Have you ever spent money on advertising for naught?

You know what I mean. You got nada for your investment. Zilch. Zippo.

At best, your investment brought you a couple of lukewarm leads, a tire kicker or two and a handful of price shoppers who weren’t worth the time you spent talking to them.

Where’d It Go Wrong?

Let the finger-pointing begin. Did the advertisement go to the wrong people? Was it a poorly written piece? Did it manage to separate you from your competition? Did it do anything to pre-qualify your prospects? Were your expectations unrealistic?

Tami Hernandez stressed an important point in her January 2008 Construction Business Owner article titled “Niche Marketing Strategies for the Construction Business Owner:”

Once you’ve gathered the necessary business intelligence and developed your database of qualified prospects, it all comes down to persuasive and informative messaging. Take the time and invest the necessary resources into crafting your messaging, making sure you’re addressing the hot-button issues of your niche and clearly delineating your company’s unique value proposition.

The hardest part of advertising is that your message must hit your target’s emotional bull’s-eye instantly! You must grab their attention right from the beginning.

You Must Be on Target

No matter how perfect your list, no matter how perfect your timing and no matter how well-suited your chosen medium (TV, radio, yellow pages, door hangers, etc.), if your advertising message isn’t on target, you’re blowing a bunch of money.

Your prospects have very short attention spans. You’ve got to grab their attention, and do it quickly. You can’t throw the kitchen sink at them. They’ll lose interest and tune you out (which means wasted $$$). You must figure out the issue they care the most about, the one that bothers them the most or they fear the most. Then, you’ve got to come up with a catchy way to express that you understand the issue is important to them and you will fix it for them.

That’s why must you to construct your advertising message. You have to build it through a systematic process. The odds of you sitting around your desk and coming up with the right message? Slim to none. The odds of your team locking itself in a conference room for eight hours and coming up with the right message? Slim to none. The odds of your best customers clueing you in to the right message? A stone cold, dead lock, sure thing.

10 Steps to Help You Construct Your Message

Review your customer list and identify the ones who really represent the type of customer you want to build your business around.

Select at least five customers you believe will meet with you and be blunt about your services.

Take each out for coffee or lunch. Ask them what they value most about your service, what specific problems you solve and what problems they have experienced with previous contractors.

Look for the common threads. Find the pains they can’t stand and appear willing to pay a premium price to get rid of those pains.

Identify your target’s most emotional problem—the bull’s eye you’re trying to hit. Discuss it with your team.

When it’s time to choose which problem to place your bets on, it’s your call. This is your business, and it’s your money. Go with your gut feeling even if it disagrees with everyone else in the room.

Lock your team up in the conference room and start brainstorming about catchy marketing messages. If you are going to use a marketing consultant, include him or her in this meeting. Now’s the time for your consultant to earn his or her fees.

Think of the benefits of removing your customer’s common pain (i.e., what your customer gains when you remove the pain).

Look through the yellow pages and search the Internet (www.thebluebook.com is a great place to start). Look at the wording used by other companies who perform your trade. Jot down any that apply to the problem you’re addressing.

Create a list of headlines that may invoke interest and intrigue—headlines that grab people’s attention. Everything falls out of the headline. Your marketing consultant better be able to come up with several headlines and catch phrases.

Have Fun with the Message

Here’s a tip that I’ve always found helpful: Have fun! For example, when I was coming up with a name for my website, I purposely started goofing around with crazy names until I hit on www.FilthyRichContractor.com. Hardly anybody forgets it once they’ve heard it. I never would have thought of it if I hadn’t purposely gotten a little stupid.

So, let your hair down—no holds barred. Throw out a bunch of zany ideas, then sort through them. Come up with three or four you think might work and test them.

To give you an inkling of the importance of testing, marketing experts will be the first to tell you that the right headline will improve prospect response by a factor of ten! In other words, if one out of 100 are responding to your present headline and you tweak it just right, ten out of 100 will start responding. That means the return on your advertising investment is suddenly ten times higher. 

Insider Secrets

Here are a couple of insider secrets you should keep in mind as you work on your advertising message:

You know your customers better than your advertising consultant knows them.

Look beyond the quality of work. Focus your interviews on your customer’s building experience.

Once you’ve got a handful of candidate messages: test, test, test.

Advertising agencies want you to believe the key to advertising success is creativity—fat chance. The key to advertising success is methodically figuring out what your customers’ top priority is and constructing a message that triggers an emotional response to pick up the phone and call you.

Differentiate Yourself

Let’s look at an example and take on one of the most difficult businesses to differentiate: Assume you are a commercial general contractor that goes by the name of Build Right Construction. Your advertising goal is to generate leads that may be converted into negotiated contracts.

The list of possible customer concerns is almost endless:

  • Job over budget
  • Job way under budget
  • Inappropriate quality
  • Late completion
  • Accidents
  • Design doesn’t produce needed functionality
  • Unpleasant relationship between design team and builder
  • Unpleasant relationship with construction team
  • Poor communication
  • Change orders
  • The punch list process
  • Subcontractor complaints
  • Liens and lawsuits
  • Aggressive billing
  • Warranty problems
  • Green construction
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Unreliable

You can’t solve all of these problems. Crafting a message that tries to capture all of these problems is a waste of time. You need to narrow your focus.

For example, one of the ten biggest general contractors in the nation has built its sales and marketing message around rapid completion. They don’t promise to make all of the other problems go away. For that matter, many are almost guaranteed to crop up due to the accelerated schedules. They chase clients whose top priority is fast completion.

Back to our example. You looked over your client list and met five for lunch. They told you the reason they hired your firm is that you got their jobs done with the least amount of hassle. The first thing we notice is that your clients appear willing to pay for better service as long as that service makes their life easier. Notice they didn’t focus on quality, on-time completion or getting the most for their buck. No, they mentioned hassle.

That means your message needs to focus on simplifying the life of your clients. Apparently, that’s what your company is better at and has built a reputation for…whether you knew it or not.

Now do your research. Look over the websites of general contractors. Many can be found through www.thebluebook.com and www.maps.google.com. Go to www.bizjournals.com and select different cities looking for general contractor ads. If you happen to be a member of The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), log on to their website (www.agc.org) and look through their membership roster.

Go to your library and look through the advertisements of regional real estate and development magazines. Print out or copy every decent marketing message you find that applies to hassle-free construction.

Here was a particularly pointed slogan I found on the web: “The Hassle Free Way to Build!” Since we are trying to market to prospects who hate hassles, that pretty much sums it up.  We need multiple messages to test. Here are a few we could try:

  • “When you’ve got better things to do than baby-sit your new building, call Build Right.”
  • “We know building a building is painful. Let us handle the headaches so you don’t have to.”
  • “When you’re ready for a pain-free project, turn to Build Right!”

You get the idea. 

Whether you want to reduce your advertising expenditures by 90 percent or you want to generate ten times more leads, hitting on the exact headline and message is worth the effort of constructing it.

Construction Business Owner, March 2008