On a September morning, a technician crew from Novak Heating and Air Conditioning Inc. finishes cleaning a residential customer’s furnace in preparation for the coming cold of the fall and winter months. The crew snaps a picture of their handiwork and sends it back to company headquarters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The home office receives the digital photo, which is then posted to the Novak Heating and Air Conditioning Facebook page along with a reminder that it’s the season for furnace cleaning.
A local customer sees the post on Facebook and comments about the quality of the work done by the Novak technicians who cleaned her furnace last week. That comment then goes out to her Facebook friends.
Welcome to “word of mouth” marketing in the era of social media. “It’s a form of verification from the existing customers that doesn’t cost a lot of money, and that type of marketing has helped us a lot,” says Randy Novak, president of the air conditioning and furnace service and repair provider.
Like all industries, sheet metal and HVAC contractors are constantly evaluating the effectiveness of their marketing strategies. Even though companies in the industry continue to rely on traditional staples of marketing to inform audiences about their offerings, online channels and social media are transforming their strategies for reaching out to customers, particularly in the residential sector.
Marketing for Millennials
Not so long ago, the most effective point of contact for advertising HVAC services was an ad in the Yellow Pages. For members of the millennial generation like Trenton Fluetsch, thumbing through that gargantuan book of business phone numbers feels like a foreign concept.
Fluetsch is a service manager with Sunset Air Inc., a heating and air conditioning company in Olympia, Washington, which his family has owned for more than 40 years. After graduating from Washington State University in 2012, he came onboard with his family’s business to help refine its marketing strategies and reach new audiences.
Historically, Sunset Air has found success attending home shows and using its longstanding reputation in the community to attract customers who are already in the market for HVAC units. However, Fluetsch says younger home buyers are more likely to be found through online avenues such as Facebook and LinkedIn.
The company also monitors websites and apps that post reviews like Nextdoor, Google Review, and Yelp to assess customer feedback. Sunset Air also coordinates with a third-party online marketing firm that provides search engine optimization and website management services.
“So many different avenues for information about your company can be accessed by people online,” Fluetsch says. “You have to have your hands in a lot of pots to keep your reputation positive and reach customers.”
Finding the Right Mix
The growth of social media and online marketing hasn’t completely supplanted other traditional channels.
When it comes to attracting new business, St. Louis-based Welsch Heating and Cooling Company counts on a comprehensive approach to putting its brand in front of potential customers. Paul Heimann, the company’s controller and the incoming chair of the SMACNA National Residential Contractors’ Council Steering Committee, says he believes in an old marketing adage that it takes three visual cues to make an impression on prospective client.
In addition to direct mail, online marketing, and television, Welsch also advertises on billboards. One of the more understated weapons in the company’s advertising arsenal: its service trucks. There are roughly 45 of them out on the roads around St. Louis on any given day, he says.
“We try to maintain good visuals on our trucks,” says Heimann. “When we try to track how people find us, it’s amazing how many people say they’ve seen our trucks in the area.”
Ultimately, no single advertising strategy or marketing channel works effectively without complementary pieces, according to Heimann. “We have found that you have to have a mix to make all your marketing efforts work,” he says.
Targeting Your Audience
Although traditional approaches remain part of that marketing mix, the most significant breakthroughs continue in the online space. In fact, a clunky website can be a business killer, according to Heimann.
Novak points out that the wealth of opportunities in web advertising, such as online videos, enable industrious companies to achieve greater differentiation from their competitors. Meanwhile, HVAC contractors can tailor their messages more easily online to fit with what’s important to consumers.
For example, when the temperatures outside start to dip and air conditioning service calls decline, Novak notes that his company can target multifamily building managers and homeowners’ associations to advertise maintenance for their HVAC units. In other cases, companies can use web traffic data to identify customers for special offers and discounts.
Most importantly, however, Fluetsch says HVAC contractors should focus on providing content that is relevant to their audiences. Ironically, that often means not trying to sell customers new products or services, he says. Instead, it might involve messages to help customers with the products they already own, such as offering tips on when to change HVAC filters.
“It’s giving the customers content that gives them value,” Fluetsch says. “Otherwise, you’re just wasting their time.”
Novak Heating and Air Conditioning »
Sunset Air »
Welsch Heating and Cooling »
Tips for Your Marketing Toolbox
Not surprisingly, there’s no magic marketing bullet to help HVAC contractors grow their businesses. The right approach requires striking the right balance between any number of strategies and channels.
Here are a few tips regarding some of the must-haves for HVAC companies’ marketing toolboxes.
Have an attractive website.
Your company’s website is the new version of your storefront. “It is the first impression when people go out and shop Google and see your business,” says Heimann.
Fueling the importance of having an attractive website is the changes in B2B buying behavior. Initial buying impressions are often made prior to ever engaging with company representative.
According to Accenture, 94 percent of B2B buyers do some form of online research prior to contact including: 77 percent use Google search and 84.3 percent check the business website first.
As the first point of contact with potential customers, making sure the site looks good is important. So is ensuring that the information on the site is current and fresh. This helps raise your company’s results in a Google search.
If visitors can’t find the information they need quickly, including how to contact your business, they will move on to a competitor.
Track your results.
As famed business guru Peter Drucker once advised, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. In other words, find ways to keep up with metrics that tell you how effective your marketing programs are.
Fortunately, the move to web-centric marketing offers a wealth of information about customer behavior, such as visits to your website and how much time they spend there. Interpreting that data correctly is also key, which might require hiring outside consultants to help you understand and act upon the numbers.
It starts with service.
HVAC contractors point out that a company’s service department can actually help drive new business. For example, service calls often identify major issues that require upgrading or replacing of the entire HVAC unit, according to Fluetsch. Heimann says that if customers are comfortable with a company’s service staff, it makes them more likely to come to that company for new equipment and installations at a later time.
Know your customers.
It may seem obvious, but the more information you have about your customer base and local community, the better your company can tailor its products and services—along with its marketing—to meet their needs. Growing locales tend to need new housing stock, which results in new construction. That means increased demand for new installations.