Vary advertising message to attract, retain customers

BY BOB MIODONSKI OF CONTRACTOR'S STAFF SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS Fear, anger, guilt, greed, anxiety, status and loss. "If the headline of your ad touches one of those seven emotions, you will get a response," Adams Hudson told Quality Service Contractors July 22 during their Power Meeting XXV here. "Photos of children, family and animals in your ad score far higher than equipment," he added. Hudson, president

BY BOB MIODONSKI
OF CONTRACTOR'S STAFF

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS — Fear, anger, guilt, greed, anxiety, status and loss.

"If the headline of your ad touches one of those seven emotions, you will get a response," Adams Hudson told Quality Service Contractors July 22 during their Power Meeting XXV here.

"Photos of children, family and animals in your ad score far higher than equipment," he added.

Hudson, president of contractor marketing agency Hudson, Ink, and CONTRACTOR's marketing columnist, spoke on "High-Powered Branding for Plumbing and HVAC Companies." He told service contractors that they should be aware that the rules of advertising — and branding — are changing.

"The old rule was that you run or send anything just to get exposure," he said. "The new rule is that your ads are your salespeople, multiplied by thousands through the media. People buy with their eyes.

"Smart branding tells us that if all else is equal, the known company with the high image gets the sale — even at a higher price."

The same ad should not be used, however, in all applications, Hudson said.

"That would be like trying to use the same tool for every job," he said. "Your ads work as a team, and your goal is customer retention."

Image ads are one of four types of advertising that works well in a branding strategy, he said, because they emphasize a company's quality and professionalism. These ads are effective when sent as inserts, letters and postcards or in newspaper campaigns; they also can be used electronically, he said.

"You'll get an image whether you intend to or not," Hudson told QSC members. "Higher image gets higher prices."

Top-of-mind ads, a second type of advertising to boost branding, builds recognition through repetition. These work well in newspapers too as small, frequently published ads. They're equally effective on radio, TV and Websites, and as door hangers, yard and truck signs.

"People more readily buy 'known' than 'not known,'" he said.

Direct-response ads, the third type, can generate leads that a contractor's competitors couldn't even imagine, Hudson said.

"These are the heavy hitters of advertising, so make them special events," he said. "They provide the most explosive form of lead generation. They're salesmanship in print."

When using direct-response ads, contractors should present a distinct offer, which customers find irresistibly valuable. Money at a discount is the No. 1 motivator for people to respond to these ads, Hudson said, adding that it is very important to match the message in the offer to the specific market.

He cautioned, however, that an offer without limits on time or quantity is not really an offer. Also, overusing direct-response ads will cause the contractor's credibility to suffer.

Statistics show that the best days to place direct-response ads in newspapers are Monday and Tuesday, Hudson said. The best newspaper pages for direct-response ads are pages 2, 3, 5 and the weather page.

Direct-response techniques can work well in a number of different media, including Websites and Yellow Pages. Using such methods can help contractors reduce their Yellow Pages expenditures from an average of 55% of their marketing budget to less than 24%, he said.

Most Yellow Pages ads of plumbing and HVAC contractors are sloppy, misdirected and commit "every marketing sin in one package," he said.

"They try to do everything in one ad, going in every direction at once," he said. "They serve no purpose. They are poor ads."

Unfocused ad design is only one reason that contractors may get disappointing results from the Yellow Pages. Others, he said, are the high degree of sameness among ads in the same category and use of the Yellow Pages is declining nationally. In addition, contractors are competing for business from a disloyal audience who price shops more than other customers and delivers the lowest closing ratio, Hudson said.

Retention ads, the fourth type of advertising to build branding, help contractors hang onto the customers that they've obtained through the first three types. Retention methods include newsletters, thank-you cards or calls, maintenance agreements and referrals, all of which contain a subtle form of advertising.

"Never take customers for granted," Hudson said. "Build high-value relationships with high-quality retention techniques."

QSC, an enhanced service group of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors — National Association, offers training programs, products and services to its members. For more information about QSC, visit www.qsc-phcc.org