Exposed: Five Marketing Myths Revealed

What’s this fascination with secrets? There’s the runaway bestseller, “The Secret,” a not-very-good book that was exceedingly well-marketed. My wife was reading USA Today with “Hollywood’s No. 1 Fashion Secret” plastered across the cover. As she and 13 million other readers have now discovered it, I guess whatever was No. 2 will now take over the top spot.

This also begs the question of what could possibly be a secret in Hollywood, whose city motto is: “If we don’t have anything nice to say, we just make up something heinous”.

A friend and editor of mine recently told me that he’d written a normal trade article but mentioned “Plaster of Paris” in it, which got an incredible bounce in Google rankings. Stumped, he later figured it out. Anything “plastered” that included the name “Paris” was on the gossip-seekers’ radar.

Perhaps I should’ve entitled today’s lesson “Paris Hilton Exposes Popular HVAC Myths” but I get enough junk e-mail as it is. Before this degenerates any further, let’s just begin. Here are the top five HVAC marketing myths ever . . . revealed:

1 It’s smart to put everything you do or sell in an ad so you’ll get the most response from the largest group.

Not even close. This worn-out “advice” is a fast way to disappointment since specificity, not generalities, generates response. Ask anyone giving you this advice to show you ONE example where multiplicity of general offerings outpull singular focus. You’ll be in for a wait.

If you want response, then aim at a wellchosen target using laser-like focus toward a singular outcome. The only time you can mix offers is with an expected bump, usually at the end, such as “You can even extend the generous five-year warranty to 10 years if you like!”

2 The best way to increase response in the Yellow Pages is with a bigger, more colorful ad, in more sections.

Let me guess who started that one? This is only slightly less self-serving than “Morticians Encourage Smoking,” yet there is some empirical data that suggests a link between ad size and response rate.

Two unaddressed issues lurk: The ad’s “message” (how it’s written and laid out) regularly trumps size. Secondly, why is it so important to get the most response from the Yellow Pages? The point is to get the lowest cost per lead with a sane budget. That budget should be in the range of 24 to 31% of your total marketing allowance; less if you can get away with it.

3 Free stuff and ‘Buy Now’ type offers don’t work.

Yes, they do. Now, schlocky, over-thetop, too-good-to-be-true offers are just that, and will land in the appropriate trash heap. Yet, well-crafted direct response offers, with “free” (low barrier of resistance) and “buy now” (sense of urgency) response triggers do work.

Using well-timed direct response offers (in offpeak seasons and at the low ends of peak season) drive massive sales results for contractors. The smart ones capture these customers, and coddle them relentlessly, but also balance their marketing attack by paying no attention to the following myth.

4 Forget image marketing. People will call you because they know you do a good job.

Excuse me? What people? The people you already know? Okay, since we already have an image with them, it seems image advertising is for the people we don’t know. So if they don’t “know” you, how do they form an image of your company? Is it by the dented trucks, the amateur, home grown-looking ads, or the single word “Hello” when they call?

Your image is the character you project in the marketplace. If that character is likable, professional, and exudes earned confidence, that attracts callers who want that in their home.

True story: My neighbors are doing a massive renovation on their 1914 home. Last week, at 7:10 a.m., a faded-red contractor truck pulls up, a man bounds to their doorstep wearing a stained shirt with a well-recognized ad campaign phrase, yet one word was changed. It said: “Got bail?” He was still on the porch as I drove off.

Chuckle as you might, remember that your image — as projected in each ad seen by thousands — either repels or attracts.

Sadly, contractors often spend money to initially attract, then repel by absence.

5 Why spend money on retention marketing? You already have these people as customers.

Correction: You have “names” in your database, customers are people with whom you have a relationship. Clients are people with whom you have a regularly-recurring relationship. Any so-called “customer” without an effort to retain is still a prospect in the marketplace. They’re up for grabs.

In three months of no contact, they don’t know your name. If all your contact has focused on “selling” them things, they’d rather forget your name. True customer retention builds the relationship through regular, warm contact.

Though this message was slow to get going, customer retention programs have increased more than 300% in four years among contractors for two simple reasons: They’re inexpensive and they work.

Frederick Reicheld in The Loyalty Effect (Harvard Business Press) says that even a five-point bump in retention can increase bottom line profit by 25%. Since contractors’ regular attrition rate is 11%, and relatively few embrace retention programs, cutting that rate in half is easily done. Here’s how:

  • Simple “Thank You” cards to each service call. A whopping 45 cents to be a total standout with customers
  • A one-minute phone call to reconfirm an appointment or to thank them
  • A “We’ve missed you” card to those you’ve not heard from in more than six months. Not “selling,” just touching base and reminding them of value.
  • A newsletter sent two to four times a year to all who’ve used you in the past 48 months. This is the top choice of must-do retention marketing programs. It’s a matter of picking a program and getting it done.
  • A Holiday Card to all customers that — again — doesn’t sell, but reminds them that you’re their contractor. I can’t break a furnace in a postcard either, but you can make absolutely sure that your name is THE one they choose when it happens to them, neighbors, or friends. Now’s the time to do it, not to “think about it again” until next year.
  • A referral request generator. People don’t give referrals for two reasons: you didn’t earn the trust, or you didn’t ask, you assumed. Keep the relationship going and kindly ask for referrals twice a year.

The above small efforts are to make sure your customers never open the Yellow Pages again. Cut your dependency there, and you’ll celebrate your time with this article for a long time.

You can let others continue to believe these myths, but my goal is that you dispel them by taking action. When the results pour in and you’re asked how you got so darn smart, just say you learned it all from Paris Hilton. That ought to keep the conversation going.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a marketing firm for contractors. His company creates ads, newsletters and Yellow Page ads; conducts marketing seminars; and offers turnkey HVAC Marketing Programs. For more information on the firm’s Holiday Cards, which are available now, visit or call 800/489-9099.

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