Now that we’re firmly into fall, customers in this “off-peak” season often seem dazed and confused. They see and hear conflicting messages, and this shuts their minds — and their checkbooks. Consumers hear “end of season close-out” and “preseason special,” sometimes in the same ad. So they look for the lowest price and seek multiple bids — which only leads to more confusion.

Creative direct response marketing makes the benefits clear and pulls in leads from customers who like what you have to offer. They know these ads detail significant benefits they won’t get elsewhere.

“Institutional” advertising actually spurs competitive bidding because of the sameness of the ads. Most institutional ads are like what you see in the Yellow Pages — condensing units, penguins, frosty letters, and a big starburst with a discount in it. It’s the same old stuff, and you cannot stand out by sameness.

With institutional advertising dominating the industry, creativity can help you dominate your market. Let there be no confusion — a good blend of creative direct response, image, and customer retention marketing in a nice balanced plan can make a contractor’s marketing wildly outperform the norm.

October is big for IAQ and a good time to continue tuneup, preventive maintenance, and maintenance agreement sales. If your newsletter has gone out, you should capitalize on more maintenance agreement leads. This is also the time to snatch leads and sales from competitors who are waiting on the weather. If you miss sales now, you miss them for the year. Be very aggressive. Use your hardest-hitting direct response ads.

Media Watch

Newspapers:Continue direct response service ad or insert. Warmer areas have ended direct response air conditioner re-placement offers. Cooler climates are gearing up for preseason furnace offers in newspapers. TOMA (top-of-mind awareness) ads continue.

Newsletters: The warmer climates can send fall issues in October. If you didn’t do it in September, you’re almost too late. You may have already lost customers.

Direct mail letters: Tuneup letters should still pull well. Plumbing inspection/winterization letters should go out. Target replacement letters for either deferred payments or monthly payments due to approaching holiday expenses. (Use the same response triggers as in newspapers.)

Postcards: Direct response service postcards for preventive maintenance, tuneups, or winterization should be in full swing. If using a discount, let your postcard be the coupon. Get your service department trained to upsell maintenance agreements. Focus on highest value (and margins) at a competitive price. Don’t bait with lowball prices.

Radio: Only use radio now to support your mail or newspaper offers. Make the same ad and offer in radio as in print. Track the leads to see which one callers remember.

On-hold messages: Should still be pushing preventive maintenance now.

Yellow Pages: At least 77 percent of contractors spend over half their entire budgets here. Pitiful results from an expensive, yearlong ad are not what you’re after. Fax me your ad for a free critique.

Next Month

Gather all the names and sales you possibly can during October to use in all mailings through the end of the year (for newsletters, upsells, holiday card list, etc.) That’s why service promotions are very valuable now. Also, buy any radio airtime now. Secure Nov. 15 through Dec. 15 or you won’t be able to get it. (Holiday shoppers spend lots of time in their cars.) Replacement and IAQ business should stay strong.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink. He can be reached at 800-489-9099, 334-262-1115 (fax), or

Publication date: 09/29/2003