Having been involved in advertising and marketing in the HVAC industry for more than 20 years, it’s been interesting to see the changes that have taken place. Because of these changes, new approaches are required for today’s contractor to be successful. Below are some new twists on some old advertising ideas. It should be noted that some contractors are already practicing some of these methods.

Radio:Instead of buying air time (even drive time) and having the same prerecorded commercials broadcast over and over again, consider one of the following options:

1.Visit the radio station and record the commercial using your own voice with a natural delivery. You don’t want to sound like a professional announcer, but instead you want to come across like your local, friendly HVAC expert.

2.If you are not comfortable recording the spot yourself, consider aligning yourself with one of the more popular and likeable radio personalities in your area. Then, instead of using a canned spot, have this person do your spots live on air. But you should first meet them so they can spend some time getting to know you and your company.

This will allow them to personalize your spots based on their knowledge. You should also (when possible) actually perform work at their home. Tuneups are great for this and should be done when the radio announcer or their spouse is home to observe your work. This way the announcer can personally vouch for you and mention that you are his/her HVAC provider.

Another thing to consider is to join the announcer in the broadcast booth in order to bring you into the conversation. In some cases they can call you at your office to ask an HVAC-related question that will go out over the air. The key to this approach is to form a relationship with the announcer so that when they talk about you, it’s like a personal recommendation. (On a side note, when my second child was born, a local radio personality called my wife at the hospital announcing that he was Sergeant Smith with the Marines, and they were looking for a few good men, and he heard that she would shortly be bringing one home.) The main point is to be different in a way that is personable and likeable.

Telemarketing:Don’t be too quick to stick your nose up in the air. Telemarketing still works and works great with your existing customers. I recommend it highly for generating paying tuneups from within your database from those homeowners not having a maintenance or service agreement with you. You do not want to call and say, “Hi, Mrs. Jones. This is Sue with XYZ Air Services. I just wanted to see if I might interest you in a heating/cooling tuneup?” This sounds like you are trying to sell them something.

Instead, you want to provide them with a friendly reminder and say something like, “Hi, Mrs. Jones. This is Sue with XYZ Air Services. Our records show that we haven’t been out yet this year for your heating/cooling tuneup,” etc. You’ll find with an approach like this that many of your customers will actually thank you for calling them. Would you get mad if someone from your dentist’s office called to remind you to come in for your annual cleaning? Sure, you might groan, but you know it’s something that needs to be done.

To obtain a free copy of the telemarketing script I used in my business, you are welcome to get in touch with me using the contact information at the end of this article.

Newspaper:It’s getting increasingly difficult to get a reasonable response from newspaper advertising, but if this is your bag, here’s something you might want to consider: Start by adding something free with your primary offer.

If you are advertising air conditioning, you might want to throw in a free air cleaner. Combine that with a limited number of systems being offered. As an example, your ad might state that you are offering a high-efficiency air conditioning system (eligible for federal tax credits) along with a free electronic air cleaner with the first 17 systems purchased in March and April. As these systems are sold (regardless of whether they were sold as a result of the ad or not) the number of systems will gradually decrease and should be noted in future ads.

Future ads should show the original quantity that was available with an X crossed through it, and then the remaining quantity would be shown next to the original amount. If you run an ad of this type, it should run once or twice a week so that regular readers will notice the number of available systems declining week to week. That, along with the limited-time sale (March and April), may create a sense of urgency to get the readers to respond to your offer.

Note:Don’t ignore truth in advertising laws. Make sure everything said in the ad is true and can be proven. Also, you should not honor this promotion by selling more than the allotted number of systems mentioned in your ad or beyond the deadline date.

Direct Mail:Direct mail remains one of the most powerful and effective means of advertising for small and big businesses alike. However, simply sending a piece of mail to a homeowner announcing your company and your product and service offerings isn’t going to guarantee success.

There are many different kinds of direct mail including Val-Pak, postcards, self-mailers, and envelope-enclosed letters. The type of mail piece used and the success of each one depends on the type of offer or promotion being made. Val-Pak might be successful if you are offering low-priced tuneups or are the lowest guy on the block selling new systems at cutthroat prices but is less effective if you are not going to market on price alone. A simple 4- by 6-inch postcard can generate responses as high as 7 percent (as reported by our clients) when mailed to your existing database, but may fail miserably if mailed to a rented list of homeowner prospects. And believe it or not, envelope-enclosed letters almost always outperform even the slickest of postcards. Below are two different approaches I provide and recommend to my clients when it comes to direct mail marketing.

1. New Movers:Marketing to new movers started way back in 1928 with Welcome Wagon when Calvin Coolidge was president of the United States. The old Welcome Wagon (and their imitators) approach is not nearly as effective as it was years ago. You may have tried them yourself and know what I’m talking about.

The old approach, which is still used by many businesses, is to try and buy the new mover’s business by offering a discount coupon with an expiration date in an attempt to motivate the new homeowner to act quickly. Unfortunately, these new homeowners were (and still are) inundated with coupon offers from local businesses. Most coupons quickly end up in the kitchen drawer and when seen a second time, the expiration date had come and gone. But, the fact that the coupons went into the kitchen drawer instead of the trash is worth noting and is important in the design of a new state-of-the-art program.

What is the magic missing ingredient? Actually there are more than one. They are:

• Do not provide the homeowner with a paper coupon! Paper coupons are too easy to lose or be filed only to be forgotten. Instead, the coupon should be in the form of a refrigerator magnet. New homeowners collect refrigerator magnets in order to have important information handy and easy to find. Plus, they see the magnet (along with your offer) almost every time they go to their refrigerator.

• Do not use an expiration date! This only gives the home- owner a reason to discard your magnet. However, with an open-ended offer, this homeowner will keep your magnet coupon for an indefinite time period. It’s important to realize that the new homeowner has no reason to call you right away. However, when they do have a need, it’s a good bet your company is the one they will call.

I recommend you offer a discount between $10-$25, which is sufficient to encourage new homeowners to keep the magnet and give it a prominent spot on their refrigerators. By continuing to honor the magnet coupon as long as the homeowner keeps it handy, it shows homeowners that you appreciate them as loyal customers and may just earn you lifetime customers.

2. Radius Marketing:Even though radius marketing has been around for a long time, it remains one of the more exciting concepts in advertising. After all, if a home- owner requires a new heating or cooling system, isn’t it logical to assume that some of their nearby neighbors might have similar needs? We’ve been offering our clients radius marketing services and programs for quite some time but recently made a number of enhancements that make radius marketing even more powerful.

Don’t look at this as a one-shot deal. Subscribe to a program (or do it yourself) that ensures that your personal marketing message reaches area homeowners month after month and year after year. The program should be designed to promote you as the area’s premier and preferred contractor.

• Each month you should make a list of recent (prior month) customers.

• Obtain a mailing list of the closest 50 or 100 homes surrounding the recent customer’s home.

• Send a personal letter to each of the surrounding homeowners announcing your recent work with an invitation to sample your services.

• In addition, send a different personalized letter to your recent customer thanking the homeowner for the business and asking for referrals.

• Mail all letters in a plain white No. 10 envelope addressed using a handscript font (or personally addressed) using a regular first-class stamp to ensure all letters are opened and read.

• Order some well-designed, high-quality refrigerator magnets with your message and discount offer and include one in each and every radius marketing letter going out to area homeowners. Done properly this will not result in increased postage.

What’s ideal about this program is that it doesn’t rely on the customer having an urgent need at the exact time the household receives your marketing letter. With the refrigerator magnet, the homeowner will have your name and number handy for days, weeks, months, and even years to come. Without the magnet, homeowners would be hard-pressed to remember your name just a week after receiving your letter.

Note:Because of the uniqueness of this program, it is not recommended that you subscribe to a service available to multiple contractors within the same territory. Homeowners receiving the same type of mailing from more than a single source dramatically reduces the effectiveness of the program.

Publication date:01/25/2010