Marketing lessons lived, learned, leaned upon

OK, CLASS. Take out your No. 2 pencils and a sheet of paper. It's time for a pop quiz." First, why did it always have to be a No. 2 pencil? What was wrong with the other numbers? Secondly, who came up with the "pop quiz"? Those two words struck fear into me, almost as much as did "See me" written atop the quiz result. Argh! Signs of a misspent youth. So now I'm returning the favor by giving you a

OK, CLASS. Take out your No. 2 pencils and a sheet of paper. It's time for a pop quiz."

First, why did it always have to be a No. 2 pencil? What was wrong with the other numbers? Secondly, who came up with the "pop quiz"? Those two words struck fear into me, almost as much as did "See me" written atop the quiz result. Argh! Signs of a misspent youth.

So now I'm returning the favor by giving you a pop quiz. Well better than that actually, I'm giving you the study notes. You see, all year long, CONTRACTOR has been nutty kind enough to let me guide you down a better marketing path.

You've gotten thousands in free consulting, largely a result of expensive testing by others. Or in the case of the "Marketing Makeover" contest and feature story earlier this year, from campaigns you didn't have to conceptualize, initiate, pay for or — the fun part — "wait" for the tweaking to boost response. You just happened onto a page and read it, just like that.

The hard part is the one that separates successful contractors from everybody else. And that is applying what you've learned. Today's column is your review. All I ask is that you pick out one lesson you can focus upon, make it a goal for 2007 and send me an e-mail with your results.

If you'll do that, you're already ahead of 90% of your competition. Why? For that group, "it's too much trouble," yet, inexplicably, it's never too much trouble to complain about business woes. For you, it can be your grasp of the next rung you desperately seek, starting with this ...

Lesson 1: Marketing in a fishbowl.
Too many plumbers think their entire city is their market. They think every home, business or any region that might have water in pipes is their "market." Baloney. Your market is people, and those people have characteristics (demographics, if you want to impress) within fairly narrow brackets.

Your marketing needs to "touch" those people. Sure, it's easier to broadly mail a dumb service postcard with a toilet pictured plus a "15% off drain cleaning" coupon, just like everybody else. But hear me on this: You cannot get all customers at once, so don't try to market as if you can.

If you read the "Marketing Makeover" stories, you saw that specific targeting worked better, one group at a time. You earn clusters of customers largely through direct-response ads and repeated exposure, and then join them together. (More on this in a moment.)

Once earned, you do the one thing that 89% of your competitors do not do: Install an active "Customer Retention Program." Most contractors focus on the "getting" and forget about the "keeping." But wise marketers cluster customers together with a marketing program aimed solely at them. Very, very smart move.

You have to establish a Customer Retention Program that makes you their contractor and not just "some guy from some company I can't remember, who came and fixed my house."

Great ways to do that: Thank you notes following service calls; newsletters for active customers; holiday cards; and seasonal "bumps."

Lesson 2: "Has anyone seen my marketing plan?"
I've said it hundreds of times, plus I originally stole it from someone else, but in case you missed it: Fail to plan; plan to fail. It's that simple.

Don't say you "don't know where to start" because you do. Look over your shoulder at previous sales. What months do most people call about clogged drains or have disposal problems? November and December. Great. Frozen pipes? January. What about sump pump sales? Think April showers. Many products and services have "likely" months; many don't. You are part way there if you can "loft" your message at the time that it's entering most people's minds.

Now, did you make any money on the above? What was your top seller? Top three? What's your easiest inhome upsell? Top three? To whom? In what areas? What do these clients have in common? Sorry to pepper you with questions, but we're almost done here.

Last, what are your projected sales for 2007? Great, take 6%-8% of that and answer the following: If I want to maximize my marketing investment, what would I promote? Oops, you already answered it in the previous paragraph. Now, when would you promote it? Oops again, already answered. Now, to whom will you aim your message? Once again, you've determined that through your clusters and clients. See how easy?

Oh, shoot, I left out one little detail. What ad message are you going to send? Back to square one and that's why about 80% of our plumbing clients are stuck.

Lesson 3: A mindless message muddies memories.
Sure, alliteration helps the memory. So do uniqueness, repetition, consistency and striking visuals that accompany the message. It's at work everywhere. Think Jesus and you see the man, you think of calm, forgiving, love. Think UPS and you see brown and gold, friendly package delivery. Think McDonald's and you see arches, fast food and little clowns building roadblocks in your arteries out of fat. Maybe that's just me.

Now, think Your Company. Drawing a blank? Like most plumbing contractors, the memorable factors named above aren't being used. An ad here. A postcard there. A coupon over here. And you wonder why your message is missed in the overcrowded marketplace?

Choose a message that is uniquely you. An image that you want. (You're going to get an image whether you want one or not, so it's better for you to determine what it is.) Hammer it into the minds of your target market, consistently over time. It doesn't cost you a dime more to do good marketing, create a good image or become known in your town. We do it all the time within the same budget parameters. It's a system, not guessing. The only difference is the result.

Lesson 4: Love your work, the rest follows.
Doesn't sound like a marketing lesson to you? It's the biggest of all. You won't do a good job at any of the lessons if you don't love it. Love watching your business grow. Why? Serves more people. Love watching your staff rejoice in good work. Why? Encourages others by example. Love installing management systems that run your business instead of the other way around. Why? Gives you more time with your family, less time stressing out and possibly just more time.

Pick a lesson. Follow it fully. I hope to report on the success you become.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Readers can get a free 2006-2007 12month marketing strategy calendar by faxing their letterhead with the request to 334/262-1115. You can also call Hudson, Ink at 800/489-9099 for help or visit www.hudsonink.com for other free marketing articles and reports. All who respond will get a free newsletter, "Sales & Marketing Insider" e-mailed or faxed every other week.

TAGS: Marketing