The newest and hottest plumbing marketing strategy, right out of history.

"You can’t learn much from the familiar” goes the training wisdom. This is why we regularly preach to clients to quit seeking marketing motivation from how their competition is advertising. (We call this marketing myopia.) They’re likely doing it wrong, plus you only look like a copycat.

A better approach is to find what’s being successfully sold elsewhere, and adapt those principles. You’ll differentiate and gain more leads. Case in point: Shredded Wheat, a remarkably boring product of Post Cereals, has an ingenious, provocative and highly successful “hit” television ad. It lampoons the “progress” of the last 100 years and proclaims, “We put the ‘no’ in innovation.”

Its on-air expert, Frank Druffel, is as amusing as he is enlightening, with an overall impression left behind: In an ever-changing world, some things are best left unchanged - and because Shredded Wheat hasn’t changed, it must be the best.

Too many plumbing contractors struggle to bring excitement into their promotions, yet when a two-ingredient, 100-year-old cereal can create a powerfully interesting commercial, it’s time to quit struggling and realize that principles don’t change, practices do. So, cleverly, the cereal has actually differentiated itself by saying, “We’re the same as we always were.”

Why would it do this? Because right now, stability sells. It’s reassuring, comforting and attractive. Yet to avoid looking outdated or irrelevant - which never sells - its production quality is high-tech, Post Cereals has a glorious Web site, fun YouTube videos, blogs and legions of Internet and direct-mail-based point-of-purchase incentives.

So, now to you. We’ve long-advised to use the plumbing trades’ “old-time principles” (which have high appeal) to your advantage, with cutting-edge communication and sales tools. In the process, you cast off the negative plumbing image, which includes filth and unprofessionalism. Sorry, I don’t make the perceptions, only try to erase them.

Focus On The Customer,
But Update The Technology

Perhaps the most fundamental business principle is recognizing your customer is the source of all your income. Here’s my second apology in three sentences for sounding so obvious, but too many contractors try to move the company forward through products, services and/or employees. Great, but if customers don’t buy them, the train is derailed.

As an aside, this is why we see so many plumbers jump from ad to ad, from product to product, from program to program and overwhelm themselves into an unprofitable ADD frenzy. The basic principle above has not changed.

What has changed? Most notably, technology that helps you collect and organize customer information, allowing sequential and sophisticated targeted contact with customers on a near individual basis.

But many resist, while others continue to add more customers, more sales and continually fill the prospect pipeline using good targeting.

Targeting isn’t new, but it has grown from the days of either “hitting or missing” into an inward progression of targets. That is, taking a prospect who doesn’t know you into becoming “known,” then into a warm prospect, into a customer and finally into a client (repeat buying cycle). Intentional customer fluidity.

Bring Them Into The Funnel

One of the biggest mistakes contractors make is in assuming that the whole world is either a customer or not. Think about it. You have strangers, acquaintances, friends, family - all at varying degrees of relationships, varying levels of communication. And your customers aren’t any different.

Your job is to steadily “funnel” or advance customers through your company to achieve the maximum benefit for them and maximum profit to your company. You are ultimately aiming toward a progression where customers are “recurring and referring” clients. This is the holy grail of marketing. But it is not an event, it is a progression.

The simplest way to explain funnel marketing is that it automatically and systematically graduates your customers from cold prospects to active customers. It enables you to move them with your messages through a funnel that narrows to a tighter audience - and with more controlled media.

Just like a kitchen funnel, the marketing funnel is broad at the top and narrow at the bottom. Think through each of these five funnels as your market, message and media narrow:
    1. Who is your intended target market? Cold prospects start at the top of the funnel, to contacted leads, to inactive or old customers down to the active, spending, referring customers at the funnel tip.

    2. What are you saying? This moves from a big-market, broad message to a narrower “follow-up” message, to a “reactivation” message and then to a “retention, upsell” message (such as newsletters, maintenance agreements, etc.) at the bottom of the funnel.

    3. How do you send your message? Yellow Pages is the broadest local market. Then your Web site keyword searches, radio and cable TV follow. “Zoned” newspaper is next, with community newspapers even tighter. Direct mail and collected e-mails are narrower still. CSR follow-ups and personal visits are the very tightest.

    4. When do you run? Web sites and Yellow Pages ads run all the time. A newspaper ad may run 26 times a year. Radio is seasonal. Direct mail can be four to eight times a year per promotion. Timing for the relevance of the product or service is crucial - frozen pipes and flooded basements have exact points on the calendar.

    5. How much do you spend as a percentage of sales dollars? For an aggressive marketer, that’s 8-10 percent. A moderate will say 6-8 percent and a conservative 3 1/2-5 percent. Divide the dollars according to your type (see this month’s PM reader freebie offer below).

Who's Running The Funnel?

The broad entry point into the funnel may begin with a Yellow Pages ad - and mistakenly end there for too many! However, the narrower targeting is dependent on your ability to collect, organize and use customer information practically and effectively. In other words: database management.

For some of you, your database started as a box of index cards with customers’ names and addresses. But that was then. Now, even the technologically unskilled can employ a funnel marketing campaign with basic customer relationship marketing software.

Regardless, any method is better than no method. The point is to make “relationship advancement” a steady practice in your company. In all this, you’re using technology as an important modern tool to reinforce an age-old principle: The relationship is king, the revenue merely a natural byproduct.

A Closer Look At The Funnel

Top Of Funnel Messages- Drop your Yellow Pages ad to sanity. Smaller ads with fewer colors can easily outperform the dated, bloated, overly costly ones of the past. Use your better ad as an intro on your home page. Invest your Yellow Pages savings toward …

Mid-Funnel Messages- Community newspapers and cable TV are so cheap now, there’s no reason not to have them. Tighten your message to that reader or viewer and watch results rise.

Lower Funnel Messages- Direct mail has made a huge comeback (response rates trounce e-mail) and again the targeting focus is superior to other methods. Use high image postcards to sell the affluent, and direct response letters for immediate sales.

Bottom Of Funnel- Your customers should get a bump for maintenance agreements twice a year, plus two to four newsletters, and two holiday cards (summer and winter), along with a thank-you card and e-mail to every new customer.

Free Plumbing Marketing Budget Calculator For PM Readers This Month!

Want to know what type of marketer you are? How to allocate your budget in different media? Send a polite request by e-mail tofreestuff@hudsonink.comor fax your request on company letterhead to 334/262-1115. Yours free.