink in Montgomery, AL, he says television remains a strong advertising medium.

But reaching viewers is a challenge. When considering a TV advertising budget, companies must overcome what he calls “customer programmable viewing.” Simply put, TiVo wielding TV viewers can now view on-demand programs or record shows on DVRs and skip through commercials.

This drop in TV ad viewership hasn’t been reflected in commercial rates yet, which could impact how contractors advertise on TV in the coming years. The lesson: Think before you increase your TV buys—if you can’t guarantee eyeballs.

The same dilemma can be said, to a point, about radio advertising. With the growing popularity of satellite radio (which cuts out commercials) and more new cars offering MP3 players, some wonder if traditional radio is dying.

Hudson says, “No.” Terrestrial radio still holds sway among listeners, which means you can make a strong impression if you maximize your reach.
What does that mean exactly? Hudson says it’s imperative to “avoid having a bad message for the wrong market.” It’s a common mistake. Many contractors don’t consider demographics. Who are you talking to? What message will truly connect with people? If more homeowners listen to Adult Contemporary, for instance, why are you buying more ads on Top 40 stations?
Running your ads during optimal drive times is also important, Hudson says. Most drivers listen to radio on their commutes, so paying a premium to advertise during rush hours could prove worth the cost. Reaching customers this way is outstanding for top-of-mind awareness. In other words, make sure your company pops into people’s minds when they think of a specific industry (every town has that memorable car dealer with the goofy jingle that’s impossible to ignore).

Since lots of people still listen to radio, saturating the airwaves helps you build a profile with customers—even if those same customers haven’t hired you for a job yet.

Good old print
What about printed material? Hudson says physical; hard-copy advertisements are still advantageous in the digital age—if they’re done correctly. Direct mail, for one, is making a comeback. Even internet giants like eBay and Amazon use traditional mail to advertise.

In fact, mail has the best return on investment, he says, but targeting that mail is essential. Always know the demographics and needs of your mail recipients. Getting the right message across—to people who are receptive to that message—will generate more business.

Yes, it all comes down to the message. Customers take only seconds to determine whether your mail is junk, so presenting the right message within that piece of mail—again, sent to the right people—gives you the best chance to land a new sale.

Keith Paton says traditional channels of advertising offer an excellent way to introduce his company. As vice president of service for Ivey Mechanical Company in Kosciusko, MS. Paton considers printed literature the single best way to spread the word.

While Paton admits radio and TV “consistently bring a level of awareness,” he says: “Our biggest accomplishments come through marketing literature about our company.” That literature “opens the doors for our salespeople to demonstrate Ivey Mechanical’s capabilities and commitment to a customer partnership.”

But what’s the ideal scenario?

“We have found that it works best when we have people as the point of contact with existing and future customers,” Paton says. “ This is important in maintaining and building relationships.”

Online and mobile engagement
Today’s consumer increasingly spends more time online and on mobile devices. As a result, internet and social media initiatives are key to many contractors’ success. However, beware of overkill. Hudson says contractors don’t need to spend every waking minute attached to a computer or mobile phone.

According to Hudson, “Contractors are being told ‘if you don’t spend half your life on social media, you’re not relevant.’ Wrong. If you don’t convert them to web traffic and leads, then it’s irrelevant. Many contractors have mastered the 70/30 rule and understand the power of contests, curiosities, and questions to properly drive social traffic,” he said, referring to the practice of using your Facebook or Twitter account to share 70 percent of others’ high quality content and 30 percent of your own branded, promotional material. “Cute pictures of cats ain’t cutting it.”

Hudson’s advice? Tagging and titling items (to incorporate popular search terms) can help boost your search rank. “Contractors can also see a big boost in business just by setting up their local listing so that they appear on city-specific searches for contractors.”

What about things to avoid?

Paid search. Hudson says contractors shouldn’t pay to increase their search engine optimization. “When was the last time you clicked on a paid ad?” he asks.

Also avoid the deadly trap of mixed messages. When incorporating social media campaigns into your overall marketing plan, don’t cause confusion. Instead of creating many different deals, headlines, and copy across multiple social platforms, websites, emails, brochures, and postcards, pick something clear and consistent.
This way, customers are more likely to remember the same message. Remember, integrating the right message into every dollar spent is imperative.

“Consistency of clear message is more important now than ever,” Hudson says. “The reason? Distractions, attention deficit disorder, media assault. Clarity counts.”

To this point, Hudson says emails should be particularly short and include a link to either a report or video on the company’s website that expands upon your offer. You can further maximize your reach by having customer service representatives trained and available to offer online or phone assistance—then have your reps nudge those potential consumers toward making appointments.

One other must for contractors: Push customers to leave positive feedback online.

“If you’re not pushing for positive reviews, you will get disproportionate negative reviews, which will cost you tens of thousands of dollars, possibly more,” Hudson says. “We know of two contractors who filed for bankruptcy in 2014 after over 30 years in business due to bad reviews that got out of hand.”

How to spend
Companies figuring out their 2015 budgets should look to spend at least 3.5 percent of their total budgets on advertising, Hudson says. More aggressive companies should likely spend between 8 percent and 10 percent of their budgets.

Now decide how much money should go into print. Paton says part of his budget will go there, but Hudson reminds you to always get the best bang for the buck. Phone book ads, for example, don’t yield nearly enough return to warrant much investment.

Meanwhile, Paton cautions against sticking too firmly to preset numbers, considering it could skew forward thinking. Rather, a contractor should evaluate what worked the prior year and rebudget accordingly.

“We start the budget process in the last quarter of the year and determine, by line item, what we propose to spend. We evaluate what we did the prior year and what we plan for the next year and then we budget dollars accordingly,” Paton says. “We try to make our budgets as realistic as possible without plugging percentages or rules of thumb to generate budget costs.”

So there you have it. Lots to consider. Lots to chew on.

One thing is clear: It’s time to plan. What’s best for your company in 2015?

Michael McNulty
Latest posts by Michael McNulty (see all)

Posted In: ACCA Now, Management, Sales & Marketing

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