Simple steps for cold-weather marketing

OK, FOLKS, GET OUT your scissors. I want you to cut out this column, tape it to your desk, on your marketing manager or in a place you're likely to stare at during the next three months. This'll be a free consult to guide you over the next 90 days of your marketing year. If you like it, please write Bob Miodonski (publisher and editorial director) and thank him for his foresight, trust and potential

OK, FOLKS, GET OUT your scissors. I want you to cut out this column, tape it to your desk, on your marketing manager or in a place you're likely to stare at during the next three months.

This'll be a free consult to guide you over the next 90 days of your marketing year. If you like it, please write Bob Miodonski (publisher and editorial director) and thank him for his foresight, trust and potential misjudgment. If you don't like it, that's why there are other columns in this magazine.

January: Jump start your year
By now, your marketing plan and budget are in place. Oh, tell me they are. This is the best thing you can do for your year. You've already classified yourself as an aggressive, moderate or conservative. This is the first step toward successful marketing.

Oh, sure, instead of a plan, you could "wing it" just like you have the last umpteen years, wondering how Mr. Fancy Pants Plumbing Co. is able to keep the phone calls, sales and techs all year long while you look at the parked trucks and wonder whom to cut.

Now, is it coincidence that Mr. Fancy Pants markets all year long according to plan? Probably not. So, get yourself a plan, no matter how basic. For even greater motivation, please realize ...

January is full of hope, new starts and plans for all of us. Partly as a result, January is also the No. 1 purchase month for direct-response marketing. People want to act on their goals while they're fresh. They want changes. They accept the "out-with-the-old" mentality more readily in January.

So when you ask them to take action toward increasing their home comfort, performance, safety and security, you're giving them the opportunity to feel good about themselves. And since 90% of purchases are based on emotion, forcing your market to focus on feelings is way smarter than focusing on cheap faucets or service rates.

A couple quick tips:

Send friendly follow-up letters on declined services or products from the last 90 days. There's a holiday hesitancy that should've thawed out by now, even though their pipes may not have. Next, send postcards to neighborhoods you'll be targeting for service visits and cluster the appointments together. After direct mail, I like newspaper, inserts and radio.

You could be specific with your messages (such as winter de-thawing) or a general service discount. Last year our Plumbing Marketing Makeover contest winner sent New Year's postcards and offered $20 off for a service visit during January only. The company's results were $4,050 in sales on a small mailing that cost $970. No, the firm didn't get rich off this, but it's basically as if the customer base paid four grand to be thanked. There are worse investments.

Either way, play up the emotion of New Year's changes.

February: Stimulate profits
Profits maximize when preparation meets opportunity. The most important element of preparation is your database and, without a good one, you're trying to mine gold with no map or tools.

If your business burned to the ground tomorrow and your staff made it out, you could replace trucks, offices, tools and equipment. But without your customer list, you're starting from scratch. That means growing and protecting your database as if it were your business lifeblood. In fact, it is.

You started in January by mailing to unclosed sales. In February it's time to broaden the scope of your focus to include service ads. The purpose is twofold:

  • You're adding new names to your database every time a prospect responds. And every name you add represents dollars in sales, upsells and referrals. Do you have enough of those? I didn't think so. As you build and stay in touch with a database, you earn the right to ask for referrals.
  • You're taking control away from the weather and stimulating the market with timely offers. That means while your competition is scrambling to get through the slow times, you're enjoying the results of your preparation — continuous income.

What kind of offers should you use? Water heater replacements and fixture upgrades are good February upgrades. "End of season" offers also work well. This is the time to start differentiating yourself from your competition.

March: Protect investment
Think your competitors are going to slink away while you amass a fortune? Hardly. They're going to be actively pursuing the market — if they're smart — and that means your customers. Your relationship with your customers must be strong enough to keep them tied to you regardless of the offers they receive.

Remember all that list building you did last month? This is where you put that list to use and protect your database. You do that through Customer Retention Marketing and March is the perfect time.

The most effective and least costly method of staying in contact with your customers is with a good newsletter. Remember, these are your paying, active customers, so this is your highest value list by far. Their relationship with you means they're less likely to shop, more likely to accept the upsell (maintenance agreements, top-of-the-line equipment) than any other group and are more likely to refer you. With small effort, they're also far less likely to leave you for the competition.

Remember, a newsletter is not an ad for your company or industry; it is "news" and is to be a valuable customer relationship builder. If you turn it into pure promotion, you have missed the point. If you have only information about your products, your profession, your company and your expertise, you may as well just send it to yourself and save all that postage.

Your newsletter should position you as an authority on matters of home importance, regardless of the application within your industry. Why?

First, it's a heck of a lot easier to find new things to write about and remain informatively impartial if you step outside your industry! Second, because you elevate your position and become an "adviser." Subtle distinction with not-so-subtle implication: Advisers outsell salespeople 4:1.

How do you think your competition will like that? Get your newsletters out now or you may as well be mailing your competitor's ads yourself.

The rest of the story
In just a few minutes you've covered the basics for the entire first quarter of 2007. Think it was hard? Of course, if doing were as easy as knowing there'd be a whole lot more successful plumbing contractors out there. This is your opportunity to be one of those who take action and watch your business — and your way of life — change for the better.

Two free things because we're nice people. Let us send you a Marketing Budget Calculator to help you figure your profile, budget and media for the year and a 12-month marketing calendar to keep you on track.

Just send a polite fax on company letterhead to Hudson Ink at 334/ 262-1115 or an e-mail to [email protected] with your equally polite request and mailing address.

Make your business work harder for you this year. Make a simple plan, follow it and chart the results. If we can help you get there, we'd love to hear your story, and so would other CONTRACTOR readers who may be tired of hearing mine! Happy marketing.

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