Here’s the scene: You have to pick a restaurant for a nice evening to celebrate. You want the whole bit with tablecloths, perfectly elegant lighting, subdued music, and charming yet understated wait staff that serves freshly-prepared, unique dishes. It’s got to be special. So, what place came to mind first?
Just now, your mind responded to the “image” of the description, then “matched” it with your choice of restaurants. Our minds do this constantly, aware or not, while choosing brands, products, and services. Your company “image” is a powerful tool that, like a hammer, can build or destroy.
What is the image that you want for your company? Does it “match” the image represented in your marketing? If not, you’ve already lost. Why? Because, in your service area, you might have 1-3% of the market. If you’re in a small town, maybe 10%. Yet, in either instance, the vast majority of the market only knows you by one thing.
Your image. That image was not built for them as a customer; it was built by your marketing. If they see a sloppy truck, unprofessional amateur ads, and no updates on your website or social media accounts, then you automatically become “sloppy, unprofessional amateur.” Sorry, I don’t make the rules.
The same holds true with your pricing. Have you ever seen a “2-for-1 Rolex Blowout Watch Sale?” I didn’t think so. If you want premium pricing, but your “image” is cheap, you will NOT sell to the level you want due to the inconsistency. Period.
The inverse of all of the above is also true. The higher the image, the higher the price, and the easier it is to get it. Now on to an advanced strategy that comes from a great image.
Referrals. Businesses don’t “link” image and referrals much, but this is faulty thinking, especially in contracting. That’s because I can go to a greasy spoon and have a good meal, and recommend it with that warning. Same thing with an HVAC contractor in my home who does good, cheap work, but is unprofessional and basically gives me the creeps. I can recommend them, but it comes out like this, “They do good work, but are kinda slow and a little unprofessional, but they’re cheap.” See, “cheap” becomes the equalizer as to why you’d put up with substandard service. This is the balanced “match” our minds created before.
What if your image was higher, yet your prices low? You’ve just zeroed in on Target’s success versus Wal-Mart. That’s a dangerous zone of razor-thin margins, and not one I’d recommend except for a high-volume commercial contractor. I favor positive economics over volume. Now you can add to your image building list: High image gets higher prices and more price-independent referrals.
Where Does Your Image Come From?
In marketing terms, your image is associated with your “brand.” Your brand is the set of qualities: values, purpose, mission, character, etc. that define who you are as a company. This brand holds meaning on multiple levels: emotional, rational, functional, and experiential. Your image is improved or disproved in every interaction, as well as every media choice you make:
▪ Website – A clean design with clear navigation and compelling content says that you’re professional and competent. Promoting benefits and risk reducers gives a reason to call. Also, a system of “response,” including auto-responder email to inquiries, and follow-up contact says that you’re responsive and reliable.
▪ Online Search Presence – Nearly 70% of contractor purchasers begin online, so if you don’t have a local listing presence or a content-rich website, you are losing money and customers daily. Perhaps hourly. If search terms being used by prospects don’t bring your website to the top results, you won’t be found. Also, just in case you didn’t know, having a business Facebook page that’s constantly updated (we recommend 3-4 times a week) can help out your website’s SEO.
▪ Mobile Enabled – This is great image because contractors aren’t as likely to be here as retail giants. Your online image must fit in your prospect’s palm. Being able to do so says that you’re current, savvy, and have technical knowledge that is certain to translate into the way you conduct your work. Plus, Google just said that if you’re not mobile-friendly, you better buckle up because you’re certainly going to be sliding down in the rankings.
▪ Video Marketing – It’s a hierarchy of image: Video is ranked higher in image than audio, audio is ranked higher than text with images, and text with images is higher ranked than text alone. We recently had a training session with our MegaMarketer members that specifically covered the impact of video marketing for contractors.
▪ Image Ad Campaigns – A low quality ad campaign (done to “save money”) generally costs you the investment to make it, plus the media and the low image points, and correspondingly low results. Even an average campaign can have some merit and profitability, but excellence establishes a higher image that builds the basis for your pricing structure.
So you’ve raised your image, referrals will follow right? WRONG! Unless, you deliberately seek them.
What can you do to gain more referrals?
Three tactics come to mind.
▪ Improve the customer experience: John Jantsch with Duct Tape Marketing and author of The Referral Engine: Teaching Your Business to Market Itself said during a podcast interview that he knew of companies that would say of their customers, “We get ‘em, we do good work, we hope we get referrals.” This sounds familiar for a lot of contractors. However, the distinction his research found was that the companies that got more referrals were more “referable.” He said, “They did things people talked about.” In that sense, referrals are as much about customer experience as they are about generating word of mouth. A “referable” customer experience follows a logical progression that moves customers from the point where they become aware of your business to the point where they are taught to be an advocate.
▪ Create incentives: A Harvard Business Review article cites an investigation study, Referral Programs and Customer Value, in which the value of customer acquisitions through referrals that involve a financial incentive, and whether it’s worth the investment. In this case, the study tracked 10,000 customers of a German financial institution, so that’s not exactly like an HVAC contractor in the States; however, the study’s results provide corroboration. In essence, referred customers tend to be more valuable in the short and long-term. Not only do they spend more, they are more loyal than non-referred customers, and they are acquired for less cost than the traditional acquisition customer.
▪ Build your image: Your image and name recognition in your market help smooth the path for your referring customer to make a convincing case to his/her potentially referred friend. After all, the response that is most likely to yield a good result is NOT, “I never heard of them.”
Remember to let image sell for you. Image is not one thing you do, but everything you do. As you take steps in every area: print, online, signage, and personal contact, your overall brand becomes associated with the type of quality that earns higher prices without having to sell higher prices.