Take a look at your competitor's latest print ad. Is it decked out with beautiful project photos? Glowing customer testimonials? Superlatives about their value, dependability, and craftsmanship? And if you swapped out their logo for yours, would the ad still make sense?
If so, Joaquin Erazo has some news for you: "You won't become memorable that way," said the founder and CMO of consultancy Marketing Wing. "You need to set yourself apart from your competition and find something to make the consumer say that is why I chose you." To help remodelers start thinking about marketing and differentiation, Erazo conducted the session "The 2013 Consumer and How They Buy" at the 2013 Remodeling Show, held October 16-18 in Chicago. Marketing to the new consumer isn't just about pretty pictures and testimonials (although those help). Rather, remodelers need to let prospective clients be in the driver's seat on the way to a purchasing decision.
"Today's consumer wants to buy, but they don't want to be sold," Erazo says. "They're doing a lot more research and they value the opinions of others over anything a marketer will say." With that in mind, he outlines behaviors that remodelers should pay attention to in a more customer-controlled sales process.
Behavior: Idea Gathering
Before even considering a remodeler, the 2013 homeowner will hop online and research everything from design styles to product options. In some cases, they may end up with more product knowledge than your sales team. When they have an idea of the style and features they want, then they'll start researching service providers.
Opportunity: The reason consumers want to research so much "is because they're afraid of making the wrong decision," Erazo says. The remodeler's opportunity here is to be a guide that will help them avoid making the wrong decisions. Offering a base of knowledge and design inspiration on social media - Houzz and Pinterest specifically - can help ensure you have a presence in front of those prospects during their research phase.
Behavior: Pricing Inquiries
Part of the research phase will involve homeowners comparing project estimates not just between remodelers, but between a real-life remodeler a collection of online figures, and friends' and neighbors' recollections of their project pricing. "You can get a price for anything online," Erazo says. "Where it starts to become a challenge is when you introduce markup. If the client knows what a new entry door will cost, and your markup significantly exceeds that, they'll start believing that they overpaid in other areas as well."
Opportunity: Adopting a model of transparency can help combating consumers' anxiety and frustration over pricing. Erazo says when homeowners ask for a cost breakdown for their project, remodelers will often hesitate to share the numbers at all, or will actually overshare by giving the client an itemized spreadsheet of each line item's cost. "The best interpretation of what the customer wants in a breakdown is a pie chart," Erazo says. Illustrating design costs, product costs, net profit, and other cost categories as percentages of a whole helps the client visualize where their money is going. "It's becoming easier and easier to find out how much stuff costs," he says. "What that means is that it'll become harder to hide, and suddenly you're playing a shell game trying to keeping them from realizing that you're marking up materials. Consumers understand that you need to make money. Be ready for consumers to ask for a breakdown."
Behavior: Get More Opinions
Testimonials can be valuable if they're presented right, but rather than go to a remodeler's website to see them, consumers are taking to their own social networks to get friends' recommendations for service providers. They're also going to review websites to hear from other people about their experiences. "The consumer voice is going to get louder, and it's scary," Erzao says. "It's not just past clients that are talking about your company. It's every lead you go to that doesn't turn into a client."
Opportunity: Besides simply being accessible on social media, remodelers that are aware of the popularity of online reviews can leverage the platforms as a way to keep a dialogue open with past, current, and prospective clients. Encourage positive reviews, Erazo says, and make it easy for clients—especially the happiest ones—to share those comments online. Address negative reviews offline, and preferably in person. If you can resolve the concern, ask the client to amend their review to include a positive comment. "Homeowners don't expect us to be perfect," Erazo says. "They know there will be problems, and it's how we handle those problems that matters. A negative review can be an opportunity to turn a bad situation into a good situation."
Once the client has exhausted their research process and chooses the remodeler they want to work with, all that's left to do is do what you do best, Erazo says. "Come in with your crew, do a beautiful job, and the process will start over with that client sharing their experiences with others. The sales funnel has changed. Embrace the new role because the more you understand about consumer behaviors, the more successful you can be." - Lauren Hunter is senior products editor at REMODELING. Find her on Twitter at @LaurenHunter_HW or @RemodelingMag.