It's all about me: marketing in a slow economy

Mildly out of breath, I take my place on the back row in exercise class among a couple dozen health seekers. The first four words should give you a clue as to why I joined. As with most exercise rooms, it's lined with mirrors so you can inhale your stomach from several angles. This comes in handy if the 20-year-olds decide to drop in to watch old people perspire at such bicep burners as the candy

Mildly out of breath, I take my place on the back row in exercise class among a couple dozen health seekers. The first four words should give you a clue as to why I joined.

As with most exercise rooms, it's lined with mirrors so you can inhale your stomach from several angles. This comes in handy if the 20-year-olds decide to drop in to watch old people perspire at such bicep burners as “the candy bar curl.” I'm still sore from that one.

Once I'm somewhat situated to view the instructor between all the other attendees and their reflections, I notice something very peculiar.

I can't see myself — at all. The mirrored door to the towel closet was left slightly ajar. I could see people to my right and left throughout the room. Every single reflection was visible from my angle, but me. I was invisible.

It was surreal — this feeling of observing without being observed. It was an odd feeling of detachment being in a room that was missing me. This got me to thinking, which is for the most part, dangerous.

Your marketing mirror

We all use the term customer and “consumer” almost interchangeably. They “consume” consumer goods at some consumptive rate. In the service business, faster is better. Yet customers also are consumed by the need, desire and often unyielding quest to satisfy what really drives them toward consumption. Hint: It ain't pipes and drains.

Discovering what truly “drives” consumers has made more millionaires than any product or research team could ever hope to emulate. Not figuring it out has killed great products and allowed companies to be dismantled by bankruptcy courts. Why? They failed to attach themselves to the driving force.

This driving force is, of course, the reflection in the mirror. We are — for the most part — consumed with ourselves. This is not a condemnation, but understand that as human behaviorist and marketing coach Dr. Jeffery Lant says, “To ourselves, we're our most important person.” We have to be.

A focus on self probably drove human beings to dominance on this planet, but it makes us lousy listeners. You wonder why we marvel at superior customer service? It's because most people are fairly rotten at paying attention to others' requests for attention.

We critique about 400 ads a year, and the number one failure is that these ads never get out of their own self-erected gate of aggrandizement. The infatuation with self never occurs to them as the reason no one listened, responded or bought.

I'm talking about the ads that just happen to be all about you … your trucks, your experience, your “high quality at low prices,” etc.

As I'm writing this, my email blinks from a plumbing discussion board. In it, a plumbing contractor asks the group, “Who has tried radio? Does it work?” He goes on to say he's the owner of a six-man shop and later admits after a lengthy, rather costly radio campaign, “I don't think I got one call.” Back to his initial question …

I requested a copy of his ad because I know in my soul that the media does not cause “ad failure.” Actually, two other things do, but first the ad …

“At (blank) Plumbing we go the ‘extra mile’ to prove we want your business. We have the best-equipped trucks, friendliest techs and put that ‘can do’ attitude into every job we do …”

The customer can't be seen anywhere in the ad. Who is the contractor advertising to? You've got one guess. Furthermore, his results are in stark contrast to our client in Colorado who had to pull his radio advertising for a month last summer to keep up with the workload generated. Guess who he was advertising to? Because the “who” is most important, and it ain't you.

Second in importance is the “message” to that selected group. And if leads are your goal that message had better include “reasons why” you're different, better, faster, more convenient, more trustable or have a better offer. So if you put “for all your plumbing needs” in another ad, I'm calling the police, which likely will be the only call that ad generates.

High response marketing

Enter the conversation your prospect is having in his mind … not the one in yours. This requires a connection with what frustrates them about all the other plumbers in town. Late? No shows? Sloppy? Scary? Find the resistance and counter it. If you can't do it, please hire an ad agency or direct response copywriter. Honestly, you'll waste more money doing it wrong than you'll spend getting real results.

Solve problems. Don't tell customers about technical trivialities hoping to bedazzle them into buying. They'd much rather turn the page or just hope you'll go away.

Assume risk. Give prospects something for nothing. Take “normal” guarantees to the next level. Astonish your customers and your competition with your boldness.

Establish credibility. Use testimonials, facts, figures and meaningful specifics — not “vague generalities.” Hey, I know 95% of the plumbing companies out there can't really be fast and reliable and the best value in town, so just stop it. You're wasting words, dollars and brain cells.

Reveal a damaging admission. Tell me, “Lines may be busy during this offer, but we're staying open later.” Or say, “This water quality test can reveal over 20 potential poisons and pollutants, but it doesn't measure mercury,” or “we don't know if we'll be able to get any more high efficiency water heaters at this price after this offer has ended, so please understand if we've run out.” Your admission increases admission.

Set limitations. This applies to time, quantity and availability of colors, models and sizes … primarily to increase the sense of urgency and to be honest with your customer!

Drive your name deep. Repeated exposure to your message “allows” you into the prospect's “hierarchy of recall,” making you a recognized friend, not a sporadic stranger. Marketing genius J.C. Levinson says nine sets of three exposures in 180 days can put you into the coveted “top five” of company names in a market. Do this with TOMA, yard signs, letters, postcards, truck signage and more.

Aggressively pursue customer retention. Never, ever forget to stay in touch with customers — especially in this economy. They have a higher closing rate, transaction value and referral rate, and they cost nothing to get on your list. In fact, acquisition costs six times more than retention.

For 2008, your goal had better be to build a marketing fence around your customers because lots of competitors want them and will be using all sorts of methods to get them. No kidding, get a customer retention program going. This starts with a “thank you” note and includes a regular newsletter two to four times a year.

Let your company, every employee and every ad you run be a mirror held up so the customer can see himself. It'll reflect nicely upon you and your profits.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Call 800/489-9099 or email [email protected] to request a sample of our spring newsletter or to request the free report, “The #1 Costliest Mistake in Contractor Marketing.” Check out www.hudsonink.com for other free marketing articles and reports.

TAGS: Marketing