Online marketing is quickly becoming one of the most important means of communication between HVAC contractors and prospective customers. With each passing year, it becomes more apparent that digital platforms are only going to grow, expand, and prosper.

At this point, not having a Facebook page is the exception, rather than the norm. Companies can trend worldwide on Twitter in a matter of minutes. Good reviews on Angie’s List or Yelp can mean the difference between a customer looking into your business or scrolling right on by to the next option. Having a dedicated person on staff to handle social media posts is now a growing trend for larger contractors.

Across the country, contractors are reflexively adapting to changes in digital marketing in hopes of staying in front of current and potential customers across all forms of media.

Balancing Marketing Strategies

Rich Morgan, president, Magic Touch Mechanical, Mesa, Arizona, said a good balance between online advertising and traditional marketing is critical for success in his market.

“We rely on a mix of traditional, digital, and guerrilla marketing to bring in new business as well as market to our existing clients,” said Morgan. “The mix is more heavily skewed toward digital marketing; roughly 60 percent in traditional, 30 percent in digital, and 10 percent in guerrilla marketing.”

The online media Morgan refers to include social media, referral sites, review sites, blogging, and smaller sites his company owns that feed traffic back to the main site. Traditional media includes direct mail, billboards, newspapers, TV, and radio. Guerrilla marketing relies on phone calls, truck wraps, refrigerator magnets, etc.

“We actually just started TV commercials and radio commercials in 2015,” said Travis Smith, owner, Sky Heating and Air Conditioning, Portland, Oregon. “We figured, since most are running to the Internet, we should try something a little different. In my market, I only hear two other companies on the radio and have seen one other on TV. In the five days we have been on TV, we have already had a bunch of people mention the ad. We also use Facebook currently, but are probably not utilizing it to its full potential since we do not have a full-time person to take care of this marketing.”

Greg Crumpton, president, AirTight, Charlotte, North Carolina, follows some of the same principles. His company wraps its work trucks, and is heavily invested in digital marketing. AirTight does not do any sort of traditional marketing, however.

“Brand recognition has been great for us on the Web,” said Crumpton. “A customer told me we are everywhere on the Web. We’ve learned over the years about keywords, search engine optimization (SEO), and ways we can be most relevant to customers. We do a digital quarterly newsletter, and I write a biweekly blog. We do things this way partially because it’s the smartest way to spend our money. I found you have to be frugal with how you spend your money and these methods give us the best results.”

The Financial Aspect

A number of factors impact the approaches contractors take when considering marketing. And, while there’s no definitive formula for success, the contractors interviewed by The NEWS acknowledge online marketing makes sense financially. It’s free to start a Facebook page, Twitter profile, or create a Google Plus account and begin spreading word of a company quickly to a large audience.

“Online marketing is quickly becoming the most cost-effective method to reach the masses,” said Morgan. “Social media marketing is one of the few mediums with which we can make the shift from push marketing to pull marketing and draw customers to us by offering excellent advice and resources, thereby building trust and winning their business.”

Social media, in particular, looks to have continued growth for at least the next several years. By 2016, there are expected to be more than 2 billion users across social media platforms, per The Washington Post reports nearly 20 percent of the world’s population logs into Facebook at least once per month, and 1.35 billion people are actively using the site. That is a worldwide statistic, but it highlights just how popular digital platforms have become. The opportunities to reach a prospective customer base are certainly there.

Reviews: For Better, Worse

There are numerous marketing aspects available in the digital space, namely review sites such as Angie’s List. More than 60,000 reviews are sent to Angie’s List each month and can be a customer’s first impression of local contractors.

“Angie’s List is a big part of our digital presence,” said Morgan. “We have received 375 reviews and five Super Service Awards in nine years on the list.

“We’ve seen online review sites as the best digital platform for generating new business over the last decade,” Morgan continued. “People frequently go to these sites, and it’s important we have a positive presence on them.”

Smith insisted Yelp has been extremely helpful for his business.

“Many contractors hate Yelp, but, for us, we’ve done a lot of work from our presence on the website.”

Rick Tullis, president, Capstone Mechanical, Waco, Texas, said his company largely moved away from digital marketing when it sold off its residential division, but said having a robust website is more important than any referral or review site.

“When we were in the retail world of residential HVAC, we did invest heavily in Facebook, Twitter, search engine optimization (SEO), and blogging,” said Tullis. “We even had a full-time marketing person in our office who spent a large majority of her time just maintaining our digital presence. This strategy was used to drive the best search engine results possible.

“I have come to despise third-party referral services,” continued Tullis. “When we tried them, they never brought us the kind of valuable leads we were expecting, but they always required payment, even for the bad leads. We ended up deciding it was better to control our own destiny by marketing directly to the people we wanted to serve.”

Tullis said the company’s website remains the standard resource commercial customers and general contractors use to size them up. “We focus on having a strong presence in the community through sponsorships and encourage our team to serve in a variety of roles. When we focus
on the needs of the community and our customers, our business opportunities grow.”

Publication date: 2/2/2015

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