Mildly out of breath, I take my place in the back row in exercise class among a couple dozen health seekers. The first four words should give you a clue as to why I joined.

As with most exercise rooms, it’s lined with mirrors so you can inhale your stomach from several angles. This comes in handy if the 20-year-olds decide to drop in to watch old people perspire at such bicep-burners as “the candy bar curl.” I’m still sore from that one.

Once I’m somewhat situated to view the instructor between all the other attendees and their reflections, I notice something very peculiar.

I can’t see myself at all. The mirrored door to the towel closet was left slightly ajar. I could see people to my right and left throughout the room. Every single reflection was visible from my angle, but mine was invisible.

It was surreal — this feeling of observing without being observed. I began to wish I’d gone invisible moments after I slipped down in the parking garage one crowded morning, but you apparently don’t get to choose these things.

It was an odd feeling of detachment, being in a room that was missing me. This got me thinking, which is, for the most part, dangerous.


We all use the term customer and consumer almost interchangeably. They “consume” consumer goods at some consumptive rate. In the service business, the faster the better. Yet, customers are also consumed by the need, desire, and often unyielding quest to satisfy what really drives them toward consumption. Hint: It ain’t thermostats and ventilation.

Discovering what truly drives consumers has made more millionaires than any product or research team could ever hope to. Not figuring it out has killed great products and allowed companies to be dismantled by bankruptcy courts. Why? They failed to attach themselves to the driving force.


This driving force is, of course, the reflection in the mirror. We are — for the most part — consumed with ourselves. This is not a condemnation, yet understand that as human behaviorist and marketing coach Dr. Jeffery Lant said, “To ourselves, we’re our most important person.” We have to be. A focus on self probably drove human beings to dominance on this planet, but it makes us lousy listeners. You wonder why we marvel at superior customer service? Because most people are fairly rotten at paying attention to others’ requests for attention.

We critique about 400 ads a year, and the No. 1 failure is that these ads never get out of their own self-erected gate of aggrandizement. The infatuation with self never occurs to them as the reason no one listened, responded, or bought.

I’m talking about the ads that just happen to be all about you… your trucks, your experience, your “high quality at low prices,” yada, yada, hand me the No-Doz please.

True story: As I’m writing this, my email blinks from an HVAC discussion board. In it, a contractor asks the group, “Who’s tried radio? Does it work?” He goes on to say he’s the owner of a six-man shop and later admits, after a lengthy, rather costly radio campaign, “I don’t think I got one call.” Back to his initial question…

I request a copy of his ad, since I know in my soul that the media does not cause “ad failure.” Actually, two other things do, but first, the ad…

“At <blank> HVAC, we go the ‘extra mile’ to prove we want your business. We have the best-equipped trucks, friendliest techs, and put that can-do attitude into every job we do…”

Help me, please. I can barely lift the mirror. The customer can’t be seen anywhere in the ad. Who is he advertising to? You’ve got one guess.

Furthermore, his results are in stark contrast to our client in Colorado, who had to pull his radio advertising for a month last summer to keep up with the workload generated. Guess who he was advertising to?

The who is most important, and it ain’t you.

Second in importance is the message to that selected group. And, if leads are your goal, that message had better include reasons why you’re different, better, faster, more convenient, more trustworthy, or have a better offer, or I don’t care anything about you. None. So, if you put “For all your HVAC needs” in another ad, I’m calling the police, which will likely be the only call that particular ad will generate. Try this instead:

• Enter the conversation your prospect is having in his mind, not the one in yours. This requires a connection with what frustrates them about all the other HVACers in town. Late? No shows? Sloppy? Scary? Find the resistance and counter it. If you can’t do it, hire an ad agency or direct-response copywriter. Honestly, you’ll waste more money doing it wrong than you’ll spend getting real results.

• Solve problems. Don’t tell customers about technical trivialities hoping to bedazzle them into buying. They’d much rather click on another ad or just hope you’ll go away.

• Assume risk. Give prospects something for nothing. Take normal guarantees to the next level. Astonish your customers and your competition with your boldness.

• Establish credibility. Use testimonials, facts, figures, and meaningful specifics, not vague generalities. I know 95 percent of the HVAC companies out there can’t really be fast, reliable, and offer the best value in town, so just stop it. You’re wasting words, dollars, and brain cells.

• Reveal a damaging admission. Tell me, “Lines may be busy during this offer, but we’re staying open later.” Or, “This indoor air quality test can reveal more than 20 potential pollutants, but it doesn’t measure mercury.” Or, “We don’t know if we’ll be able to get any more high-efficiency heating and air systems at this price after this offer has ended, so please understand if we’ve run out.”

• Set limitations. Include time, quantity, and availability of colors, models, and sizes. Create a sense of urgency, and be honest with your customer.

• Drive your name deep. Repeated exposure to your message allows you into the prospects’ hierarchy of recall, making you a recognized friend, not a sporadic stranger. Marketing genius J.C. Levinson states nine sets of three exposures in 180 days can put you into the coveted “Top 5” of company names in a market. Do this with top-of-mind awareness, yard signs, newsletters, postcards, truck signage, an online presence, and more.

• Aggressively pursue customer retention. Never, ever, ever forget to stay in touch with customers. They have a higher closing rate, higher transaction value, higher referral rate, and they cost nothing to get on your list. In fact, acquisition costs six-times more than retention. And, not least of all is:

• Target your audience. Local businesses with a strong emphasis on online marketing are able to target specific markets and customers. With Facebook, for instance, you can promote your page to certain cities and demographics. Integrating your offline and online marketing exponentially increases your reach. If you’re only doing one or the other, you’re missing out.

Let your company, every employee, and your website be a mirror held up so the customer can see himself. It’ll reflect nicely upon you and your profits.

Publication date: 10/26/2015

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