Figuring out who needs a Yellow Pages advertisement

Fewer than 75 percent of contractors spend more than half their entire marketing budgets in the Yellow Pages. To make matters worse, this spending results in just 13.4 percent of HVAC sales. Spending over half and getting back one-seventh in sales doesn't make sense.

Fixing this problem frees up cash for more rewarding marketing campaigns and forces creativity and results. But first, you must ask, "What is the problem with your current Yellow Pages ad?"

It's not the medium. The Yellow Pages is the book of choice for tens of millions of demand-service customers. Nearly 10 million shopped the Yellow Pages for replacement systems last year.

It's not that they don't buy. More than 50 percent of Yellow Pages shoppers buy within 48 hours.

And you're certainly not underspending. Contractors rank ninth in overall spending categories.

Finally, it's not because there's too much competition in the Yellow Pages, although that doesn't help.

The problem is the ad itself! Even though you rank ninth in spending, your results aren't even listed in the Top 150 categories! Specifically, the problem is the ad's message and layout.

A Yellow Pages ad designer hacks out six to 10 ads per day. You think your HVAC business gets special treatment by an expert in your industry? Hardly. Your ad cannot and does not stand out in any way that is discernable to a prospect.

Penguins, flaming letters

Open up the Yellow Pages. All you see are penguins, polar bears, icy or flaming letters, and the overused phrase, "For all your heating and cooling needs."

Your Yellow Pages ad should convey benefits using a real headline (not your company name) and be focused on prospects' convenience, value and comfort. Nothing else.

The next big area of ad concern is how much you spend. The Yellow Pages is a fabulous place to get leads, but overspending here is rampant and risky.

Calculate a one-minute Yellow Pages spending formula. Take the amount of your business mix that is service volume (example: 30 percent). Multiply that by 110 percent (example: 30 percent times 110 percent equals 33 percent.)

Do you spend less than this and still have good business growth? Great.

Marketing types

What kind of marketer are you? Most HVAC contractors overspend by thousands on the wrong message.

High-growth, aggressive companies spend 8 percent to 10 percent on marketing and achieve fantastic results. Moderate-growth companies spend 5 percent to 7 percent to earn nice, steady new customers while fully massaging their customer base. Conservative companies should spend 3.5 percent to 5 percent and squeeze significant sales and leads.

Do you want aggressive results from a conservative budget? Don't we all? But marketing is responsible for virtually all of your incoming leads and resulting sales. Isn't it worth only getting 10 to 20 times your money back?

Where to spend

Where should you funnel your media dollars? After Yellow Pages spending, consider the following:

- Newspaper ads should be about 25 percent of the moderate budget.

- Direct-mail spending should account for about 21 percent of the moderate budget. Spread it between letters (direct response for replacements, retention of new homeowners and referral requests) and post cards. Use post cards to create more service leads.

- Newsletters are the best marketing investment, worth 8 percent of the moderate budget. Professional newsletters sent two to four times a year to check-writing customers are an incredible bargain. Do not make it a pure sales piece or it's going in the trash. Be informative and use psychological sales triggers.

- Radio ads should be about 10 percent of the budget. If you repeatedly pound your message, the audience will remember it. Only do direct response on radio if you have a sister campaign in print.

- Television spending should be about 4 percent of the budget unless you're buying really cheap cable TV rates. Deals are out there. It's the same advice with radio. But don't try to be funny unless you are funny. Be professional.

- Telephone soliciting requires that you be smart. Have polite professionals use a singular greeting, be able to sell appointments, fix complaints and know how to traffic calls like a magician. This is a no-cost media that can kill you if done wrong.

- The Internet is another no-cost media. Be fresh, entertaining and above all, have a way to capture e-mail addresses or you're goofing up big time. Sell using information.

- Alternatives include billboards, church bulletins, van signage, etc. These are only worth 4 percent of the budget.

Your media and message work as a team to create tremendous leads, image, credibility and perceived value. Your marketing can result in massive leads, sales and profit, if done right. Get a plan. Plug in the right ads. Then watch your phone and cash registers ring.