Survey Shows Contractors’ Marketing Gaps
Experts offer tips for meeting residential HVAC customers where they’re most likely to look
A survey of HVAC contractors and homeowners found significant gaps between the places that contractors tend to focus marketing efforts and the ways consumers are most likely to search for HVAC service providers.
The survey found, for example, that while 47% of contractors advertise via local print media such as newspapers, magazines, and mailers, only 22% of homeowners search for a contractor using print media. And while 29% of homeowners reported looking to home-improvement retailers to find a contractor, only 13% of contractors market through those retailers, the survey found.
The survey was conducted in March by Clear Seas Research, the research unit of BNP Media, parent company of The ACHR NEWS. It also included questions on pricing, HVAC equipment, the importance of online reviews, the factors that go into HVAC purchasing decisions, and other issues surrounding contractor-customer relationships.
Three HVAC marketing experts who looked at the survey’s findings on the marketing gaps offered contractors tips on changing up their strategies to better match how consumers are seeking HVAC services, while also customizing those strategies to fit their business plans and account for the differences between markets.
Wherever homeowners choose to look is where contractors, marketing-wise, need to be, said Crystal Williams, founder of Lemon Seed Marketing.
“This is not a one-trick pony,” Williams said. “You’ve got to have a full gamut of strategies deployed.”
“There is no silver bullet” in HVAC marketing, said Colleen Keyworth, director of sales and marketing at Online Access Inc. It takes “blood, sweat, and tears” in Keyworth’s words: an understanding of the target audience, a multi-faceted approach, and lots of local engagement.
“It takes work when you’re smaller,” Keyworth said. “There’s not a lot of stuff that you can just pull a lever on.”
Broadly speaking, the survey found that consumers turn to the internet to look for HVAC contractors at a greater levels than contractors market themselves there. Some 71% of homeowners reported using word-of-mouth recommendations, including from social media, to find contractors, but only 53% of contractors employ social media, according to the survey. (Some 43% of contractors reported marketing via non-social-media word-of-mouth.)
Marketing professionals recognize that contractors are short on time, and that social media adds another chore to lengthy to-do lists.
“If they’ve got to choose between posting to social media and trying to find parts and equipment during rush times, they can’t choose social media,” Williams said.
“Contractors get very much distracted by all the other stuff they have to do,” said Keyworth.
Williams recommended that contractors new to social media pick one platform, post consistently ― three or four times a week ― and get good at it before expanding their reach.
“Just start gradually, slowly but surely getting yourself into the groove of it,” she said. Consider delegating social media to a customer service representative, a dispatcher or even a technician for a bit of extra pay, she said. “There’re ways to get it done,” Williams said. “It’s just going to take some intentionality and some scheduling.”
Additionally, the survey found that 29% of homeowners use home services websites, such as Angie or Home Advisor, while only 23% of contractors advertise on such websites. And only 32% of contractors said they use Google Ads for marketing.
The survey’s findings on that internet disconnect weren’t surprising to Paul Redman, vice president of sales at Contractor Commerce. But employing the internet for marketing, and even paying for it, is now “non-negotiable,” Redman added.
“Contractors must have a 365-day approach to improving, managing, and executing SEO (search engine optimization) and paid search,” said Redman. “In a perfect world, you organically appear to your ideal customer with enough frequency that ads are not too necessary, but we do not live in a perfect world.”
Williams said contractors’ bias toward their own tastes may account for part of the marketing gap when it comes to using social media.
“We tend to use things that look good to us, even when we’re not in the target market, you know, so we tend to market to our own selves,” she said. “And that’s not always what we need to be doing.”
Here are some other tips for residential HVAC contractors who are looking to tweak their marketing efforts to better meet their target audiences:
- Use social media personably by, for example, posting a photo of your team, wishing an employee a happy birthday, and acknowledging the employee of the month.
“Those tools are designed to build a relationship with people in your target market,” Williams said. “People do business with people that they like and know.”
Social media posts, Redman said, need to connect with people in an authentic way instead of a transactional one.
“You have to find a way for your brand to bring value to a community (online) and be OK with never getting a single lead,” he said. “The intent has to be to build a brand and play the long game.”
- When it comes to paid internet advertising, Williams said, “test and modify, test and modify, very, very consistently.”
- Consider — carefully — marketing through home-improvement retailers, which often have “preferred contractor” lists that they share with customers. While that works for some contractors and can provide consistent leads, it also inserts a middleman into the process, can deprive a contractor of the opportunity to sell the equipment as well as the installation, and can get in the way of developing direct, long-term relationships with homeowners, said Keyworth.
- Don’t overlook community engagement. Local charities, social groups, and clubs like the Rotary can open a lot of doors to word-of-mouth referrals, Keyworth said.
- Keep it local with print. Although print newspapers are not as prevalent as they once were, Williams said, print ads can still work in niche publications, such as homeowners association newsletters, church bulletins, and community magazines.
“Go into the areas of your cities that you really want to own, and see if they have a country club newsletter, an HOA newsletter,” she said. “That’s where I would move my print media.”