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HVAC Marketing 101: Use Your Head, Not Your Knee

July 7, 2017
HVAC marketing works best when it's proactive, strategic and repetitive.

By Elaina Burdick

Are you a “reactive marketer?”  Let me ask you a few questions to find out…

  • Are you operating without an annual marketing plan?
  • Ever place an ad in the local paper because your competitor did?
  • Purchased a radio advertising campaign or a billboard because the rep had a super great deal that she could only offer you today?
  • Have you ever rushed to use up co-op funds before year end? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you, my friend, are doing reactive, knee-jerk marketing.

Typically, the result of reactive marketing is a lot of dollars spent, with little to no ROI. HVAC marketing works best when it's proactive, strategic and repetitive.

Creating an annual marketing plan for your business is the best way to avoid knee-jerk marketing. Easy enough to do, even for the least marketing-savvy among us. You may not have the resources to facilitate every aspect of your plan, but you can save yourself a lot of trial and error – not to mention money – by investing one day putting a plan together. Your marketing plan should include the following:

  • Your company goals
  • Time frame you want to achieve them in
  • Specific steps needed to accomplish your goals
  • How you’re going to track your activities
  • Your budget (4-6% for moderate growth, 8-10% for aggressive growth)

Here’s how you begin: by writing down some goals. Start with four or five of them. Think big picture. What do you want for your company, and for yourself? You can say things like, “I want more service contracts” or “I want to double my ductless sales” or “I want to hire a bookkeeper so my mother-in-law doesn’t have to come in to the office anymore.” All of these goals are perfectly valid. (Although some may be more popular at home than others!)  Whatever yours are, write them down. Because if you haven’t defined your goals, then how can you possibly hope to achieve them

Give yourself a time frame for each of your goals

Next, let’s apply marketing strategy to your goals. Follow a process I call the “7 Steps to HVAC Marketing” to build a marketing plan, budget and schedule for your company

Here are the steps, listed in the order they should be tackled

Step 1: Branding. Your brand is your logo, but it’s so much more than your logo. It’s the look, the feel, the colors, the fonts, the theme and the marketing message. All of this together makes up your brand. Your brand separates you from the pack. It’s what your customers recognize.  It’s how they learn to trust you and ultimately why they’ll spend money with you. Make sure you develop a solid brand for your company before you do anything else! It’s the most important, foundational element of your company marketing.

Step 2: Website. Your website is the backbone of all your marketing efforts. Use it to help achieve your goals. Want to sell more ductless? Then put a ductless tile ad on the home page.  Want more service contracts? More plumbing leads? Then for heaven’s sake, promote it on your website! 

As I travel the country teaching HVAC marketing, I get the sense that we’re all very consumed with getting people to our websites, these days. I see contractors spending an alarming amount of money on SEO and Pay-Per-Click to get as many people as possible to visit their websites.  And don’t get me wrong, a high amount of traffic is desirable. But let’s not lose sight of why we want people to visit our websites. We want them to call us, right? So it’s equally important to make sure you’re giving people what they’re looking for when they arrive at your site. If your website is heavy on text, short on visuals, and doesn’t function well, consumers will quickly click over to a competitor’s site. Because here’s the sad truth, folks: people don’t read anymore. It’s the result of being bombarded by constant visual stimulation everywhere we go. (Even grocery store carts have advertising on them now.) Take a look at your website. Does it very clearly say WHO you are (your branding should run throughout your site), WHAT you do (in the form of equipment photos), HOW to contact you (big, bold phone number) and WHAT your offers are (let’s see an equipment offer and a service offer on the home page)? If not, make some modifications, like, yesterday.

Step 3: Existing Customers. These are the low hanging fruit. Easiest people to market to, cheapest people to market to, best ROI…need I say more? Don’t assume that the lady you installed ductless for last year knows that you also do plumbing. She doesn’t. Don’t assume that the nice young couple you did a gas conversion for knows that you also do insulation. They don’t. Cross market your services via a newsletter (printed or emailed) to these folks. And hit them pre-season with a postcard reminder to get their clean and check done before you get swamped. Remember, you get 80 percent of your sales, directly or indirectly, from your existing customers. (You’ll spend most of your marketing dollars going after that other 20 percent!) 

Step 4: Define Your Target Market. Pick a few towns that make sense for you to target (i.e. convenient to travel to, opportunity to gain market share, etc.). Then think about who your ideal customer is. How much money do they make? How old are they? How much is their home worth? How old is their home? Decide who you have the best shot of earning business from. Because you only want to target those people — not everyone in that zip code.

Step 5: Target New Customers in a Strategic Way. There’s no cookie cutter approach to targeting new customers, so Step 5 is a good time to ask a professional HVAC marketer for some help. But here’s a few things to keep in mind: prospective customers need to see/hear your name eight times before they even remember it! Sending one postcard to 10,000 homes won’t produce as many leads as sending postcards to the same 2,000 homes, five times.  Repetition matters in marketing. A lot.

Stack the deck by combining marketing vehicles. For example: use online marketing in the same towns where you’re launching a direct mail campaign. The goal here is for consumers to go to the internet already looking for you! Market to these folks in season. I know, I know — you’re already busy. But let me ask you this? Why do you wake up at 4am to go fishing? Because that’s when they are biting! If you want to build your customer base, you need to market to consumers when they are most interested in your services. 

And it goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: track everything you do with call tracking phone numbers on all your marketing pieces and with Google Analytics on your website.

Step 6: TOMA.  Billboards, TV, Radio and other “top of mind” advertising should be approached after all other direct marketing efforts (Steps 1 – 5) have been addressed, because they’re expensive, not easy to track and should primarily be used as branding vehicles. We can’t expect the kind of direct leads from most TOMA initiatives that we get from targeted marketing. And keep in mind, just because someone stops you in the grocery store to say they saw you on TV doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to buy a furnace from you. However, if you have the budget to incorporate TOMA into your marketing plan, by all means, do. But make sure you do your homework by comparing media options — don’t just buy a package because it sounds like a good deal. Ask your media rep to find ways to tie your advertising to local community and relevant media events. 

Step 7: Make a Plan. Create a written document including these steps.  Include a listing of your goals, a calendar with your target dates, the business activities you need to take, your plan for tracking your leads, a budget for each initiative and an overall budget.  The goal here is to spend your marketing money wisely – not spend more of it.

Now just follow your plan.  As the year progresses, refer to your plan and your goals to determine if you’re on track. Look over your analytics and check your call tracking reports.  You don’t have to be an expert to begin to notice trends.  At the end of the year, calculate your cost per lead to determine what worked well, what needs some adjustment and let the tracking data you’ve collected dictate how you’re going to make better marketing decisions next year.

Then, because goals and budgets evolve, start the process all over again.

You’ll find that a marketing plan helps you stop reacting to all the advertising offers, gimmicks and media reps that find their way into your office throughout the year. Having a solid marketing plan also means you won’t need to worry about what your competitors are doing.  You’ll simply follow your plan and let them react to you.

While there are certainly more aspects to HVAC marketing than I can possibly cover in this article, the 7 Steps is a great place to start. Follow them and you’re on your way to achieving your goals by marketing your business with strategic thinking and planning — and by keeping your knee under the table, where it belongs.

Elaina Burdick is one of the EGIA Contractor University faculty members. EGIA Contractor University has assembled the most experienced and dynamic faculty ever put together. Faculty members have personally built some of the most successful contracting companies in America. Learn more about EGIA Contractor University and EGIA membership, offering contractors all the tools they need to run and grow a successful contracting business, while freeing up time and money.

Burdick is the President of EB&L Marketing, a full-service HVAC marketing firm. Burdick grew up around HVAC and recognized that residential contractors – with their limited time and marketing training – needed help promoting their companies. This led her to open a marketing company that is 100 percent focused on HVAC. For more than 25 years, she has worked with manufacturers, distributors and local contractors to effectively market their businesses and grow their bottom line, by building their brand and avoiding common marketing missteps. EB&L provides marketing solutions for 1-man start-ups as well as large, multi-vehicle dealerships. But by far, educating contractors on appropriate ways to promote their companies is the part of her job she enjoys the most. You can contact her at [email protected].