Just under 75 percent of contractors spend over half of their marketing budgets in the Yellow Pages. However, this spending results in just 13.4 percent of HVAC sales. I'm no math major, but spending over half and getting back 1/7th in sales doesn't sound wise.

Fixing this problem will ensure much more rewarding marketing campaigns. But first, we must ask:

Adams Hudson

What Is The Problem With Your Yellow Pages Ad?

First, it's not the medium. The Yellow Pages is the book of choice for tens of millions of "demand service" customers daily who snatch open the book and choose their target. Nearly 10 million shopped the Yellow Pages for replacement systems last year.

It's not that they don't buy. Over 50 percent of Yellow Pages shoppers buy within 48 hours. Wow. Numbers like that get your attention. (This is why contractors love buying space there!)

And you're certainly not under-spending. You rank ninth in overall spending categories. (This is why the Yellow Pages loves selling you space there!) It's not because there's too much competition in there either, although this doesn't help.

So hold on while I point out the real problem: It's the ad. Even though you rank ninth in spending, your results aren't even listed in the top 150 categories. That's not good.

Specifically, the problem is the ad's message and layout. Look, the poor underpaid Yellow Pages ad designer hacks out six to 10 ads a day. Do you think your HVAC business is getting special treatment by an expert in your industry? Hardly. The typical ad does not stand out in any way discernable to a prospect.

Open up the Yellow Pages. All you see are penguins, starburst, polar bears, icy or flaming letters, and then my favorite overused phrase, "For all your heating and cooling needs." Please. And for this you're spending half your ad budget?

Your Yellow Pages ad should convey benefits, loud and clear, via a headline - not just state your company name - and it should be focused on the prospect's convenience, on value, and on comfort gained. Nothing else.

The next big area of ad concern is how much you spend there. The Yellow Pages is a fabulous place to get leads, but overspending here is rampant and risky. (Now you know why the Yellow Pages doesn't like me. But I don't like you sending your money down a yellow hole, so we're even.)

One-minute Yellow Pages spending formula: Take the amount of your business mix that is service volume (for example, 30 percent.) Multiply that by 110 percent (for example, 30 percent x 110 percent = 33 percent).

Do you spend less than this and still have good business growth? Great.

What kind of marketer are you? This is pretty simple, but most HVAC people miss it, overspending by thousands on the wrong message. (We're paid $8,000 for a two-day consult to figure this out. Take notes and don't tell anyone.) The average HVAC marketing expense vs. sales is 3.4 percent, but this is miserably low for companies that are growing.

High growth, aggressive companies spend 8-10 percent on marketing and achieve fantastic results. Moderate growth companies spend 5-7 percent to earn a nice, steady number of new customers while fully massaging their customer base. Conservative companies should spend 3.5-5 percent and, if done right, can squeeze significant sales and leads.

Oh, I can hear it now: "I want aggressive results from a conservative budget." Don't we all? Look, marketing is responsible for virtually all of your incoming leads and resulting sales. Isn't it worth getting 10-20 times your money back? I thought so.

Where To Funnel Your Media Dollars

Please understand, I'm not paid a penny by the media. These figures come from ourHVAC High Performance Marketing Plan, which exhaustively dissects HVAC media and spending. So, after Yellow Pages spending, consider:

Newspaper - About 25 percent of the moderate budget. For your ad message, spend about twice the amount on a direct response message than image or TOMA (top of mind awareness) advertising.

Direct Mail - About 21 percent of the moderate budget. Spread it among (a) Letters: Mostly spend on direct response for replacements, with remainder on retention new homeowner, and referral request letters; (b) Postcards: Use as "infill" for service leads. (We've got six service postcards that produce hundreds of tuneup leads, which yield maintenance agreements, which also lead to equipment sales. Don't ever short sell a tuneup campaign.)

Newsletters - The best marketing investment, by far, and worthy of eight percent of the moderate's budget. Professional newsletters sent two to four times a year to check-writing customers are an incredible bargain. We publish several (get a free sample) or check around. Do not make this a pure sales piece or it's going in the trash. Be informative and use "psychological sales triggers." See our Web site for more.

Radio - About 10 percent of the budget. High degree of memorability if you repeatedly pound your message. Only do direct response here if you have a "sister" campaign in print.

Television - About four percent of the budget unless you're buying really cheap cable. (Deals are out there.) Same advice with radio. Don't try to be funny unless you are funny. Be professional. Please don't do another one with the well-pleased housewife looking adoringly at your too-neat tech and his overly-whitened smile that says, "We care about you." Please.

Telephone - Most don't call this a type of media, but let me ask you, through what device do virtually 100 percent of your leads funnel? Be smart. Have polite professionals use a singular greeting and be able to sell appointments, handle complaints, and know how to traffic calls like a magician. This is no-cost media that can kill you if done wrong.

Internet - Another no-cost media. Be fresh, entertaining, and above all have a way to capture e-mail addresses or you're goofing up big time. Sell using information.

Alternative - This includes billboards, church bulletins, van signage, et al. This is almost all TOMA. I rarely recommend billboards. Worthy of four percent of the budget.

Your media and message work as a team to create tremendous leads, image, credibility, and perceived value. Your marketing can result in massive sales and profit - if done right. Get a plan. Plug in the right ads. Then watch your phone and cash registers ring.

Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink. For more free marketing tips, contact the company at 800-489-9099, 334-262-1115 (fax), or www.hudsonink.com.

Publication date: 04/19/2004