Why your marketing isn’t working like it used to.

What was, isn’t anymore. Why do I begin this article with a completely undiagrammable sentence? Because most things in business now aren’t following diagrams either.

  • Sales closing cycles are longer than ever.
  • Business information is being generated faster than we can absorb it.
  • Old marketing methods aren’t working.
  • Social media “results” aren’t happening.
  • Online search success is confusing and costly.
  • Your marketing budget has been turned upside down.

    It’s not your imagination; most (or all) of that list is the new reality. It’s also not all the economy’s fault. Nor is it going to change back to the way it was. Ever!

    Welcome to a special two-part Plumbing & Mechanical wake-up call on the changing face of plumbing marketing. We’ll help you solve three of the above problems at a time and we’ll start - in keeping with the upside-down theme - with the last one first.

    Just five years ago, the Yellow Pages were still the No. 1 marketing expense for contractors. Remember those? They had “yellow pages” with words on them. Odd, I know. Now they’ve been replaced by Google, Yelp, Bing and other services so-named for no reason, which is way cooler.

    The “normal” contractor was investing 55% of his marketing budget in Yellow Pages ads and listings. I was highly unpopular with those cuddly folks (and still am, I hope!) when we suggested that 24% was enough. In 2008, we lowered our recommendation to 20%. Then, this year to 16%.

    This budget shift affected everything. The drop in Yellow Pages meant the newly created slack moved elsewhere, namely online (more in a moment). Plus, the economy forced us all to “circle the wagons” and finally get serious about customer retention.

    Our researched recommendations bumped customer retention from 6% of a contracting firm’s marketing budget in 2006 to 10% in 2008 and are now just under 12%. The results proved dramatically worthwhile, as many clients set sales records amid the downturn.

    But the key is to change with the market. So if you’re wondering why your 2005 model isn’t working so great, the above paragraph should be an eye-opener.

    As the Yellow Pages were doing a nose dive, people flocked online to find contractors. Small problem: To get found, you had to be findable. So contractors got introduced to marketing focused on SEO (search engine optimization), PPC (price per click) and keyword strings, sold to them by people sporting goatees who spoke largely in acronyms.

    Many multithousand-dollar campaigns were launched to get found, noticed and clicked. Or so you hoped. There was a slight problem.

    Though lots of money and time were invested in SEO so the universe could find you, getting a service call from the Netherlands wasn’t all that helpful. Customers wanted a “local” contractor. Google thankfully bent its indecipherable algorithm to favor local search. The move from desktop to laptop to handheld meant information was tighter and more focused, right along with the screen size.

    So Google offered local listing access to every business so you, too, could become instantly local, mobile and - with texting fingers crossed - findable. Yay! We could all play in the Web 2.0 sandbox. You could finally be “listed” with a map, reviews and actual web presence.

    Yet somehow, contractors never got the memo. That’s because the goateed contention had moved to social media since it is more lucrative and confusing. So your hugely beneficial local listing, which is basically yours for the taking, sits gathering digital cobwebs.

    Here’s a shocking truth: 94% of contractors haven’t gotten their local listing. And you wonder why results aren’t coming your way? Go get it. Like, now.

  • The social (dis)connection

    The third item up the list represents another huge shift in customer relationships and selling. For the last several years, everyone has been yelling at you to embrace social media. Aside from menotwanting to embrace the goofus I didn’t like in high school who now boasts 9,341 fake “friends,” the world has basically said: You’ve GOT to be there. OK, great. But they never told you exactly why or how much time or money you were supposed to spend, or how you were supposed to measure the results.

    Yet, we collectively stormed the social sites with our “old” business blinders firmly attached. Soon legions of now socially connected contractors tweeted, posted and attempted to attract fans and followers without the vaguest idea of how to monetize them.

    This was - and remains - part of the problem. See? We thought you just set up the site, made ridiculous small talk and leads would pour in. Didn’t happen, did it? Maybe spend more time there! That’s it! Still didn’t happen.

    So, in mild frustration (since we are, in fact, in business), we attempted “promoting” our services. We failed to realize that was the social site equivalent of the Baby Ruth in the punchbowl trick.

    Here’s a hint:Social site communication is not a sales presentation; it’s a conversation. Do not mistake it as a platform to sell, any more than you would a live cocktail party. It is for connections, credibility and a cautious confluence of need meeting desire. Want a number?

    Keep your conversation content to about 70% helpful, advisory and congratulatory, without a grain of promotion. With the other 30%, use your advice to “point” offsite to your website, which happens to contain one or more of the following examples:

  • Report - on how to save utility dollars toward a family vacation.
  • Video - on how to inspect toilets for suspected leaks.
  • Audio - message explaining high-efficiency fixtures that save water.
  • Gift certificate - for seasonal specials customers can use or give to a friend.

    Note that this website content is slanted from “old” marketing that forces a sales message down the unsuspecting throat and shifts toward the helpful tone that includes a sales component. A subtle but very important distinction. This will change your results.

    As we’ve created all these for clients, we’re seeing social numbers go up (finally), plus resulting web visits increase and - as is my capitalist reason for being - generate appointments. Horrors! Sue me.

    Yet, as a longtime fan of the written word, we’ve gotten a dose of new reality, too.

    We created 17 videos (12 advisory and five promotional to keep the 70/30 split); videos get 2.5 times the viewership that the nearly identical reports get in readership. This again indicates a lessened propensity to “read” much online (supporting the failure of online newsletter readership vs. print/mailed counterparts that significantly out-pull). We also see a drop-off of video viewership past six minutes, yet three to six minutes is virtually flat.

    Keep this in mind as you modify your online presence. Keeping your mind at all requires patience as we shift into the new economy.

    These are super-exciting times, with much change required. Contractors who understand that the old way isn’t coming back and are willing to change will reap the biggest and fastest results.

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