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Friday, February 01, 2008

Michael Stone on Advertising

Since we sell advertising for a living, you will know my bias in reposting consultant Michael Stone's blog posting.

In Minnesota last week, over a two-day period, I had a total of 663 people in five classes. Granted, some of the attendees were in more than one class, but that is a large group of businesspeople in Minnesota who understand that education is the key to survival, both in today’s economy and long-term. The Central Minnesota Builders Association sponsored the 2008 Builders Expo and they did an outstanding job of organizing and running the event.
Most interesting to me were the people I talked with one-on-one about how they were weathering this market adjustment. Those that were doing a good job of advertising were as busy as they wanted to be. Their biggest problem is where to find enough good people to get the jobs built.
Those that were not advertising were struggling just to find leads. Their phones were not ringing and their prospects for new work were bleak.
Advertising is a 52-week-a-year process, no breaks, no rationalizing, no excuses. When the housing market tightens up, there are fewer people looking to buy your services or your work. Therefore you must advertise more, not less, to reach the people that want work done. Don’t expect immediate results when you start advertising. It takes time, investment, and multiple exposures to make your company the one they call when they need help. If you want a quick fix, you need to go out and start knocking on doors. I mean that literally - start knocking on doors, or at least leaving door hangers. I talk about this in our book, Profitable Sales, A Contractor’s Guide (pages 30 and 145). All other types of advertising take time. The sooner you get started, the sooner the leads will appear.

Most contractors, of course, don't understand how to advertise effectively and waste money on ill-planned and ineffective communication. Advertising doesn't need to be expensive, but it can be one of the biggest 'money down the drain' expenses if you are not careful. Advertising is only one part of the picture: Modest, thoughtful and planned advertising coupled with 'wow' client service will work wonders, however.
Stone, of course, focuses his interests in the residential and business-to-consumer side of the market. His advocacy of door-knocking canvassing for a quick fix of course, rubs against the grain of most of us, but here I think he is right. (For a canvassing consulting service you might consider Needham Canvassing Consultants in Michigan.) If you are up against the wall, and you need to bring in sales and business quickly in a survival mode, in the business-to-consumer world, canvassing will work wonders. You may also find in some cases business-to-business telemarketing also is effective in a crisis.

The 'quick fix' is somewhat harder to achieve in the business-to-business marketplace, largely because the lead time between initial 'glean' of business and actual results is so much longer. This in fact is now reflected in the markets we serve. Non-residential contractors are telling us they don't see any sign of a recession in their own businesses yet; their order books are full and backlogs are satisfactory. (It helps that we publish right now in Canada and North Carolina, which appears to be escaping the recession brunt -- North Carolina, unlike other southern States, passed really effective anti-predatory mortgage law legislation several years ago, preventing the worst of sub-prime crisis from blowing their cities apart, and Canada, being conservative when it comes to things like this, never fell into the trap.)
The biggest problem in the commercial side of the business is the cost of winning work -- the chase after "RFP calls" and endless work in preparing documentation to compete when the process is stacked in favor of an incumbant or already-established short list in the first place.
To win in the non-residential market, you need great market intelligence -- and a great reputation with your existing clients, and their network. And that is built carefully, day by day, job by job.
So why should you advertise with us in the markets we serve? One reason is we are ready to work with you on the big picture -- putting your print message in context with PR/editorial, other media and your brand image. When you get the whole picture right, then, advertising becomes a small but effective part of your marketing picture.

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