“Unfortunately, the actions of some give all marketers a bad name.”
- Justin Jacobs
marketing coach
Hudson Ink

In 17th and 18th century America, pickpocketing had become a serious problem in the major metro areas. Whenever there were large crowds around, there were skilled thieves looking to make an easy dollar by stealing from unsuspecting victims. So, in response, a campaign was launched to promote public awareness to be on the lookout. Signs were placed at street corners and gathering places, warning people that pickpockets were in the area, so be on guard. But the signs had an unfortunate side effect that inadvertently made the thieves’ larceny even easier.

The hardest job the pickpockets had was guessing which pocket the target’s valuables were in when they bumped into them, and they only had one shot to get it right. They found when the frightened public saw one of these warning signs, they would subconsciously feel for their wallets to make sure they were still there — tipping off the thieves on exactly where to strike. This was such an effective strategy that many famous pickpockets throughout history were known to put up their own warning signs around town.

No one likes to feel robbed, cheated, or taken advantage of, but there are shady characters out there and, unknowingly, at times, we make ourselves easy targets. Unfortunately, the actions of some give all marketers a bad name. The average business owner’s relationship with marketing is often love/hate at best. I’ve heard countless horror stories of wasted money with zero results, marketing companies that over-promise and under-deliver, or even those that over-promise then completely disappear with their first payment in hand. And this has led to severe distrust between many marketers and clients.

In 2021, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) ran a poll to discover the satisfaction level and general unhappiness between business owners and marketing services had dropped almost 40 points over the last 15 years. Forty points is substantial, so what’s changed over the last 15 years to make this happen? Lots of factors contribute, but the main reason the ANA found was that rapid growth in the trades and tremendous opportunity has brought so many new companies to the table without time passing to properly vet their success potential. Business owners’ inboxes are flooded daily with solicitations from new companies they’ve never heard of, promising quick results and cheap costs to handle their SEO and Google advertising, or even offering to build them new websites. These emails might look largely the same, but behind them can range anywhere from a multimillion-dollar firm with an impressive list of success stories to an entrepreneurial high school student with a newly designed logo, false accreditation, and only enough knowledge of website building to leave you hung out to dry.

There are plenty of good, ethical marketing options still out there, I promise — ones that can help you succeed and achieve your goals. But how does a contractor know which to trust and which will simply pick their pockets?

Here are a few tips on how you can find someone to trust:

  • View Vendor Selection the Same as Hiring an Employee: This might be a sore subject for an analogy with the current hiring pool difficulties, but when it comes to marketing companies, you’ve got people lined up wanting to come work for you. Practice the same due diligence here that you would bringing someone onto your payroll. Some vendors might balk at the concept of this altogether, but that, in and of itself, should be a red flag. No, you aren’t approving their sick days and you aren’t their “boss,” per se, but just like with a new hire, you’re looking to give them a paycheck in return for services rendered with the results being mutually beneficial or ending in termination. Take time to vet a potential new vendor thoroughly, and make sure it is the right fit culturally, financially, and strategically to meet your goals. Eliminating rushed relationships will solve the majority of nightmare endings.
  • Listen to the Community: Let your brothers and sisters in the industry do some of the vetting for you. There are close to 150,000 HVAC contractors operating in the U.S., but the community seems a lot smaller and tighter-knit than that. If a newcomer takes advantage of people in the trades, it won’t be long before they will be run out of our proverbial town or possibly out of business completely. Sure, some of the “preferred vendor” and affiliation stuff is pay-to-play, but these success groups will not risk their reputation with all their members long if they hear multiple reports of abuse or failed expectations.
  • Speak Your Lingo, and Make Sure They Do Too: Not all marketing is the same, and what looks like success in other industries might not be the same in ours. A new vendor for pay-per-click (PPC) might be ecstatic it increased your click rate, but the clicks only cost you money if half of them were for vehicle A/C repairs or window units you don’t service. Isn’t A/C just A/C? Someone who’s familiar with what you do will weed those out immediately. Same goes for those who also work in industries that focus more on point-of-sale transactions. What true success looks like between you and them might be like comparing apples to bowling balls, but it won’t stop them from charging you for services rendered. This is especially important if you are trusting them with your sales copy as well. Contractors pay thousands of dollars to full-service marketing agencies and then are forced to turn around and either train them on their messaging or still end up writing most of it themselves to be effective.
  • Define the Results You Want: Speaking of lingo, don’t let a slick marketing salesperson throw out a bunch of marketing jargon to distract you from what truly runs your business. You’ll hear words like clicks, impressions, views, shares, likes, exposure, etc. tossed around liberally. But impressions won’t pay your payroll next week, only closed leads will. All the rest of those things help contribute, but they’re not a substitute for the true performance indicator: a verifiable lead. Quite honestly, clicks and an audience can be easily manipulated to give the feel of success, when it could all be just fool’s gold.

At the end of the day, marketing is about trust on both ends. You are trusting someone to put your company in front of homeowners in an effective way, convincing them to trust you with their business. You’re making an investment in your company, so don’t be an easy target for a marketing manipulator — and maybe in a few years we can weed out those who are giving us marketers a bad name.