Here's the big question: Is the home improvement marketing you're doing actually relevant? Does it scratch an itch? All too often, home improvement companies water down their marketing trying to answer questions that consumers aren't even asking. For instance, do they really want to know if you offer the best service around? Do they care if you're family owned and operated? Will they drop whatever they're doing because you guarantee the lowest price? Do you think it matters a lot to them that your company has been in business since before the Civil War?

Marketing starts with feeling and need is, specifically, the feeling it starts with. People care about what they need. What they may want to know about your product and your company is whether or not you have what they need and if you do can it can make a difference in their lives. Take for instance the cost of heating and cooling the home. We run a TV commercial that features a woman opening her electricity bill. First a stunned look crosses her face. Then she hits the floor in a dead faint. We run another ad in which a man opens his electricity bill and the toupee he's wearing flies off his head. The voiceover says: Is your electric bill causing you to flip your wig?

Somewhere in the Cycle

Humor gets people's attention. It makes them take the first look. Need makes them take the second look. And whenever those commercials run, we make sure that the phones are well-staffed because we get a huge influx of calls. It's all hands on deck.

But though we lead off with humor, our marketing message nonetheless addresses what it is that people are immediately concerned with: saving money on ever-rising fuel and electricity bills. We're talking about them, not us. Smart marketing will always talk about the customer first; mediocre marketing will plug the company first.

The homeowner's needs are the most relevant thing home improvement companies can discuss with customers right now. If homeowners are interested in saving energy because it's so hot outside, then that's the itch you must scratch by explaining how you can make their life better by increasing their energy efficiency, lowering their high energy bills, and saving them money. If, on the other hand, it's a curb appeal itch — say they want to give the whole house a fresh look with new siding — then promote your color and style options, design features, and freedom from maintenance.

We also recognize that not everybody is ready to buy. If you did a study today, maybe 2% of the people you talked to would say they woke up thinking they're going to buy windows from whatever company gets in touch with them first. So we use our advertising to drive people to our website where we offer free information downloads. A lot of people aren't in the market now, but they will be at some point and they need more information about a product or a company. Going to our website and downloading that information is a low-risk way for prospects to try us out.

We also keep past customers in the information loop, offering an annual promotion in the winter months featuring special discounts only for past customers.

Steady Wins the Race

Staying in touch with past and future customers and reaching them with engaging messages that speak to their needs is critical because the biggest challenge for home improvement marketers today is avoiding the peaks and valleys of lead generation. A consistent lead flow throughout the month, and the year, allows you to predict sales and revenue. And if you can predict sales and revenue, then you can better manage the growth of your company.

A second issue is keeping everybody rolling in the same direction, and especially in making sure that face-to-face marketers — canvassers, show and events demonstrators — stay oriented toward their goals. A marketing manager's challenge is to unify the team. If you can do that, there isn't anything you can't do.

But it starts with getting people interested. So if your marketing contains phrases such as "greatest service," "lowest prices," and "been in business since 1855," I have two words for you: Stop now.

Scratch the itch.

—Daniel Gallegly is the marketing director for Durante Windows and Siding, a Big50 award-winning remodeler in Birmingham, Ala., that specializes in replacement windows, siding, decks, and patio products. Reach him at: [email protected]