You spend marketing money to stand out from the crowd. So, if you're only blending in, you're only wasting money. Be bold during the holidays. Get standout recognition while your competitors fight amongst themselves. Here are a few tips.

Low-cost holiday cards can be sent from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. Send them to your entire database, but do not use a sales message or the effect is ruined.

Calendars can be a good idea, but limit them to only the top purchasing customers in your database. Customers get many calendars each year, so only the most attractive will make it to the wall, which means only the costliest. Be careful here.

Red and green streamer tape in 2-inch width can visibly distinguish your service vehicles from Thanksgiving forward. For less than $4 per vehicle, you can be a standout in traffic.

Your on-hold message should reflect the season and mood. Have separate messages for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's.

The Holiday Card

The most active piece is the holiday card, and there are some great ways to push that to your customer base in a memorable and effective way. Let me clarify "effective" for the moment: This isnota lead generator, got it? It's a relationship builder that builds credibility, image, and top-of-mind awareness, thus indirectly building leads. If you put a commercial message on it, you kill all of that.

Just make your holiday message warm and friendly, while it reminds them of your service. Be careful about the image you choose. There are lots of the dumb-looking, outdated, cartoony cards, and then there are the overly sappy, sentimental ones. Choose a clean, clear message that thanks your customers and wishes them well for the holidays. That's it.

You should send it first class so the returns will come back to you so you can then purge and update your database. You should do this at least once a year, so this opportunity is as good as any.

If you want, we can send you a sample packet of six holiday cards if you'll call, e-mail, or fax your request. They're also on our Web site if you want to view them.

Regardless of what you choose to send this holiday season, stand apart from your competition and be the contractor who's called, referred, and remembered throughout the year. Isn't that what marketing is all about?

Seasonal Strategy

December hands us the distraction of holidays, family visits, and hopefully some cold weather. Weather takes care of service. Techs are your key to more replacement and plumbing upgrade leads. Train for "red flags." Repairs over $300 or eight-year-old systems should be replacement prospects. Water heaters and aged fixtures should be noted, too.

Verse techs on special financing offers or incentives. Do not let "declined repair" customers go without hearing from your salesperson. "Holiday rebate" direct response offers can work very well if worded correctly.

Newspapers: Plumbing service ads should be strong, while HVAC service ads should be low for the rest of the winter. All-purpose and image ads can be filtered in to take their place. If weather or sales don't cooperate, use hard-hitting direct response replacement ads, which should be holiday oriented. TOMA (top-of-mind awareness) ads continue.

Direct mail letters: Same advice as for newspaper ads, except sharpen your target for your highest-value customers. Use image ads with an offer and all-purpose ads. Drop any "sale mail" from Dec. 10 through Jan. 12, except for Christmas mailings or extremely well-targeted holiday offers.

Radio: Since you've already bought time from Nov. 15 through Dec. 15, use it to keep your name at the top of people's minds. You may include an offer, but focus more on name, image, and branding.

On-hold messages: Keep messages geared toward replacement, upgrades, and holidays.

Yellow Pages: With a performance-enhanced, lead-generating ad, you can achieve a massive return on your advertising investment. Fax us for your free ad critique.

Next Month

Direct response continues to take a back seat to image pumping, except where dictated by market slowdowns. Cold-weather climates can benefit by following massive service calls with high-margin sales offerings. Cut price shopping by having competitive intelligence info handy on every proposal.

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

Publication date: 11/24/2003