Have you stayed up-to-date on the breakthrough marketing methods the Internet has unleashed? If not, you'd better get with the program.
For lead generation, the Internet has finally become significantly more cost-effective, and therefore offers greater bang for the buck, than printed brochures, jobsite signage, print advertisements and direct mail. Not only that, but the Internet's importance is going to grow significantly over the next ten years as the computer generation moves into their 50s.
Please understand I strongly believe in sending sales professionals out prospecting for business and building relationships. Your business needs to embrace BOTH sales and marketing forcefully.
The Internet Has Changed Everything
If your Internet marketing has been lagging behind, don't sweat it. Most contractors have barely scratched the surface of Internet marketing. You probably have time to catch up and blow by your competition-to position yourself as the most tuned-in, customer-centric contractor serving your area.
Most contractors approach the web with old school strategies. They treat the web as an electronic brochure. In doing so, they leave the door open for competitors (you) who approach the web as a means for connecting with prospects and building the type of relationships that will make them pick up the phone and call you when they need your service.
You can use your website and other online tools to build these relationships and become a part of their lives today.
The Internet Is Unmatched as a Marketing Tool
Here are some of the advantages the Internet has over traditional (outdated) marketing methods.
- It is amazingly affordable.
- You can easily position yourself as the expert in your field.
- You can easily position your company as completely customer-centric.
- You can entertain.
- You can cut off simple, repetitive questions (using a FAQ page).
- You can present endless proof of your superior service (via testimonials).
- You can tell your story visually (with pictures and videos).
- You can speak directly to your customers (with audio).
- You can test the effectiveness of marketing headlines, offers and pitches, and identify the most persuasive.
Think Outside the Box with Relationship Building
The best old-school example I can give you of the type of relationship building to apply on the web would be a radio call-in show hosted by a local business.
My city has two such shows-one hosted by a lawn care contractor and one by a financial advisor. The hosts take calls, give free advice and have frequent guests. Both have built profitable businesses via their shows' popularity.
Find such a show and block out time for it. If you don't have a local one, check your public radio channel. Public radio has several shows of this type running on Saturday.
Pull out a notepad and listen to at least one entire show. Pay close attention to how the hosts connect with their audience. Note how they establish credibility while showing extreme concern for their audience's well-being.
Write down your insights. Apply them to the web. Your notes will probably include:
- Give helpful advice.
- Let your personality shine through.
- Show you care.
Be Sticky: Hold Their Attention
Rich Schefren, a famous consultant whose work is the cutting edge of direct-response marketing, hit the nail on the head in his report, "The Attention Age Doctrine." He said, "We are no longer in the Information Age. We are now in the Attention Age."
The rules of the Information Age no longer apply. The Attention Age operates on a completely different set of rules:
- Marketing materials must grab attention quickly.
- Never, ever waste your prospect's time.
- Never, ever confuse or bore your prospect.
According to Schefren, in order to truly connect with your market you need to master the traits displayed by people with Attention Deficit Disorder.
Few prospects have unlimited attention spans. Your website must be sufficiently interactive to keep visitors drawn in and returning for more.
Here are a few additional rules of thumb that apply to online marketing:
- Be funny-make them smile.
- Get them to agree with you-make them nod their head.
- Show you are like them and that you care.
- Pass along useful advice and links.
- Don't sell until it's time to sell.
How to Bond with Your Prospect
The Internet provides you with several tools that attract prospects. Here are your five online tools for building relationships:
- Electronic newsletters
- Educational videos
- Special reports
- Surveys and results
I will address blogs in the next section.
An electronic newsletter is similar to a printed newsletter except that it is:
- Nearly free to produce and deliver
- Far easier to pull together
- Delivered automatically and instantaneously via e-mail
You should strive to send out your newsletter at least monthly. Preferably, send one every two to three weeks. It doesn't have to be long-just worth the read. Use an auto-responder for list management and newsletter delivery (for example, Aweber.com or ConstantContact.com). You will need a signup form on your home page to collect names and e-mails.
- Educational videos are also relatively easy to create, edit and publish. Visitors love them.
- Keep your videos as short as possible. Three minutes is considered about perfect.
- Show how you do the things customers care about (like safety). Show clients testifying to your greatness. Show off your projects. Show your crews working. The possibilities are endless.
- Use Camtasia Studio or Sony's Movie Studio 9 to produce your videos. Load them onto YouTube.com and insert the YouTube link into your site's HTML code.
4) Special Reports
Special reports are another tried and true method for generating interest and establishing credibility.
Think of a topic that should interest your audience, then search the Internet for PowerPoint presentations, videos and papers that discuss the subject. Create your own report, giving proper reference to your sources, and format it with large fonts, much color and a lot of pictures and graphics-make it available for download.
Another good traffic magnet is the online survey. Many people enjoy filling out surveys and seeing how they compare to everyone else. Use SurveyMonkey.com to make hosting and processing surveys a breeze.
Now that we've touched on four great Internet marketing tools, let's move on to the most powerful and necessary one: The blog.
Use Blogs to Become Part of Their Daily Routine
Blogs (short for weblog) are the ultimate way to build relationships with your prospects.
I met a skylight replacement contractor whose blog generates leads throughout the nation...despite the fact he only serves the Denver area. Wouldn't you love for your website to produce that well?
A blog is an online journal. It is a site within a site. I think of it as a simplified discussion board with one moderator (you).
You post a thought and your readers can post comments on your thought. You can edit or delete their comments to enforce proper behavior and dialogue.
Blogs are expected to be casual-just like a journal. It's a place for you to let your hair down, and you need to. That's the culture of blogging. That's the tone your readers will expect to encounter.
Be forewarned. Blogs can take on a life of their own. Google's search engine loves blogs. Keeping an active blog on your site will move you way up in the search engine results.
Blogs are heavily trafficked. They are the place people tend to go when they are killing time. Typically, the visitor will trip across your site, discover your blog, give it a good once over, then bookmark it when they find it to be (a) entertaining and (b) educational.
Give tips on how to do their job better or how to better work with contractors. Share customer stories. Praise your employees and your great customers. If someone gives you a reference, give them a public "thank you" in your blog. Promote your customers' products and services.
To improve awareness of your blog, post it to several of the popular social sites such as Twitter, Delicious, MySpace, Facebook, Digg and HubSpot.
Get Your Blog Up and Running
Although I have done most of our web work to date, I paid someone to set up our blog the first time and paid them again to move it to a new URL. You should do the same. Find someone who has set up multiple blogs and retain their services.
There are multiple blog platforms out there. Let your chosen IT person use the one she or he is most familiar with. The features are pretty similar across the platforms, so it really boils down to which package is easiest for your IT to support and update.
The tough decision is deciding where to host your blog.
Due to a blog's incredible impact on search engine results (Yahoo, Google, MSN), I recommend installing your blog on your company site. This is not a universally accepted opinion and for good reason.
The downside to installing the blog on your main site is that a blog link acts like a powerful magnet. When people see a blog link, they are driven to click on it. Blog links tend to prevent visitors from reading the rest of your site, at least at first.
My business partner and I discovered this the hard way.
Despite loading up our site with tons of priceless free content, 90 percent of our traffic heads directly to and hangs out on our blog.
Seriously, it's one of the most frustrating headaches of Internet marketing. You create a great website only to discover your visitors go wherever they want. You can't stop it, so take advantage of it.
Since being found by search engines is of great importance, putting your blog on your home page makes the most sense to us. If they like your blog, they spend time cruising the rest of your site.
- Have fun.
- Post frequently.
- Use a casual, appropriate tone-as if you were talking to a friend.
- Create categories and file blog posts accordingly.
- Always list keywords for your blog posts. It helps the search engines.
- Round up guest bloggers. Let your team share the load of writing posts.
- Don't outsource the writing of posts.
I hope you now have a much grander vision of what your website could and should be. Don't be an average Joe by creating an electronic brochure. Set the world on fire with an Internet marketing strategy that will put your competition at a severe disadvantage.
Construction Business Owner, September 2009