HVACRDB

Reinvent the Marketing Wheel or Use What Works?

Coca-Cola® recently introduced a new global marketing campaign using the theme “The Coke Side of Life.”

Well, that's Coke® for you. A few hundred million dollars goes a long way to keep your brand in the top 3 (Sony and Dell ranked ahead). Maybe if any of us had a “global” marketing budget, we could relate to the idea that people are watching what we're doing, saying and selling.

Yet that is exactly what's taking place with your dealers now. They're looking to distributors for guidance in their marketing efforts, heavily dependent upon the manufacturer's branding and the crutch of too many dealers: co-op. Customers are looking to dealers for guidance in repairs, maintenance and installations. And there you are in the middle.

So what should you do and say to provide the marketing leadership your dealers need?

As we look to the example of Coke, we see that one of America's most traditional beverages keeps seeking ways to stay relevant in the marketplace. Point taken.

As a distributor, you should also encourage dealers to change out tired old marketing that has far outlasted its usefulness. Steer dealers away from ads that look like they're from the 1970s. Advise against anything that allows them to junk up an ad with starbursts and penguins — with room to “insert picture of your truck here.” Push them to be bold and innovative in ways that set them apart from their competition.

On the other hand, need I remind you, Coke is also the company that taught us valuable lessons during the biggest marketing fiasco of all time. New Coke, anyone?

So, as we look for the biggest, newest sales and marketing methods around, we have to recognize that certain basics never change. The recipe for success should always include principles like these:

Creating a Marketing Plan

Lack of planning costs HVAC dealers big time in lost sales and wasted marketing dollars — not to mention a year-round nagging feeling. They worry that they should be doing something but wait to do something until it's too late. We call this “manic marketing,” and it is as common as it is costly.

In fact, a shocking 77 percent of HVAC dealers have no marketing plan. The result? They're reactive when they should be proactive.

At the most basic level, they must first choose an Aggressive (8%-10%), Moderate (6%-8%), or Conservative (3.5%-5%) plan, with dollars allocated according to their percentage of sales toward marketing shown in parentheses.

They simply divide their year into quarters and define the off and on peakmonths. Then they apportion exactly what they will spend to promote the product or service that's important during that time, obviously increasing their marketing efforts as the peak season begins and reducing it after the peak season ends. They will have “taken” the low-hanging fruit early and put on their marketing brakes before the competition knows when to stop. It's just smarter to partner with the weather than to wait on it.

Then they divide their ad message types in their budgeting among three distinct phases.

Lead Generation

Contractors who “wait for the phone to ring” or “for the weather to break” will remain as underperformers or eventually go out of business while scrambling for low-dollar jobs. The first cure is to get the phone to ring. Do this with direct response advertising, period. No other type message will produce greater results at a lower cost per lead. I promise you, “institutional” advertising will not do it.

Image and Credibility

As the lead counts build, your dealer can afford some Image and TOMA (Top of Mind Awareness) ads to create a professional presence in the market. Your dealer is going to get an image, whether they advertise for one or not, so it may as well be a good one. In essence, no credibility equals nosale, so crafting credibility through professional ads makes more sense than hoping someone figures that out psychically. TOMA ads are the small, highly frequent ads such as in the newspaper, yard signs, business cards, van or truck signage and anywhere the name is oft-repeated. Neither of these two phases is worth anything without the following.

Keeping Their Customers

Always remind your dealers that their company's current customers are the absolute #1 source of their future sales.

When they lose customers, they lose all of their future business and all of their referrals to your competition. When they keep customers, they keep that pool of sales for themselves, potentially eliminating their competitors from getting to them.

How much money are we talking about, anyway? Think of it this way… if a 10-year customer buys one system, has a continuous maintenance agreement and only refers two customers like him a year, that level of customer is worth more than $90,000 in sales. It's hard to imagine, but the math is not debatable.

It begins with a relationship between the dealer and the customer. Good service and the company's quality products, which you should continually re-expose on subsequent visits, strengthen the relationship.

Customer-retention programs can include a variety of elements such as thank-you notes, holiday cards, bill stuffers, on-hold messages, refrigerator magnets and — my personal favorite — newsletters. All of these can pay huge dividends in loyalty, upsells, resells, backend sales and referrals.

With these elements in place, a solid marketing program makes the relationships between dealer and customers even stronger. And as a part of their marketing, a well-designed “customer- retention program” will make a significant difference. Simply put, some principles never go out of style. A marketplace always needs a dealer with a plan who's seeking to serve customers old and new. Reinforce for your dealers these proven methods and watch how they prove themselves all over again.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. His company creates ads, newsletters and Yellow Pages ads; conducts marketing seminars; and offers such products as the HVAC Marketing PowerPack, a turnkey marketing system with proven ads and much more. Dealers and distributors can get a free subscription to his “Sales & Marketing Insider” by faxing the request on letterhead to 334/262-1115. Call 800/489-9099 for a free marketing calendar or check out other free marketing tips at www.hudsonink.com.

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