Advertising myths abound, PSI members learn

by Robert P. Mader Of Contractor's Staff NASHVILLE, TENN. Too many contractors are order takers rather than marketers, John Young, one of the founders of Plumbers Success International, told PSI members meeting here in September. Their advertising shows it, he noted. Most contractor ads announce, "here we are," without any compelling reason why a homeowner should buy from them. A contractor has to

by Robert P. Mader
Of Contractor's Staff

NASHVILLE, TENN. — Too many contractors are order takers rather than marketers, John Young, one of the founders of Plumbers Success International, told PSI members meeting here in September. Their advertising shows it, he noted. Most contractor ads announce, "here we are," without any compelling reason why a homeowner should buy from them.

A contractor has to be able to tell a prospect in 30 seconds what advantages, benefits or personal enhancement he will get from doing business with the contractor's firm that he can't get from a competitor. The contractor's advertising should say the same thing.

Unfortunately for many contractors, their ads just include their name, phone number and a picture of a truck. They might list services such as "lead-free repiping," without stating benefits.

Young gave his members 12 advertising secrets that they won't hear from a Yellow Pages sales rep.

  1. Every ad has to contain a unique selling proposition, the 30- second spiel that says that if a customer has a problem, you are the answer.
  2. Each ad must have a headline that works, not one that's cutesy or dumb. It has to be a headline about the benefits of your services that will draw a customer into the rest of the ad.
  3. Every advertising vehicle must be tested to see what's working and what's a flop.
  4. Reverse the risk — offer the customer a 100% money-back guarantee. Most homeowners, since they know nothing about plumbing, are afraid that they are in a position to be fleeced. If you give them a 100% money-back guarantee, it removes the fear from the buyer.
    If you are conducting your business properly, Young said, only three of 100 people will ask for their money back, and they're jerks anyway. That's their job, he said. They're the same people who will cut you off in traffic.
  5. Ads must create perceived value. They must make the customer believe that you are worth what you are charging because of whatever attributes you have, such as being professional, clean, technically competent, punctual and courteous.
  6. You have to give reasons why a customer should buy from you. Sometimes you have to tell the customer to call you and you have to ask for the order. Don't make the customer do too much work, as the cable company does.
  7. Tell customers what a product will do for them, not what it is. The point of an ad shouldn't be the faucet but what the faucet will do for the customer.
  8. Give away bonuses and ethical bribes, similar to TV ads that say, "But wait, that's not all!" Young asked the women in the room how many of them had bought cosmetics at a department store just to get the free gift that went with them.
  9. Create ads that educate homeowners about plumbing problems.
  10. Create ads that don't look like ads. Ads that look like stories often work, as long as the contents are worth reading.
  11. Testimonials from customers and endorsements have always worked.
  12. Follow the " rule of seven." Existing customers should be contacted by some means at least seven times a year.

Young also spent time tearing into typical Yellow Pages ads. If you can ask "so what?" or "who cares?" about your Yellow Pages ad, Young told PSI members, the ad is in trouble.

Many ads state the obvious, such as service is available 24 hours or that the contractors are licensed plumbers, two facts that should be assumed.

Yellow Pages reps tell a lot of lies, Young said. One is that you have to be placed in the front of the section. Many people flip from back to front, and many customers end up in the middle of the section.

Reps often say that the company name and logo should be the biggest visual in the ad. That's just to give the contractor a warm fuzzy, Young said. It's not a reason why anybody should call you.

The Yellow Pages people will say nobody reads a wordy ad. That's because they don't want to take the time to create such an ad for you. If you've got good copy, customers will read it.

The reps will push for a special phone that allows them to meter the number of calls you get. That doesn't tell you what you need to know, which is how many new customers are calling. You can get that information by asking the customer.

A good ad, Young said, will have a headline that sucks people into the ad. The headline has to include the customer, the customer's problem or interest in it. Try to put a customer benefit in the headline.

The ad should cover most problems that people have; don't even attempt to list 100% of them. Offering firm appointment times can be effective (a service for which you can charge extra). You can list half a dozen reasons why most people call you and how you solve their problems.