E-mail marketing is acknowledged to be the single most cost effective marketing vector for any HVAC business and here are the top seven tips to obtain the best results and return on investment possible from your client e-mail list.

1. Segment your list based on extra customer info at sign up.Information is power. In HVAC e-mail marketing, that power can be gauged by the amount of data which you can derive from your subscribers when they sign up for your periodical newsletter.

It goes without saying that the basic contact information is important, but if you can manage to obtain more personal, demographic, preference and business details from them, you will be able to target your future communications with a particular client with a significantly greater degree of accuracy.

The best and most effective e-mail marketing campaigns take the form of a conversation between two parties with similar interests. If you can derive a wealth of information on your customers, you will be able to segment your client list to a far greater degree of accuracy and provide your readers with e-mail communication that is personalized and relevant.

“We try to get as much information as we can,” said Sara Jeffris, office manager at Tricon Systems.

There are varied ways of categorizing this information, and although most HVAC e-mail marketing campaigns focus on segmentation on a client level, there are alternative methods that work for some companies.

“As far as storing that information, we store it per job not necessarily per client,” Jeffris said, indicating that for Tricon’s purposes, functional categorization is preferable to individual segmentation.

In-depth customer information gathering “is something that we will be expanding in the future, as we want to know where prospects are coming to us from, whether they found us on the web or other forms of lead generation,” Jalena Pfister, marketing coordinator at Continental Fan Co., said. “However, we do try not to ask too much.”

A delicate balance has to be struck between necessary, lucrative information collection and creating an impression with the prospect that the company is prying into their personal data to excess. Most clients recognize that they should turn over a reasonable amount of personal and business information, but they certainly don’t want to feel like they are applying for a job or a mortgage through intrusive customer information forms that cross that fine line.

2. Test your subject lines.One of the standard dictums in the e-mail marketing arena is that you can never test enough. Since subject lines are the equivalent of the headline of your e-mail message, it is imperative to test out variations on subject lines for any particular event or special that is being promoted at the time.

Testing subject lines can lead to a portion of your total list receiving a personalized subject line, while another section is provided with a discount or particular limited offer in the subject line, and yet another features a subject line which might be humorous or attention grabbing in another positive manner.

Poring over the opens data for each subgrouping will indicate which approach seems to be most successful for your particular audience, and then you can drill down and keep on testing in an ever finer and more pinpoint manner.

According to Tim Litton, manager of advertising and creative at WaterFurnace International Inc., teasing the concept in the subject line is an effective strategy. “Generally we try to entice them but not give them the whole deal. We try to pick up cues on enticing the reader to clicking through, and if you put the entire idea into the subject line it’s not as effective,” said Litton.

The subject line must never be the excuse for a bait and switch as it has to precisely represent the content of the e-mail message. “It has to be accurate enough so that it doesn’t have a high bounce rate,” Litton continued, “and relevant to what they think they’re getting.”

3. Set up seasonal reminders and autoresponders.The HVAC industry is by its very nature a seasonal one, so if a contractor sends out reminders to change system filters at the right time of year, or get an inspection of the heating system in the fall, it can be an exceptionally effective marketing strategy. Autoresponders can be a significant boon to these e-mail ticklers as they can be set to automatically count down to these specific time periods in a form resembling an e-mail drip campaign.

The advantages of autoresponders extend to topics well beyond seasonality as they can be notifications of government energy savings incentives, changing regulations, and a wide range of critical information which your customers will appreciate.

“We will do seasonal promotions, and we also do fliers and other forms of marketing as well,” Brent Carlson, marketing & product development manager at Baso Gas Products LLC, said. “We belong to so many different groups, that they are usually the ones that send out the information, so we do that indirectly. If we need to on a special basis, we will do it customer by customer.”

This personalized individual approach to Baso’s client base bears powerful dividends as “most of our customers are very loyal.”

4. Add coupons.HVAC prospects historically react positively to coupons bearing special offers or discounts. Many e-mail marketing campaigns in the HVAC industry have relied upon coupons for years and find that they continue to be a superlative way to draw in clientele both new and old. The power of coupons seems to be bringing in a whole new segment of e-mail marketers who have not integrated this form of marketing attraction in the past.

Litton explained that his company has discussed implementing coupons and similar special approaches, and Pfister stated that “we’re about to release coupons to a small section of our business as it’s something new we’re trying.”

5. Create departments within newsletters.Although many HVAC companies issue newsletters that are generic and undifferentiated, there are considerable advantages to structuring the newsletters more along the line of a periodical front page, with various stories and sections to draw in the reader and hold their interest. Simple, basic departments such as heating and cooling trends; government regulations; carbon footprint calculators; and various energy saving tips can be items of powerful and effective appeal to your prospects.

Keeping in mind that proper e-mail marketing is personalized, Susan Samson, marketing manager of Superior Radiant Products, stated that “currently our newsletter is an overall general one but when we move to the new system we are implementing it will allow us greater flexibility in being able to target product groups or geographic segments, and various other channels.”

6. Shorten and link back to your website when you can.E-mail communications is not the place to put verbose articles dealing with the minutiae of government regulations, product specifications, and environmental statistics. It is preferable to keep the e-mail brief, punchy, and to the point, while directing your readers back to your own in-depth articles on your website which they can explore at their leisure.

Mike Reilly, vice president of marketing and sales at EWC Controls Inc., said that “Everything is on our website. All the important information is there. We have links in the e-mail that go to the website and if it’s product specific we will link back to the specific product page.” This layering and linear expansion of information at the reader’s choice is considerably preferable to burying them in e-mail tomes that they will likely not read.

7. Post a newsletter archive for search purposes.There are various ways for your content to be found on the web which do not rely on links embedded in your outgoing e-mail marketing communications. Unique, quality content is sought out by the various automated algorithms utilized by Google, Bing, and the other major search engines, and it is rewarded with high placements in the search pages.

If there are two HVAC sites which cover the same type of subjects, but Site A is completely original and filled with valuable and valid content, while Site B is mostly a cut and paste hatch job from other sites, then Site A is likely to be present near the top of the search engine rankings on major searches such as furnace, air conditioning, heating, etc. Site B will likely be relegated hundreds of pages below where no one is ever likely to see it. If your company has generated a newsletter which has been sent out to your entire list, it behooves you to place it on an archive section on your website where its original and unique content will appeal to the Google bots.

A properly structured e-mail marketing strategy can work wonders for the bottom line of any HVAC business, as long as it is implemented ethically, responsibly, and with sensitivity and relevance.

Publication date:06/21/2010