Itried a little experiment recently, sending my staff online to check out websites from various industries, including companies in the HVAC market, sheet metal works and ductwork fabrication industries.

No surprises: Most of the websites looked pretty much the same. Same approach, same photos, same phrases. It was hard to find one that didn’t boast about preventative maintenance, for example. It’s a good thing I didn’t really have to choose one — because each sounded just like the next.

It’s a competitive world out there, and standing out has only gotten tougher. To succeed today in the sheet metal or HVAC sales industries, you need to use print and social media to differentiate your company. Yet most companies sound the same, offline and online. Is your marketing up to the job? Do you set yourself apart from the pack?

To stand out, you need to follow three key marketing steps:

 

Market

Determine who the “hungry fish” are. Who is searching for what you have to offer? Of those, who are the best prospects for your company?

But beyond the “who,” you also need to know the “why.” Once you understand why they are dissatisfied — what they’re not getting elsewhere and how they are frustrated — then you can build your messaging around satisfying them. Every good salesperson knows it’s easier to sell people something they already want. Think about it. If you’re selling hamburgers, who are your best prospects? People who are starving! The same is true for sheet metal and HVAC. You want to sell the “hungry fish” what they really want, so you need to start by understanding what they want. 

This is where specializing comes into play. Start by understanding whether you are business-to-business (B2B) focused or business-to-consumer (B2C) focused.

If you are B2B, you shouldn’t be going after every construction company. Define and narrow it — are you going after commercial, industrial or residential contractors? Which kind of company do you want to target? Yes, you want companies who aren’t looking for the cheapest products, but what size of company is ideal for you? How big is too big? How small is too small?

You can’t appeal to everyone, so decide on your ideal in terms of company revenue, years in operation and number of employees. And are you targeting a specialized industry? For example, if you target companies that do standing-seam metal roofing, which is very specialized, it’s probably best not to prioritize startups. That’s because startups will often have great difficulty breaking into the market and closing deals.

If you’re targeting residential HVAC, keep in mind that there are anticipated fluctuations in the coming year. You may want to give consideration for targeting geographic areas that were less impacted by uncontrollable factors that affected the industry, like economic challenges — which hit some parts of the country harder than others —  or weather — for example, areas hit badly by severe snowstorms may be a little behind on residential construction.

If your company is focused on B2C efforts, you’ll also need to be specific. When targeting your hungry fish, you will want to learn where they live, as well as their age, gender, race, marital status, family size and household income. Your goal is to know everything you can about your ideal target market so you can best understand their wants — which leads me to the next point.

What’s their “pain”? What challenges are your hungry fish dealing with? What’s keeping them up at night? Once you've identified their greatest concerns, you can describe the solution — and that’s what you do.

 

Message

The next step is defining your message. Every company can talk about their experience, their products and their great employees. But far too often, this ends up with a “generic” message that sounds like everyone else. The result is that you end up with the “lowest common denominator” — and that means competing on price.

You don’t want to engage in that battle, where you have to lower your rates in order to win customers. You can’t win that game. The sheet metal industry is expected to pick up in the coming years as the economy continues to rebound, but competition from larger companies can threaten your success. Competing on price is simply not the solution.

Instead, start by focusing on creating your “big zig.” Here’s what this means: when your competitors are “zagging,” how can you be “zigging”? What makes your company dramatically different? Today, many companies are talking about energy efficiency, which is very appealing, but make sure your message is clear and resonant, and preferably one with an emotional appeal.

Sometimes, it’s the little things — the nuances, which set you apart — so spend time to scrutinize why your company or your products and services are so much better than others.

Within all of your materials, from your website to your print ads, incorporate testimonials, demonstrations or affiliations. What are often missing from websites are front-and-center testimonials from satisfied customers. People are impatient though, so a short 45-second video will often do. Just don’t bury it so that it’s hard for people to find. Likewise, in print ads, always find room for one or two customer quotes.

Sometimes, a guarantee will help. If you can offer one, include it as a way to stand apart and to create greater confidence with your clients. 

 

Media

This is where you can initiate something now, and something different. One recommendation that has been effective in many industries is micro-publishing. You may already blog now and then or post on social networks occasionally. But take it one step further. Create an e-book that you can promote through your print ads or social media efforts.

This means defining an area within your industry that you already know a lot about, but others know less. Write a book, specific for your company and audience, such as: The Three Secrets HVAC Contractors Haven’t Told You That You Should Know When Choosing a Companyor Top Five Tips to Help You Choose the Best Sheet Metal Companyor What You Can’t Wait Another Day to Know About When it Comes to Air Ducts.

Once you have determined your market and your message, micro-publishing is worth exploring, because if you don’t, your competitors will race ahead of you.

Yes, marketing takes a little bit of effort. But it’s worth the work to grow a healthy, strong business that will succeed now and in the future.

 

Jon Goldman is the CEO of the business strategy firm Brand Launcher (www.brandlauncher.com). He is the author of two works on business and marketing topics, including one that has been translated into Japanese. Get a free copy of his latest e-book, Vendor-to-Expert,at www.VendortoExpert.com.