“… And in today’s economic news, we have footage of Chicken Little wearing a hardhat, applying for Federal assistance.”
Enough already. If you want an instant morale improvement, quit reading the headlines, and turn off CNN.
You know, in times of instability, stability is very attractive. That’s why commodities are soaring, but in “ordinary” times, stability and commodities are boring. Think that through, ye providers of in-home services, and celebrate quietly. Your business is looking pretty darn good right now. Problem is, many contractors will turn a blind eye to the bright light of opportunity.
In a few months, those who went “silent” with their marketing will experience phones that respond similarly, with silence. No one will enjoy being “right” about this. The fact is that home service needs do not diminish in recessions; only certain contractors do.
Thus, prudence and presence is required for your marketing.
The most effective marketing now will result from a counter-intuitive stance on what’s bugging people. (Marketing lesson in that statement.) This means two things. 1) You can’t run the same old marketing pretending nothing has changed. It has, so face it and adapt. 2) Your marketing should recognize and respond to the current conditions, getting what marketers call the “tail of the comet” effect. Who cares what we call it, here’s how to do it.
Zig When They Zag
First thing to know is that every marketing case history from the dawn of time suggests that “Customer Base Marketing” (that is, customer retention) prevails in down economies. Contrary to this advice, we have actually had a few contractors terminate their retention marketing to “wait and see.”
A simple and cost-effective way of keeping the name of your business in the minds of all those potential customers is sending seasonal “holiday cards” or postcards. (What, did you think they were going to remember your name from a year ago? Please.) These are great because they are quick, to the point, and serve as an inexpensive way of attracting the fence-sitters and deferring people from seeking your competition.
6 Holiday Card Musts
1. Break from the Ordinary – There are some beautiful cards out there, but after a while, they all blend together. Make yours different and trade specific.
2. Please, I beg you, do not use the cartoony ones with elves doing duct cleaning, or a mischievous reindeer blowing out the pilot light. To me, these only add to the low perception that true HVAC professionals don’t want to shed. You can be fun, just not out-dated or amateurish unless that’s the message you want to send. Therefore…
3. Choose an attractive graphic. Children, photos depicting friendship, fun, and cheer work better than pictures of wreathes, or decorated trucks. Think of your homeowners. The message is about the holiday wish first, your company second. As long as they read the card, both messages get through.
4. Stand out from the junk mail. People receive so much clutter in the mail that it’s difficult to keep your well-crafted marketing message from going straight to the trash. By spending a little extra money you can get a larger than usual postcard which will attract more attention than the standard size. We suggest 8 x 5 . Do NOT waste money on an envelope. It’ll be trashed in the first 10 seconds. Is that a good idea in this economy? Better to spend the money on sending more cards.
5. Make yourself available to the customer. Remind them that you a) appreciate them and b) would love to hear from them and their family and friends anytime. That’s a very subtle sales message without being overt.
6. Clever sales twist: Turn the postcard into a coupon for $10 (or however much) off a system check-up, air quality package, or give a free home energy survey. This promotes good will, and even if the person who gets your card doesn’t want to use it, they might give it to a friend or neighbor who will. Would you take a free customer? Thought so.
To make your holiday greeting card a standout, get the “thanks” message across, and plant seeds for calls. Plus, holiday greeting cards are a great way to set yourself apart from your competition. The company that gets remembered is the company who is memorable. Customers who forget about you will continue to use their heating and air conditioning, so they’ll end up calling someone else. Don’t let that happen. It’s up to you.
Remember, each message represents your quality and professionalism. A poor quality message can damage your image. A high quality greeting works wonders.
Spread More Holiday Cheer for Free or Almost Free
1. Change your Voice Greeting. A fun way to counter the current economic doldrums of the season can be instantaneous with a greeting such as, “The economy stinks but we don’t at ABC Plumbing! How may I help you?” Starting the call with a smile is not a bad idea. Another more mainstream idea is, “Happy Holidays from ABC! How may I bring you some cheer?”
2. Change your On-Hold Message. Just remember to change them back after the holidays!
3. Give red and green M&M’s to customers and their children. It’ll cost you about 25 cents to be remembered and probably have the children sneakily break the furnace again just so you’ll return.
4. Ask the media to forward names of needy families. They get calls like this all the time, and in this economy, they’ll get more. Agree to serve a family of your choosing and you’ll be on that media’s news for having stepped up. The good will pays your heart, regardless, but the exposure and recognition will pay your business.
5. Have an open house to invite customers, friends and the media. Hey, what’s better than customers coming to you? This one might cost you, but look at the benefits.
These events allow your customers to see how you carry out your day-to-day operations with professionalism, and they reinforce your company’s mission of service to customers. They also give you a chance to tell customers and prospects about services they may not know about.
It’s also a good idea to give them something they can take home with them – a paper weight or refrigerator magnet, discount coupon or whatever. Just remember, it’s not a time for selling – it’s a time for welcoming. Once they feel welcome, buying follows.
Bottom Line: The holidays are a great time to connect with your customers and cement the relationships that will bring continued sales throughout the coming years. That means you don’t have to be “selling” to sell your customers on why you deserve their business. Do a great job of saying “happy holidays” and your customers will thank you with their future sales, referrals, and loyalty.
Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors, and author of the recently published Contractor Marketing Secrets. Readers can get his free contractor marketing newsletter by faxing their letterhead with the request to 334/262-1115. Call 800/489-9099 or check out www.hudsonink.com for other free marketing articles and reports.