Stanford Kay

As every marketing strategist will tell you, it’s important to continue marketing during a downturn. Studies done during the recessions of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90 all show that companies that maintained or increased their marketing efforts during a slow economy enjoyed higher sales growth in the immediate post-recession years than companies that didn’t follow that strategy. This time around, it won’t be any different.

How much you spend on marketing and what, exactly, you spend it on may change, but continuing to market now will keep your name and brand in people’s minds for when the economy swings back. Done right, a short-term marketing campaign can have long-term gains.

Tools & Information

Inexpensive ways to get address lists for your campaign and to determine whether a neighborhood is right for you:

  • Hanley Wood Market Intelligence (owned by the same company that publishes REMODELING) has demographic information available that can help you define your target market
  • InfoUSA, is a mailing list company, (Read more here.) 
  • Street-level canvassing can get you homeowner names and addresses. You can either use a local website, as remodeler Robert Criner did, or just walk a neighborhood.

Work the Web

Ways to use the Web to help build your campaign:

Blogs: You, or someone in your office, can write blogs in-house that appear on your website; work with a third-party blogger — preferably someone who writes about your target neighborhood; or get previous clients to post reviews on a local website.

Tags: Start using 2-D tags or QR codes (click here for more) on every marketing piece. Their design can be customized to fit your branding efforts. According to Digital Buzz Blog, “[A]lready in 2011, more than 50% of all ‘local’ searches are done from a mobile device.”

One Look/One Message

Marketing strikes at the heart of your business and brings up questions that dig into who you are and what your company stands for. “A marketing program would be the totality of what you’re doing to sell your products and services to your target market. This is ‘Big M’ marketing,” says Dave Alpert, owner of Continuum Marketing, in Great Falls, Va.

A marketing campaign — “little m” marketing — is one component in your overall strategy that draws on the answers to those “Big M” questions. “Before beginning any campaign, take inventory of all the things that you already have that are visible to consumers, such as your logo, website, brochures, job signs, trucks, and employee clothing,” suggests John Galbraith, owner of Twin Advertising, in Pittsford, N.Y., whose clients include vendors, manufacturers, and general contractors. “Ask yourself, ‘How am I being looked at?’ Once you’ve done that assessment, you can think about a particular campaign.”

Taking inventory will help to define your brand — what comes to mind when someone thinks about your company. If you want to be thought of as “professional,” look at your inventory list. Are your job signs high-quality and well-designed? Is your website easy to navigate? Are the photographs in brochures and direct-mail pieces crisp and professional?

If you’re low on funds, Galbraith suggests finding a local college marketing class to take on your business as a branding project. The cost is zero and you will likely come away not only with ideas but with ready-made mock-ups of materials such as letterhead, logos, brochures, and advertisements. Or, get a marketing major as an intern to help you work on branding.

“Branding and marketing go hand in hand; you want a uniform message and brand standard on everything from the style of fonts you use to colors to spatial relationships,” Galbraith says. “You want to have one look, one message.”

Match Your Market

“You can do jobsite signs, advertisements, search engine optimization,” Alpert says. “In a soft market you might want to have the ability to launch a pay-per-click campaign. Consider what will give you the greatest value.” In recent years, remodelers have had luck sending out thousands of direct-mail pieces. But they’re no longer seeing the same level of returns. Alpert suggests smaller direct-mail campaigns. “Sending out 5,000 pieces with the wrong message will be more costly than sending out [far fewer] with the right message,” he says.

Getting the right message out means knowing your ideal buyers and understanding how they buy. “Gen Xers, [those born between 1965 and 1980],” says Alpert, “do a lot of research and want you to help them buy. And now baby boomers [those born between 1946 and 1964] have taken on Xers’ buying patterns. They do more research. Everyone is more interested in learning to buy than in wanting to be sold.” Your approach should match your market. “Be informational if you’re targeting these market segments now.”

Remember, although a marketing campaign is just one component in your overall marketing plan it still should reflect your brand attributes and resonate in the same way with consumers. Every campaign should connect somehow to every other campaign. If you have red trucks, make sure you have red job signs and a red logo and red shirts. You want to hear people say, “I see you everywhere.”

Develop campaigns as a part of your long-term marketing strategy and they will reverberate even after a job is completed. “The end of every project is not the end of the process,” Alpert reminds his clients. “It’s really the beginning of the relationship.”

Case Study: Criner Remodeling

Robert Criner, owner of Criner Remodeling, in Yorktown, Va., has been in the industry for 40 years. He has seen recessions come and go and has learned that he needs to budget for marketing all year long, every year, and says that “everyone in the company has to be part of your marketing plan.”

Criner uses a marketing calendar that shows him, for example, which months his company will enter design award competitions, when the company pig roast will take place, when to send out holiday cards, and so on. “You want to touch people four or five times a year,” he says, “not four or five times a month.”

The campaign outlined on these pages culminates in a seminar, which Criner’s marketing coordinator, Joelle McLaughlin, schedules to occur during a slow period. There were four months from the time McLaughlin gathered names and addresses to the actual seminar date.

Criner began the campaign immediately after he landed his first job in this particular neighborhood. While his team was working in one neighbor’s home, his vans — with a 3½-foot-by-3½-foot project photo on their sides — and his employees and trucks were visible in the area. (This particular neighborhood does not allow jobsite signs to be posted.)

1. Targeted list

Time: 12 to 16 hours to create the list four months before the seminar

Cost: “Free” (salaried employee time)

Criner identified a small neighborhood of about 350 homes that he wanted to focus on.

His marketing coordinator then gathered names and addresses from a municipal website. “There’s a property information system here,” Criner says, “and we looked at maps of houses and were able to get the name of the owner and the address.”

Tip: Get a list from the neighborhood’s homeowners’ association or visit the city’s government Web page and look for the city’s property-assessment information. Search the street name to find out the names and addresses of the homeowners.

2. Mail intro/brochure

Time: Mailed three weeks before the seminar

Cost: Approximately $1,000

The first letter that Criner sent to homeowners was introductory and was included with a trifold brochure. The one-page letter did not address the person directly, nor was it signed by Criner. Instead, it told about Criner Remodeling, its history and experience.

The letter also let prospects know that their neighborhood is just a half mile from company owner Robert Criner’s own home; that he’s lived in the area for many years — before their neighborhood was even built; that he is active in the community and is on the zoning board.

The brochure, designed in-house and professionally printed, featured in-depth information about the company — its specialties, employee designations and education, and various project photos, taken by Criner.

Tip: Make a point of having every piece your company mails direct prospects to your website.

Tip: Mail a brochure to the home address of several employees and put a return address on the envelope.

3. Meet & greet

Time: Two hours, three weeks before the seminar

Cost: “Free” (salaried employee time)

Criner and McLaughlin went door-to-door to meet neighbors in the immediate vicinity of the jobsite. The marketing director was still relatively new to the company then, so Criner used the opportunity to introduce her to the neighbors and to give a one-minute elevator speech.

“People are hungry for personal contact,” Criner says. “The 30% … who were home always welcomed us and we had pleasant, easy conversations. It’s a soft sell. You want to make an impression, but you don’t have to tell them your accolades. Everything is to drive them to your website.”

He handed each homeowner a brochure or left a handwritten note with the brochure at those houses where no one was home.

Tip: Stand back from the door a little so you don’t appear pushy or threatening.

4. Advertise

Time: The first ad ran two months before the seminar; a second ad ran one month before the seminar

Cost: $30 per page per month

Criner placed a full-page ad in the neighborhood’s 10-page newsletter, “The Smoke Signal.” “That’s where they see you every month,” he says.

He used a general ad with a photograph and copy telling people what his company does and directing them to Criner Remodeling’s website. One month before the seminar, he switched out the general ad and used an ad highlighting the upcoming seminar. The new ad had a similar, recognizable layout.

Tip: Many newspapers print in black and white. Make sure your color photography will still reproduce well.

5. Seminar mailing

Time: Three weeks prior to the seminar

Cost: 50 brochures + 550 direct-mail ads + envelopes + stamps = $423 (not including labor); K&B book: $8/book x 50 books = $400

Criner sent a letter via first-class mail inviting homeowners to a seminar about kitchen and bath design. People were told that attendees would receive a free book about K&B design.

6. Seminar

Time: One day for the setup and event

Cost: $350 for clubhouse rental; $250 for food

Ten days prior, Criner placed signs at the neighborhood’s two entrances directing people to the clubhouse where the seminar would be held. The seminar consisted of Criner “doing a 30- to 45-minute stand-up ... about common kitchen and bath design mistakes, about legal issues, contracts, and design ideas,” he says. Criner Remodeling provided food and beverages. Although it wasn’t required, attendees gave Criner their name, number, and e-mail address. Within a few weeks he had appointments set, and within a month he had garnered some work.

­—Stacey Freed, senior editor, REMODELING.