Allow me to hark back fifty or so years to a time when the new paradigm for business advertising was morphing from newsprint to TV and radio. Getting name recognition entailed investing in radio “spots” during drive time and TV commercials in a selected market, also during peak viewing hours. The hoped-for result would be ringing phones and more work. Local small shops opted for things like “Pennysaver” ads and ads in the Yellow Pages (remember those?) of the local phone book.
How people looked for and found service people at that time dictated where the advertising budget was spent, and where it was deemed to be most effective. If you were a moderately large or mid-sized shop, you had more money to throw into advertising and marketing. This, hopefully, turned into more customers seeing your ads and knowing your name. The smaller shops, with a more local clientele, advertised in media that their customers’ knew and used, the aforementioned Pennysaver, or Smart Shopper and the like. Word of mouth was also a large part of a shop’s advertising. Prompt, friendly service was the calling card for most small local shops. Then as now, name recognition meant more calls and more repeat customers.
All of this was based upon reaching customers in media and ways that were known to advertising people. The common denominator was knowing peoples’ habits of viewing or reading preferences and putting an ad in front of them.
That was then. The advent of the digital age, personal computers and the internet have changed everything as regards business advertising and name recognition. People today are more likely to search for services based upon factors that were unknown and unheard of just a few years ago.
The digital environment today has brought today’s consumer a powerful tool with which to research and order goods and services. A shop’s rating online can make or break the business, at least in the digital realm.
One disgruntled customer posting on a site like Yelp! Can damage a business and cause loss of revenue quickly. Several bad reviews online, warranted or not, and your company might not recover.
To that end, advertising is now almost exclusively known as “marketing” and name recognition as “branding.” Marketing in the digital realm has become highly specialized. There are many companies hawking their services on the web today. I’m sure you’ve been contacted via email by one or more people talking about your SEO, (Search Engine Optimization) positioning and the like. An entire industry has sprung up around marketing on the internet. Why? Because that’s where your customers are shopping! I’m not just talking Amazon either.
People today are so involved online that many will know more about you and your company before they contact you than some of your own personnel. Researching a service provider has become almost like a sport.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with an expert in online marketing and branding. I knew I was in over my head when he started talking “clicks,” “key words” and “metrics” as regards how much Google would charge for using their platform to advertise. The point is, unless you are very up on the technical aspects of marketing online, you might want to consider contacting one or more of these experts to help you get up and running.
The good news is that online marketing is not particularly expensive and the return on investment is pretty good. If you hire a person who knows that realm well and can put together an advertising program for you along with a “cool” web site, you don’t have to be a big shop to look like one.
Once you’ve established your site and positioning on the web, driving people to your business is the name of the game. What we used to call name recognition is now termed “branding.” As before, word of mouth plays a big role, except now it is done in cyberspace instead of face-to-face or telephone. If a customer comes to you via the internet, has a good experience and reviews you online, that equates to a lot more people seeing your name and acting on the review than the old fashioned word of mouth shops used to rely on.
As mentioned earlier, smart use of digital marketing and branding can level the playing field between small shops and their large or mid-sized competition. The customer doesn’t know, or need to know, that the service shop they are contacting is actually just one guy in his garage, versus the big guy with the brick-and-mortar building, storage yard and ten service trucks. The real issue here is knowing how your customers are finding you and your competition, how they perceive your presence in the digital world and how they like, or don’t like, the service you provide.
The “don’t like” part can be pretty tricky to navigate as well. An unhappy customer, for ANY reason, can trash you in a review, deserved or not. There is nothing you can really do to defend yourself if the bad review is undeserved, and trying to do that just makes you look worse. I don’t have the answer to such a scenario, except to say that the more “likes” you have, the better your chances of weathering a “dislike” or two.
The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born author is a third-generation master plumber. He founded Sunflower Plumbing & Heating in Shirley, N.Y., in 1975 and A Professional Commercial Plumbing Inc. in Phoenix in 1980. He holds residential, commercial, industrial and solar plumbing licenses and is certified in welding, clean rooms, polypropylene gas fusion and medical gas piping. He can be reached at [email protected].