Adapt to changing consumer preferences and new technologies
By: Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia Inc.
A new year is upon us, and it’s a good time to take a few minutes to think about how to make your business more profitable. Without further ado here are 16 tips for 2016, including six timeless guidelines and 10 timely tips to keep you in stride with the evolution of consumer choice and perception.
Part One: Essential Marketing Strategies for Any Year
- Set your direction. Understand your company, your market and how to benefit from the changes that are occurring around you. Set long-term targets in terms for customer acquisition, growing your services and product lines, adding products and services, etc. The most effective marketing plans are closely aligned with long- and short-term sales goals. Decide what you want to accomplish, and plan to market accordingly.
- Control your image. Acknowledge the essential, frightening truth about the home comfort industry, which is that customers see you as interchangeable with your competitors – and therefore eminently replaceable. Your value to your customers is real, but it is not necessarily apparent. To achieve an aura of irreplaceability, you must proactively build awareness of the value you provide. Every company has an image whether or not they’ve been conscious of cultivating one, and consumers form that image based on anything they might see, hear and read. Your job is to understand what makes your company special and communicate that effectively to your customers and prospects, and leave nothing to chance. Take control, and build an image that helps consumers embrace you.
- Collaborate effectively. Clients who know how to engage with an outside firm derive the most value from their marketing agency services. Start by assigning responsibilities well within your company. Look beyond the C-suite and recruit a marketing committee that includes perceptive people in your company who care about your customer relations and understand how customers think. Decide who will communicate with the agency, and be honest about people’s strengths and limitations, because collaboration is an art unto itself. The ideal point person is straightforward, tactful and comfortable providing constructive criticism.
- Know the value of your accounts. Companies that execute successful, aggressive marketing campaigns tend to have a thorough understanding of what their accounts are worth to them. Home comfort accounts are both profitable and expensive to replace, which makes customer retention investments highly cost-effective. Once you assign an accurate monetary value to account retention, you get more comfortable investing in enhanced customer convenience and effective communication. Apply similar formulas to growing new services and adding new customers. If you are doing good work and building a good reputation, you deserve a better bottom line, and you can make it happen.
- Develop a plan. Make a solid commitment to differentiating your company and capitalizing on your strengths. Embrace marketing as a top priority, and allocate a healthy budget that will enable you to make some real headway. Identify your sales objectives and share them with your agency. Ask them to develop a plan that will support your objectives, and give them a budget. Ask lots of questions and give thoughtful feedback until you are satisfied that the plan matches and supports your objectives.
- Start early. Don’t wait for the warm weather to come before you get started. Approach your agency as early as possible with your objectives to maximize the time available for reviewing and refining plans. This helps set the stage for great creative work and timely campaign launches.
Part Two: Important Trends for 2016
Technology and consumer preferences continue to evolve. The next 10 tips will help you make the right decisions this year for achieving the essentials of being seen and making great impressions.
- Think mobile. Online activity continues to shift from the desktop to mobile devices. Make sure your website is mobile-friendly to maintain strong search performance. Go beyond merely using responsive website technology: Design the site so that it is highly functional and meets the needs of a time-challenged, purpose-driven site visitor. Use a blog to serve up small portions of fresh information and keep your site fresh for searchers and search engines alike.
- Make customer experiences a top priority. Consumers are more demanding than ever, and they can’t stand companies disrespecting them or wasting their time. Doing things right and making life easy is your key differentiator across all demographics. Look closely at everything the customer sees and touches, and optimize every experience. Incorporate texting functionality wherever possible. Make customer enrollment, scheduling and ordering straightforward and crisp. Use a website that exudes professionalism and is easy to navigate. Assign staff to answer phones as early and late as feasible. Make sure that everyone who talks to customers is on message and unflappable. Provide printed quotes during sales calls. Use technology effectively to improve timeliness and personalization. Develop effective procedures for handling every common kind of request. Be punctual. Communicate proactively. Follow up promptly. Dress well.
- Get out front on thermostats. Google/Nest Labs is ferociously marketing its Nest Learning Thermostat and in the process is reshaping consumers’ perceptions of the entire heating and cooling industry. By placing so much attention on the electronic device on the wall, Google is driving an image of heating and cooling that is more white-collar than blue-collar. Traditional contractors must heed this changing perception and present themselves accordingly. The genie is not going back in the bottle, so it makes sense to market intelligent/connected thermostats and give all company marketing a high-tech feel. Companies that cling to a blue-collar image could find themselves losing market traction as soon as this year.
- Increase online reviews and testimonials. Consumers increasingly rely on what other people are saying online to vet a company. Initiate procedures to get all your positive testimonials and customer letters on the website and encourage customers to post online reviews on Google, Yelp, Angie’s List, etc. Make it very easy for website visitors on all device types to find your customer reviews. Monitor your reviews and respond to them promptly and in a tone that represents the company well.
- Be concise. Use messaging that is clear, straightforward and to the point. People are getting overwhelmed with complexity everywhere they look. Use a nice company tagline. Communicate in fewer words, not more. Use easy-to-digest graphics. Use short articles in your newsletters with plenty of white space. De-clutter the home page of your website. Maintain the good information resources you have created, but use clever navigation that allows people to read the essence at a glance and then click through for more details.
- Use more video. Video is popular and user-friendly, and it’s a great medium for getting people excited about new ideas and possibilities. Use it to introduce the company, explain products and services, and inform people about comfort and energy usage. Commit to including video wherever possible, and be sure to do it well. Prepare good scripts and pay attention to details like sound quality, graphics, editing and lighting.
- Mind your NAP. It is not news that you need to have your company’s name, address and phone number (NAP) consistent across all directory listings. Google has long since acknowledged that this is a key element for success in search results. But as voice-activated search (Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana) gains ground, search will be more automated, and basics such as NAP will become even more critical. If you want Siri to serve you up your home page when a user says, “Find me a heating company,” double-check your NAP for consistency.
- Target your advertising. Facebook and Google AdWords both offer precise targeting of online advertising that helps you get your company in front of suitable audiences at a reasonable cost. Facebook angered a lot of businesses by encouraging them to build lists of Friends and then changing the home page feed algorithm so that those businesses’ posts never showed up. It has been a frustrating process, but the costs for “boosted posts” are reasonable and the targeting is strong, including “lookalike” audiences that mirror the demographics of your Friend lists. Boosted posts should be topical and interesting enough to warrant clicks. Google AdWords has long been an important medium for comfort providers and continues to offer solid value and guaranteed visibility.
- Follow the reader. Behavioral advertising and remarketing are solid strategies for improving name recognition and keeping yourself in front of potential leads. Both strategies track the user’s online behavior using a cookie or pixel and serve your ads to them on different sites as they traverse the Internet. Re-marketing kicks in when a user has visited your site. Behavioral targeting finds users whose search patterns suggest they are looking for services like yours and gets your ads in front of them.
- Monitor and adjust. Google Analytics and similar services can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about what is happening with your websites and online advertising. It is critical to find out what works and do more of it by tracking your online assets and analyzing the patterns.
Incorporate some of these steps into your 2016 planning and you’ll be more in control of your marketing processes, and better results are sure to follow. Here’s to a happy and prosperous 2016!