Marketing Magic: 2016 HVAC Marketing Trends
The new normal has taken over the old normal
Everything is a progression or a cycle, depending on your particular philosophical slant.
Fads, trends, and movements come and go. Though, of course, once a movement becomes rooted, it becomes the new normal. When I was young, anyone seen jogging was a ‘health nut,’ with emphasis on the nut part. Then, a movement began, and now jogging is a normal and laudable way to extend health and happiness.
Fads are dismissible. Most recognize their fleeting nature and scarcely take the energy to embrace them since they’ll be gone like light-up shoes faintly aglow under a Snuggie. Fads are harder to leverage in the home-contracting industry, yet their flash-in-the-pan newsiness can make them marketable: The decline of R-12, the advent of 13 SEER, energy tax credits, and several more.
Movements are on the other end, hoping to stay aloft in news and acceptance while the foundation hardens. Solar power and home-performance contracting come to mind, whereas poor IAQ never gained market legitimacy for self-sufficiency. The Green movement actually wasn’t.
Lordy, there were two ACCA conferences in a row where it seemed every third vendor had the word green in their banner. Yet, there wasn’t a sustainable financial advantage for the homeowner, or a compelling story to move them to withdraw their credit cards, so the Green movement became a government-versus-manufacturer cage-fight smackdown, and it still is, for that matter.
Caught right in the middle are the trends — those magnificent swales of thought that collect into a discernable force, building momentum that most miss until it’s too late to capitalize. (Note to the overabundant vapor shop owners: If you can sell your business, do so now — like, by lunch tomorrow.)
TREND SPOTTING 101
Trends are a delight to me and other marketing psychos because one of the 22 Immutable Marketing Laws is ‘being first’ in a market before it’s a full-fledged movement. That position, and the financial windfall that accompanies it, are like catching that perfect wave, riding instead of paddling furiously only to trail it.
Social media was an obvious trend turned movement. So large, it caught no one off-guard, but, as a marketing medium for contractors, it was also magnificently overpromised. (For the record, Hudson, Ink, has continued to warn against its time-absorption versus microscopic commercial validity.) Most agree, with a begrudging admission, that it’s best keep social media time to under an hour per day. If I could get you to load 30 pre-done messages at the first of each month and only respond to comments, you could cut that to a few minutes.
Online reviews took longer to catch but were obvious to any early Amazon shoppers who wondered, “What are those star thingies?” or saw that Angie’s List became a highly mechanized word-of-mouth machine. Any early detection of this movement became official when Google bought Zagat (the review giant that began in 1979). Google thoroughly botched its integration into their world, but the message remains: reviews rule reputation, rank, and referrals.
Let’s review some trends on their way to movements.
Marketing Integration — I’ve been harping about this to private clients since 2013, and it is now far more formed: There is no such thing as online and offline marketing as entities. They are a united blend of media, pure and simple. Neither is good nor bad, and there are as many has-beens online as offline. The point is to use your online and offline media as common force with a singularly impactful message to a focused target. Integration also allows you to force a compounding effect: Use email and social media to point to the Web to sign up for mailed newsletters, TV and radio to reference online video, and more. Due to societal attention deficit disorder, think deep and repetitious, not wide and scattered.
The old, disjointed Let’s-just-throw-something-out-there messaging is over. Sell one thing at a time across the media channels, driving your point home in torrents of common recognition.
Direct Mail Comeback — This is yet another topic we’ve pushed to the trendsetters for about two years with outstanding success. Anyone who tells you that direct mail is outdated is, ironically, outdated. Use it for direct-response advertising (tuneup generation and replacement leads) with limited time or quantity offers. (We’ve just completed a full report on direct mail at the end of this article.) Direct mail should expend about 21 percent of your total marketing investment.
Direct Mail “Sequencing” — This is popular for advanced marketers. First, send a direct mail letter. Second, follow up with a letter or postcard about a week later that references the first. Third, finish with a phone call, which greatly increases the response rate.
Try it, or we can coach you through it. I think you’ll be amazed.
Video Marketing — A single-digit percent of contractors are doing this effectively. As buffering and streaming get faster, the sky’s the limit. Try to educate before you sell or you’ll be cast into the pile of screaming used-car refuse. Link your email and social media to video to boost response. Announce your video launches instead of hoping people will find them, because they won’t. And, most importantly, don’t be boring.
Retargeting — This is a new favorite of mine, since it focuses on putting your message in the faces of the right prospects. Basically, a customer’s previous online searches are saved, and the next time they’re online, your relevant — and paid — ad is “re-targeted” to them. This is rarely used in contracting.
So, a lady searches ‘New Furnace in Newburg’ to see your search-savviest competition (and you, we hope) at the top of the Google search on day one. Yet, on her next search — assuming she didn’t buy on day one — your ‘retargeting’ ad appears front and center. Marketing magic, and yes, we have our clients investing here for 2016.
Retention Marketing Programs — These have grown way beyond the old twice-a-year newsletters. Contractors are seeing increasing returns on investment (ROI) by increasing the frequency of these newletters, plus interspersing with email and social. How do we generate this additional content? Basically, we just carve out the content and repurpose it for their site — or separate Web portals — increasing Web exposure and leads. In other words, you create nothing new; you just spread it over other media for longer periods. You can call us smart or lazy, but it doesn’t matter if it works.
Plus, retention now includes efforts to increase online reviews, referrals, and thank you notes. A killer retention program will out-pull even the best acquisition campaign, yet only takes about 12 percent of your total marketing budget to fuel.
As customer attention and acquisition become harder and more expensive, contractors are finding that customer retention — or not losing the customer in the first place — generates branding, image, and referrals and nearly eliminates shopping.
So, pick a trend, any trend, and hop on board. Or, you can wait for everyone else to start doing it and play catch up — your choice. By being proactive, you can divert more traffic, capture more eyeballs and leads, and slowly cause your competitors to lose relevancy and cool points, which isn’t a bad trend either.
Publication date: 3/7/2016