The good news for HVAC contractors when it comes to marketing is there are more ways than ever to reach consumers. The bad news for HVAC contractors when it comes to marketing is there are more ways than ever to reach consumers. Breaking through the noise requires a commitment and an investment of resources.
It also requires a willingness to change on the part of HVAC contractors. The coronavirus pandemic accelerated the shift toward digital marketing, covering a wide array of options from social media to email. HVAC contractors need to make sure they’re getting the best return on their investment for the dollars spent on digital, said Lucas Hertweck, director of advertising for Searchlight Advertising.
“There’s a lot of opportunity to spend, but you have to focus on the outcome,” Hertweck said.
This requires understanding how consumers use the Internet today. For example, an HVAC contractor may see a lot of calls coming in from an online ad. But what kind of calls are they? Consumers today will often search for a business, even one they’ve used in the past, and call the number directly from the search result. So the phone may be ringing, but it could be billing and service rescheduling rather than new sales.
Tell a Story That Builds Trust, Familiarity
This is especially true for millennials. After a late start, these mostly-under-40 consumers are quickly growing as a percentage of homeowners. These consumers grew up online and are much savvier about the messages they receive.
STILL WORKS: Vincent’s Heating and Plumbing still sends out a newsletter to its customers. The Port Huron, Michigan, firm makes each newsletter available on its website. (Courtesy of Vincent’s Heating and Plumbing
“Consumers now are able to break through the noise of people who are trying to buy their attention and loyalty versus people who have actually earned their attention and loyalty,” said Paul Redman, president of sales for RYNO Strategic Solutions. “Consumers today can size up a company faster than they’ve ever been able to.”
Redman said contractors need the ability to share a story that builds trust and familiarity with consumers. They need the confidence that an HVAC contractor is someone they want to do business with. This makes branding more crucial than ever.
The problem is most brands are too bland, said Dan Antonelli, president of Kickcharge Creative. They often seem dated and do a poor job of connecting with consumers. Antonelli said HVAC contractors often need to disrupt their brands and create a new look. This doesn’t mean painting all trucks pink with purple polka dots. It means a thoughtful process that in the end sets a contractor apart.
One client created a mascot of a narwhal with a thermometer for a horn. Another firm took its classic depiction of a saluting technician and gave it a more modern look. Brand overhauls require a financial investment, Antonelli said, as HVAC contractors need to spend money on everything from wrapping their trucks to new uniforms for the technicians to new equipment stickers.
Well-Branded Companies Spend Less On Marketing
It also requires an HVAC contractor to set aside his ego, Redman said, and accept that the brand needs a refresh. He recommends seeking an outside advisor who will deliver an honest evaluation of the brand. Redman said contractors should also look at what is working in different markets.
Antonelli said HVAC contractors often believe there is more equity in their brands than there really is. They may grow the business with the existing brand, but often he finds the business grows even faster with better branding. In many cases, Antonelli said, HVAC contractors are succeeding despite the brand, not because of it.
The investment in branding can pay for itself, he said. Well-branded companies spend less in advertising because they already have a place in the consumer’s mind.
“You can advertise a poorly branded home services business as long as you have enough money to,” Antonelli said. “We really do see that engagement with better branded businesses is far superior than poorly branded ones.”
Whatever HVAC contractors decided to use for branding, they need to make a long-term commitment, said Colleen Keyworth, director of sales and marketing for Contractor’s Online-Access. HVAC contractors also need to determine the area they want to focus on with their marketing efforts. Trying to get a truck in every driveway costs too much in both marketing costs and fuel.
“When you are the brand in your community, everything works,” Keyworth said. “When you drop a postcard in the mail, people know you because they already see your vans in their neighborhood.”
Use Your Resources Wisely
Another reason to target marketing spend today is the lack of workers and equipment, Keyworth said. Many HVAC contractors are marketing other services, such as duct cleaning, that require less time and skill. Others are promoting system inspections to new homeowners.
These services bring in money and help create a relationship with homeowners. With home sales reaching new highs, there are plenty of opportunities for HVAC contractors to create these kind of long-term connections. But this also takes some new thinking.
Redman said HVAC contractors need more transparency on their websites — and that means posting prices. The industry has long avoided doing that, preferring to have that conversation at the kitchen table. Today, though, consumers want that information upfront and will move on to a company that will provide it.
Marketing also reaches another group HVAC contractors seek — potential employees. Keyworth said every HVAC contractor should have a hiring button on the firm’s website. They should also consider using social media to recruit employees. Attracting workers gets back to the importance of telling a story about a firm, Antonelli said.
“What does that company project as a culture?” he said. “Are you going to be proud to put on that uniform? We’ve seen that the well-branded companies do better with recruitment.”
Successful marketing takes an investment in resources and a commitment in time. The return on investment can prove considerable, but HVAC contractors need to make sure they accurately measure the results. Whether they work with an outside firm or dedicate a person in-house, Keyworth said, HVAC contractors needs someone working on marketing all the time.
“When it’s somebody’s focus, it gets done,” she said.