BY ADAMS HUDSON
I've BEEN KEEPING a secret from you. Well, actually a couple of them (I'm waiting for the background check results). But, as they say, timing is everything and it just hasn't been right. Until now.
In case you've missed it, the holiday season is bearing down on us. In a matter of weeks we'll be caught in the whirlwind of Thanksgiving, the hectic race toward Christmas and, before you know it, another year is over. Then it's Groundhog Day and Valentine's Day, which you really do not want to mix up, I promise.
So how can you make the most impact in the final few weeks of the year?
Holiday marketing don'ts
Since most of your customers are spending lots of money now (and they are), it makes sense they don't want to be hit again. Leave that mistake for your competitors who think offering a "Giant Sale" during the holidays is smart. It's not, unless your customers regularly give toilets for Christmas.
In fact, it is pointless to send sale mail anytime between Dec. 10 and Jan. 12. Not only will your efforts most likely wind up in the trash can, you earn a spot on the list of "insensitive" hawkers out there.
So are you supposed to slink away during the holidays? Hardly. 'Tis the season to keep customers.
You see too many contractors serve customers once and think they're customers. Not true. Since consumers get about 400 ad messages a day, it's not your customer's responsibility to remember you. It's your responsibility to build the relationship. And this time of year is about relationships. Perfect match.
A simple and cost-effective way of keeping the name of your business in the minds of all those potential customers is sending seasonal holiday cards or postcards. (What, did you think they were going to remember your name from a year ago? Please.) These are great because they are quick, to the point, and serve as an inexpensive way of attracting the fence sitters and deter people from seeking your competition.
Six holiday card musts
Break from the ordinary. Some beautiful cards are out there, but after a while, they all blend together. Make yours different and trade specific if you can.
Please, I beg you, do not send goofy, cartoony ones like Elves doing drain cleaning, or Mrs. Claus hitting Santa with a pipe wrench. To me, these only add to the negative perception that true plumbing professionals want to shed. You can be fun, just not outdated or amateurish unless that's the message you want to send. Therefore ...
Chose an attractive graphic. Some people think a holiday decorated truck is a good idea, but, honestly, can it compare with a cute little kid building a snowman? Think of your homeowners getting the card, remembering that the holiday wish is first, your company is second. As long as they read the card, both messages get through. (See several examples on our Website at hudsonink.com).
Stand out from the junk mail. People receive so much clutter in the mail nowadays that it's difficult to keep your well-crafted marketing message from going straight to the trash. By spending a little extra money you can get a larger than usual postcard that will attract more attention than the standard size. We suggest 81/2 by 51/2. Make yourself available to customers. Remind them that you: Appreciate them and would love to hear from them and their family and friends anytime. That's a very subtle sales message without being overt. And another ...
Clever sales twist: Turn the postcard into a coupon for $10 (or however much) off a plumbing check-up, freeze protection package or give a free home piping survey. This promotes good will and even if the people who get your card don't want to use it, they might give it to a friend or neighbor who will. Would you take a "free" customer? Thought so.
So your holiday greeting card can be a standout, get the "Thanks" message across and plant seeds for calls.
Earlier this year, you read that our Marketing Makeover winner, Basnett Plumbing & Heating, actually generated calls using these cards, which is common ("Build your marketing momentum," March, pg. 47). But I assure you that sending a forceful sales message would've gotten negative reviews. It's a fine line to walk but worth walking.
Holiday greeting cards are a great way to set yourself apart from your competition. The company that getsremembered is the company that is memorable. Customers who forget you continue to use their plumbing (I hope!) so they've got to call someone else. Don't let that happen. It's up to you.
Remember, each message represents your quality and professionalism. A poor quality message can damage your image. A high quality greeting works wonders.
Spread more holiday cheer
Change your voice greeting. "Happy Holidays from ABC! How may I bring you some cheer?"
Change your on-hold message. (We have several for plumbers. Just remember to change them after the holidays!)
Put red and green streamers on your service fleet. Get noticed for almost nothing.
Keep red and green M&Ms in service trucks to give to customer's children. You think you might be remembered for that?
Send your holiday cards as selfmailers, no envelopes, using firstclass postage, not bulk. Why? So you can do an annual "cleaning" of your list with this less expensive mailer. Smart. (Ours don't use envelopes, which saves you even more.)
Consider an open house to invite customers and friends. Hey, what's better than customers coming to you? This one might cost you some, but look at the benefits.
These events allow your customers to see how you carry out your day-to-day operations with professionalism, and they reinforce your company's mission of service to customers. They also give you a chance to tell customers and prospects about services they may not know about.
It's also a good idea to give them something they can take home with them — a paperweight, refrigerator magnet, discount coupon or whatever. Just remember, it's not a time for selling — it's a time for welcoming. Once they feel welcome, buying follows.
Bottom line: The holidays are a great time to connect with your customers and cement the relationships that will bring continued sales throughout the coming years. That means you don't have to be selling to sell your customers on why you deserve their business. Do a great job of saying "Happy Holidays" and your customers will thank you with their future sales, referrals and loyalty.
Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. You can review its card selections at www.hudsonink. com or call 800/489-9099 for more information. For a free marketing newsletter, contractors can fax their letterhead with the request to 334/ 262- 1115 or e-mail [email protected]