Marketing principles you can't avoid

GOOD MARKETING generates leads. The confounding simplicity of that statement is that of the nearly 2,000 contractor ads we critique each year, most don't know what separates "good" from "everybody else." Most plumbing marketing is rather poor. OK, I was hedging. It's actually rotten. That's great news! Why? Because as you learn how to do it better, your marketing can stand out against a sea of mediocrity.

GOOD MARKETING generates leads. The confounding simplicity of that statement is that of the nearly 2,000 contractor ads we critique each year, most don't know what separates "good" from "everybody else."

Most plumbing marketing is rather poor. OK, I was hedging. It's actually rotten. That's great news! Why? Because as you learn how to do it better, your marketing can stand out against a sea of mediocrity. And " differentiation" is a hallmark of superior marketing. But I'm getting slightly ahead of myself, so let's start with principles.

Good plumbing marketing exploits your assets and benefits to a larger audience. This is advertising that says who you are, why you're better and what the customer gains by using your services. Your customers like you for something that is different from other plumbing contractors. Determine and focus on exactly what that difference is and spread the news.

If you're not marketing the " difference" then you're marketing the "sameness." And, friends, sameness means "commodity." Hard to get a higher price with more appreciative, referring and returning customers with a commodity. Much easier to tout the difference between you and everybody else and sell it accordingly.

Make something marketable from something you may have taken for granted. Do you have 24-hour service? Do you guarantee satisfaction, service, response times, parts warranties, follow-up services and offer maintenance agreements? If you don't, you're missing an opportunity. If you do, but don't market it, you're missing the point of having it.

Now, say it differently. If every living goofball in the Yellow Pages offers 24-hour service, then you say, "We never close. Call now." Same thing more powerfully stated.

Advertise any and all Unique Selling Propositions to the masses if you can afford it, and/or to a peer group similar to your customer-base demographics.

Research, resell, reap and repeat. This type of marketing tells people, "We identify with you and your needs, and here's how we solve your problems." Once you've recognized your most likely or desired customers, cater to them in advertising and marketing that appeals to them.

By the way, a Yellow Pages ad with 17 logos and a picture of a toilet isn't identifying with an audience. But here's a quick way that you can:

Research Focus on your existing base of customers, then target a larger but manageable group. Age of home, income, lead pipes, low water pressure, polybutylene piping and other profit opportunities await the smart plumber.

People's habits, actions, desires, and concerns are more alike than you think. If lots of your customers live in zip code 33334, yet 33335 has similar demographics but very few of your customers, it's time to bombard them with your offers. (Testimonials work very well with these affinity groups.)

Resell Continue to present yourself to these prospects. Win them as customers through a staged approach in different media. Print or radio (broad market) can be followed by direct mail (focused market) that speaks their language. Then follow up with either postcard, newspaper inserts to their zone or telemarketing.

(Big time hint: If you do better than a 1% response rate on a mailing, resend that piece to the same list. A client once called to say he'd gotten 3.4% response on a utility-assisted mail out and wondered what to do next. You can guess what I told him. His results were 2.2% on the second try.)

Also, whether you like it or not, customer retention marketing (reselling) from your competition is going to eat your customers along the way. Once a smart plumber starts an aggressive retention program, you'll have to pay and play twice as hard to get 'em back. You'd be very well advised to perform customer retention now, through a regular newsletter program, thank you notes, customer surveys and more. If you're not doing any of the above, either visit our Website to see examples or get started on your customer mailing list now.

Reap Determine how effective the promotion was by calculating cost per lead and cost per sale. Then invest some profit in additional marketing that fits your best approach. You must track your leads with one question: "... and how did you hear about us?" then mark it down. If you don't measure it, how will you ever know?

Repeat When your promotional techniques start pulling, simply repeat the process. Don't change for the sake of change. Be prudent.

Your plumbing marketing is just a few well-placed, well-designed pieces away from being the marketing standard to beat. Believe me, I've seen the competition. Beating them shouldn't be too hard. The last problem to tackle with your marketing is consistency. That's because of two completely false beliefs, myths if you prefer.

Here they are: If business slows down, cut your advertising first; and when business is good, there's no need to advertise.

Silly. If business slows down, you'd not cut your advertising any more than you'd shut fuel to an airplane. Plus, your scaredy-cat competition has already cut back, making your ads an even greater standout. Secondly, when business is good, many people are looking to buy, right? Seems like a good time to keep advertising.

If it sounds like I'm trying to keep your name out there, I am. If it sounds like I'm "proactive" in marketing, I am.

Set a sales goal for the year. Set a marketing budget in writing. Allocate through the year according to the seasonal flows that already exist. With powerful marketing, you can get more leads, close more sales and keep more loyal customers. Sounds like a pretty good year to me.

Free things this month: We can send you "How to Track Your Marketing," a 16-page report to help you market more effectively. You can also get a 12-Month Marketing Calendar that offers contractors a Marketing Focus for each month and other helpful tips.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Call 800/489-9099 for more information or visit www.hudsonink.com

TAGS: Marketing