Heating & Air Conditioning Marketing
Effective HVAC marketing must account for the seasonal needs of consumers and businesses. First, it focuses on those who are most likely to need their services. Second, it depends on frequent communications with “drip” campaigns to maintain consumer awareness of their brand.
Traditionally, HVAC contractors have relied on the Yellow Pages and other print directory advertising to gain HVAC repair, replacement and maintenance contract business from homeowners and owners of commercial and industrial buildings.
Borrell Associates reported that 70% of HVAC contractor ad spending went to print directories, with newspapers (9.8%), direct mail (4.4%), television (4.2%), online (3.7%) and other (3.7%) including radio and outdoor, gaining lesser percentages. While online advertising gained only 3.7% of the total ad spend among HVAC contractors, this figure is almost sure to grow – considering that 54% of Google, Yahoo! and other search engine users are now substituting Internet searches for the phone book, according to comScore Networks.
New research by The Kelsey Group and ConStat also underscores the shift from print directories to the web, indicating that 70% of U.S. households are using the Internet when shopping locally for products and services.
Prospecting for New Customers
As a result of these and other developments, HVAC contractors are today relying on strategic marketing strategies to:
- Websites detailing the HVAC contractor’s areas of expertise, brands of furnaces and air conditioners sold and serviced, maintenance plans, service area, service hours and more.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategies that enable the HVAC contractor’s website to gain higher rankings on search engines such as Google and Yahoo!, thereby increasing the chances that a consumer entering keywords such as “air conditioner service” or “emergency furnace repairs” will find the website at or near the top of the search results.
- Pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns (e.g., through Google Adwords) wherein the HVAC contractor pays for an ad to appear at upper right side of search engine results pages. When clicked, the ad links viewers to the HVAC contractor’s website thereby growing its audience. PPC offers an added advantage in that advertisers pay only “per click,” and up to but not exceeding a budgeted amount.
- Local search which at no or low cost will list the HVAC contractor on local online directories, thereby gaining the company increased visibility with consumers searching for nearby product and services. A search for “furnace repairs St Louis” for example, will not only yield websites of individual firms, but also listings for neighborhood HVAC contractors in local online directories such as citysearch.com and superpages.com, among others.
- Newspaper and/or magazine advertising promoting the HVAC contractor’s services to those within its community. Options here may include local shopping guides or weekly neighborhood newspapers.
- Capabilities brochures for the HVAC contractor to use as “leave behinds” when quoting a repair or installation. With them, consumers are assured they are working with a reputable firm. They may also file the brochures for future reference, or pass them along to family and friends in need of HVAC services.
- Wide-coverage media campaigns employing radio, television, local cable TV or outdoor boards promoting service specials, and also keeping the HVAC contractor top of mind among consumers when repairs or replacement systems are needed.
- Direct mail directed at homes and businesses within the HVAC contractor’s service area promoting service specials and maintenance contracts – often centering on a dollars-off or percent-off special offer. One smart direct mail option? Every Door Direct Mail® service from the U.S. Postal Service® offered through Allegra. Providing blanket coverage of every home and business within a city, zip code or neighborhood, it features direct mail rates as low as 17.5¢ per piece.
- Coupon inserts, again promoting service specials and maintenance contracts.
Customer Nurturing and Cross Selling
Increase business from existing customers with:
- Web-based referral programs wherein existing clients are contacted periodically via email, asked to refer to friends and relatives to the practice, and given a modest incentive to do so.
- Direct mail directed at current customers offering an incentive for future business. These often take the form of a “thank you” message.
- Email as a free offering to educate and inform customers of how to reduce their energy costs, increase the life of their equipment, improve air quality, improve comfort…all those things that would increase a customer’s feeling of trust for your company.
- Website Blogs are useful, informative and entertaining Blog postings are the secret sauce of SEO or search engine optimization. People (and therefore Google) like fresh material added to your website on a regular basis.
- Logo development if an HVAC contractor’s current logo is outdated or non-existent.
Corporate identity programs if an HVAC contractor’s materials are in need of a fresh design or informational update.
Setting Marketing Goals
Marketing goals should flow from, and clearly align with, business goals. They should also be specific, measurable and recognize the “buying process” involved when selecting an HVAC contractor. While good marketing tactics alone can’t always secure immediate new customers, they can create activity that prompts actions that lead to future customer acquisition and calls for additional services.
Here’s one example of how a typical business and marketing goal work in tandem:
Grow new residential (and/or commercial) customers by 10%, or equivalent of $______/year.
Increase prospect calls per month to ______, of which ___% convert to requests for cost quotations or new repair, replacement or maintenance contract business.
Increase website visitors per month from ______ to ______ that correlate to prospect calls of ______ and new clients of______.
Here’s another example of how a marketing goal can support a business goal:
Increase revenue per customer by ___%, from $______ to $______.
Increase customer requests for additional services (e.g., maintenance contracts) at an average sale of $______.
While, there are other business and marketing goals, those appearing above are the primary ones we’ve seen from HVAC contractors and other Allegra clients across the country.
Defining Market Segments
Whereas many other small and medium-size businesses (e.g., beauty salons, import auto repairs, nursing homes, pediatricians, etc.) need to be concerned with segmenting markets by age, gender, income level and other factors to optimally target their prime audiences, most HVAC contractors need no such segmentation; every home homeowner or owner of a commercial building is a potential customer for HVAC repairs, replacement or a maintenance contract.
This, of course, depends on whether the HVAC contractor seeks to focus on residential and/or commercial business.
Establishing Efficient Media Strategies by Goal(s)
Once business and marketing goals are set, a disciplined review of available media channels should follow. Obviously, different markets will have different channels.Smaller markets, for example, are often served efficiently by local newspapers, radio stations and outdoor boards. Larger markets however, offer more of a challenge to HVAC contractors with limited service areas; it makes no sense to broadcast across a tri-county area, for example, when the company focuses its efforts only on portions of one. In this instance, cable television, direct mail or outdoor boards often enable HVAC contractors to efficiently reach prospects within selected zip codes or even neighborhoods.
Given these considerations, media channels in each geographic market must be carefully reviewed in order to achieve the right mix of frequency and impact, while also eliminating wasted communications to unqualified prospects. In Jay Levinson’s Guerrilla Marketing, he offers advice on media selection based upon the audience and your communication objectives:
Based on Allegra’s work with HVAC contractors and other small and medium-size businesses across the country, general recommendations can be made that will most often align with their goals.
TO ATTRACT NEW CUSTOMERS:
Best practices include a robust web presence to “be where customers search” with efforts that include:
- Professional website, including:
- Description of HVAC repair, replacement and maintenance contract services offered
- Contact form for prospective and current customers seeking a service call or cost quotation
- Online appointment feature
- Brand names of air conditioners and furnaces sold and serviced
- Search engine optimized (SEO) content
- Maximum number of links to and from other relevant sites (e.g., Facebook)
Just having a social media account, though, isn’t enough. It’s best use is to communicate your company’s expertise, positioning you as the local experts in HVAC. Assign team members to start conversations. Take pictures of your work and post it on the site. Tell interesting stories: the oddballs, the helpful hints, and the most heartwarming. Social media is best when it’s a conversation.
- Best of the Web Local Free (local.botw.org)
- Bing Local (www.bing.com/local)
- Google+ Local (www.google.com/places)
- InfoGroup/Express Update www.expressupdateusa.com)
- InsiderPages (www.insiderpages.com)
- HotFrog (www.hotfrog.com)
- Local (www.local.com)
- Localeze (www.localeze.com)
- Merchant Circle (www.merchantcircle.com)
- Kudzu (www.kudzu.com)
- Yahoo! Local Basic (listings.local.yahoo.com)
- Yelp (biz.yelp.com/signup)
- YP.com (www.yellowpages.com)
As a complement to an HVAC contractor’s “be where customers search” efforts, other best practices include select outreach programs to “go where customers are” with measures that include:
- Direct mail
- Small space newspaper or magazine ads
- Coupon inserts
- Radio commercials, television or cable TV spots
- Customer Referral System
Sent to all home owners and owners of commercial properties by neighborhood or by zip code. One smart solution is Every Door Direct Mail® service from the U.S. Postal Service®. Now offered through Allegra, it lets companies reach each every home and business within a selected area at postage rates as low as 17.5¢ per piece.
Promoting, for example, a furnace clean-and-check special with a dollars-off coupon.
Offering a percentage-off special on a pre-season air conditioner or furnace check-up.
Communicating all type of services, including emergency repairs after hours and on weekends, and also maintenance contracts.
Given that referrals are the number one source of new customers for any small business, a simple (periodic calls, emails, postcards, or letters) or more sophisticated system should be implemented to tap this potential. The latter option could be a web-based automated referral system wherein existing customers are asked (or incentivized) to make referrals on the HVAC contractor’s behalf – this is new technology that didn’t exist more than two years ago.
TO INCREASE REVENUES FROM EXISTING CLIENTS
- Direct mail
- Email Blasts
Sent to existing customers who have “opted in” for continued communications, perhaps reminding them of service work that should be performed at the start of summer (air conditioners) or fall (furnaces), and the availability of yearly maintenance contracts.
Mail a gift card (e.g., $25 off) as a thank you for recent work, suggesting the recipient use it for future service or pass it along to a family member or friend. Alternately, suggest the consumer apply the savings to a yearly maintenance contract or a contract extension.
SUMMARY AND NEXT STEPS
Developing a sound marketing program for an HVAC business follows a proven and disciplined planning process that is based on specific business goals and marketing objectives, with knowledge of local media channels and how people make HVAC decisions in the digital age. A practical marketing plan also requires knowledge of best practices in the execution of the tactics selected. Key elements are audience reach, frequency and impact with different channels providing varying degrees of performance against each.
For HVAC contractors, a combination of “be where prospects go” and “go where prospects are” strategies is typically required to generate enough responses to generate sufficient sales increases. That said, lifetime value can be high and referrals many. Even if only a few customers are acquired and projects generated, future sales are very probable.
At Allegra, we have developed successful programs for similar small and medium-size businesses, and we stand ready to apply this disciplined approach to help you meet your business goals. Would you like to see a sample of our work (Click here)? Would you like to learn more? Let’s Talk.