IAQ Marketing: Myth or Money Generator?

Since I've posed that question, let's get the obvious stuff out of the way first. We know that energy efficient homes can also seal in and recirculate germs, allergens, and chemicals.

We know this can cause health issues for occupants within the home. We know that indoor air can be several times more polluted that outside air. We know that the EPA consistently ranks indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to public health.

And we know that when you look inside the air return and see what appears to be a fur coat that's been in a Cuisinart, the owners have a) pets, and b) nostrils that probably look like tiny versions of the air return.

We know all this, but your customers don't. Therefore, the largest issue facing indoor air quality in HVAC is credibility. No one wakes up and says, "Man, what a beautiful day to have my ducts cleaned." Unlike preventative maintenance (which people at least understand and recognize as a plausible need), IAQ is met with skepticism.

You can shine a light in the plenum, and unless there is a family of ferrets waving back at the homeowners, your "believability" factor will be in question.

You can say "your ducts need cleaning" all day, and still have a degree of difficulty convincing anyone this side of acute sinus problem, smoke/dust/pet allergies, or other health issues that this is a viably valuable service.

There was a wave of shoddy shysters who touted duct cleaning in the early 1990s by saying something to the effect of, "if you don't have your duct cleaned today, your lungs will probably explode and gross everybody out." The same type of ads pervaded the hearing aid industry too, but that doesn't mean people don't lose their hearing. Now this industry has adopted far more "medically and technologically credible" ads.

This is exactly what IAQ needed. And exactly what it has.

The credibility issue has now been solved by technology. IAQ monitoring can "read" the homeowner's indoor air, measure what's in it, print out a report, and let you make recommendations accordingly. The third party expert has now stepped in, taking you and your credibility out of the equation. That part of the problem is solved. (I'd check out www.airadvice.com for info on monitoring devices.)

Now you just need leads and a good margin.

And in that vein, let's return to my only area of expertise (unless you count driving my wife nuts): marketing. With credibility established, it's time to pound the need into the minds of the public and turn that into desire. It works in much the same way as any other marketing campaign.

The 4 Secrets for Crushing IAQ Competition

1. Target your market. True or false: Because you're marketing an indoor air monitoring service, your target should be everyone who breathes. (Hint: please say "false.")

Even though you would like to be able to expand your marketing budget to every breathing person in your market, you've got a limited supply of time and resources. So, you'll need to choose your targets carefully and launch your message with precision.

First, you can get a list of allergy sufferers. That's a great target, filled with people who'd rather suffer less. Plus, newer neighborhoods are often filled with young children whose parents may be concerned about asthma and allergies. Additionally, these are the areas where modern airtight homes tend to recycle indoor air pollution over and over. Let your message reflect that.

Fine tune your target with older neighborhoods that could have a higher percentage of elderly occupants developing breathing issues. Additionally, the homes' ventilation systems might be older and ineffective, so you've got an area where you could include indoor air testing with your replacement offers.

You can also offer it with every tune up you market (as shown in previous Contracting Business articles) for massive results. When you do this, your tune ups move beyond the "el cheapo" price because they're more valuable.

Regardless, once you've invested in the monitoring equipment, you will not make a dime with it if it sits on a shelf. I'd offer it to as many homes on service calls, tune ups, and replacement leads as possible.

2. Differentiate your message. Your goal in message development is to position yourself so that your value proposition to prospects and customers exceeds that of the competition.

Do everything you can to deliver outstanding, unexpected, "make 'em say 'WOW'" service with every touch, every call into your shop, every envelope you put in their mailbox, and every service call. Put miles of differentiation between you and your competitors. This is a great way to help define your path.

Fortunately, very few of your competitors will even offer IAQ, so when you do, make sure that your techs and salespeople tout this as a difference with your company. If you wait for customers to ask you about it, you're in for a long wait. No matter what, as you get "out front" with IAQ, you'll have competitors attempt to catch up (and only a few will). They'll be seen as "imitators," not the innovator. That's another reason to be fast, and be loud.

3. Choose your ad type and media. You can't beat direct response for targetability and lead generation, but it's never a good idea to put all of your marketing eggs in one basket. Choose a balance of direct response, allpurpose, image, top of mind awareness (TOMA), and retention.

Do the same with your media. Direct mail can be extremely lucrative by drawing leads and sales. Newspaper and radio can be fantastic for TOMA or image campaigns. Remember, "match" the media to your message in the market you want. Generate more upsells when your receptionist says to every caller, "Would you like to get a completely free indoor air quality survey?"

4. Timing is everything. Spring and fall are the two big allergy seasons. You want $100 million of research for free? Have your ads ready to run, and the first day you see a Claritin ® ad, start your push.

Waiting too late to run your ads means missing the wave, and running them too soon means they're irrelevant. Be aware of your area's peak allergy months and be ready to offer solutions to a problem that affects more than 40 million Americans.

Two-step Sale
Now, to capitalize on building a nice income stream from this rich HVAC sector, know that IAQ sales are typically "two-step sales," generally from one of four sources:

  1. Incoming repair. Using an IAQ "test" or "survey" as the first step, free with the repair OR as evidence that the repair was needed because of dirt in the system. Tip: You can ask customers to sign a "warranty waiver" (on the portion of the warranty from you) if the dirt is not extracted since it may re-cause the problem. Would your mechanic give you a warranty on your transmission if he puts in used, fouled fluid? We use this in our IAQ marketing packages with tremendous success.
  2. Replacement sale upsell. You can use this to separate the "better" from the "best." DO NOT include this with your quote where you'll get killed against your non-IAQ competition. Make it separate.
  3. Marketing generated service lead (i.e. tune up) with the IAQ test or survey included in the price of the higher priced tune up. This gives a low-cost, high-perceived value distinction for your tune-ups. This has been our largest incoming lead generators by far.
  4. IAQ stand-alone generated lead, generally a "no cost" test or survey. There is occasionally a cost if you're testing out a large market. These are great "awareness" pieces and I'd limit the number of tests you do, which drives up the sense of urgency.

Once you've identified which source your customer falls into, it's only a matter of recommending the right IAQ solution for their needs. When you offer genuine value and benefits that meet such a huge need, it's pretty hard not to come out on top.

IAQ is THE coming wave in contractor sales. It's the HVAC equivalent of the filtration issue in the plumbing industry. If you fail to meet the needs of this huge market, you may as well hold the door open for your competition.

Don't cheat yourself out of leads, sales, and new customers. And, if you help your customers live longer and healthier, that's a benefit for all of you.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. To receive a copy of the free IAQ report, "How to Get More Leads and Sales Right Now Literally Out of Thin Air", fax the request on your letterhead to 334/262-1115 or call 800/489-9099. Visit www.hudsonink.com to get his free "Sales & Marketing Insider" newsletter or to read even more free marketing reports and articles.

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