Tom Deja

Five years ago, Highcraft Builders spent 5% of its time on marketing. With a new focus on hosting events, now it’s more like 50%.

For eight years, Myers Constructs’ website sat stagnant. Two years ago it was revived with Web marketing and social media.

Atlanta-based Distinctive Remodeling Solutions has participated in an area tour of homes for four years, and knows that sticking with a marketing plan maximizes results.

All three companies have considerably boosted their time and money spent on marketing, but it’s hardly out of desperation to get business during the downturn. Instead, personal relationship marketing has helped these companies survive — even thrive — as their competitors have faltered. Business success is built more on known-to-known marketing, they say, and relies little on amassing unqualified leads.

The Main Event

Known-to-known marketing has always been the approach at Highcraft Builders. “We’ve always wanted to take care of past clients,” says co-owner Bryan Soth. “As remodelers, we have intimate relationships with our clients for months at a time, and then years will go by that you don’t see each other. It’s important to reestablish that connection.” To do that, the company has turned to event marketing, transferring money from print ads and elsewhere to hosting dinner parties in a client’s new kitchen, tailgate parties at college football games, and educational seminars for the community.

“On average, the type of magazine ad we run costs about $1,500,” Soth says. “We started thinking, for that kind of money we could throw a big party or do a lot of other things where you’re actually touching people instead of just tossing something out there.” But while putting together a magazine ad is relatively easy, organizing an event is labor-intensive. “One person alone couldn’t do it, which is why we’ve increased our focus on marketing tenfold compared to five years ago,” Soth says. Highcraft also hired two additional staff members to help manage event organization and associated social media efforts.

Mark Buelow, president of Distinctive Remodeling Solutions, agrees that events take effort, but the payoff can be worth it. “We used to print and ad and make the phone ring, but it wasn’t a direct focus of having a warm relationship with a past or potential client,” he says. “It takes some effort to develop systems around hosting a quality event, but the goal is to make a connection, and if there’s a connection, there’s a satisfied client.”

Click to Connect

Diane Menke has found that making connections is key to successful marketing, and is sometimes just a click away. The production and operations manager at Myers Constructs says the company has had a website since 1990, but didn’t know what to do with it until about two years ago. “We had heard about blogging, of course, and we started posting a lot of photos on our website, which people really love,” Menke says, “and in the meantime, we reached out to some social media experts and got some very helpful hints that really gave us a running start.”

Since then, the company has done a 180, putting at least 80% of its marketing focus on Web-based approaches such as blogging, e-newsletters, and social media. Menke says that she uses Google Analytics to track hits on the company website, which average 600 per day during the week. When an item from the website gets picked up in local media, that number rises to 700 and stays up for close to a month, she says.

Myers Constructs, and many other companies, use Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn as primary social media venues. While many of these interfaces help companies connect with existing clients, they can also foster new relationships. “Most of our clients are white-collar professionals, so they’re on LinkedIn just like the rest of us,” Buelow says. “I’ve used LinkedIn to search prospects and learn a little more about them. Whether the client is a physician or an executive, learning more about them helps me understand how they might make decisions.”

Social media sites can also drum up interest in company events. Soth says that Highcraft has posted seminar information on its social media sites and has seen an increase in new faces at the events, instead of just past clients. At a tailgate party last season, the company drew a crowd of 150 people, and Soth estimates that half of them were people with whom the company didn’t have existing relationships.

The New ROI

Creating opportunities for personal, low-pressure contact between a company and a potential client has been the key to success for Highcraft Builders, Distinctive Remodeling Solutions, and Myers Constructs. Still, it’s difficult for any of the brands to pinpoint leads garnered through known-to-known marketing.

“Lead tracking has been a big topic over the last month or so,” Soth says. “It’s hard to compare a print ad versus events or social media because putting an ad in a magazine is really about awareness marketing. You’re not necessarily going to get a person who calls and says, ‘I saw your ad and want you to look at my project.’ It’s about seeing that ad over time that builds the brand recognition so they see us as established.”

Buelow agrees, adding that maintaining a presence over time is as important as incorporating new marketing tools. “A lot of marketing has gotten more personal, but you can’t completely change from your older approaches,” he says. Distinctive Remodeling Solutions used to keep track of its competition by counting remodelers’ ads in local home improvement magazines. Today, Buelow says that there are only four companies advertising including his, whereas four years ago there were 30. “If you drop out of a publication you’ve advertised in for years, people will start to wonder, ‘Are they out of business?’ You can’t go radio silent.”

While Myers Constructs does more Web-based marketing than anything, Menke says that it works best as a complement to other approaches. “We still do traditional marketing, like targeted mailings around our jobsites,” she says, “but all of the marketing we do is about creating a cloud of recognition around our brand. Being online has created more opportunities for press and for cross-blogging, which has been great.”

—Lauren Hunter, associate editor, REMODELING.

This is a longer version of an article that appeared in the July 2010 issue of REMODELING.