Last month in this space, I reviewed a series of market projections for 2014 from Harvard University as well as the industry’s leading associations.
16 tips for successful e-marketing
How remodelers are successfully leveraging social media and the Web
YouTube, Facebook, SEO, paid search, organic search, fan, like, poke, tweet, Yelp, Digg, hashtag – it’s easy for the world of e-marketing to seem overwhelming and foreign.
The reality, though, is that successful e-marketing relies on many of the same tactics as traditional marketing, just with a few new ones thrown in. We talked to several remodelers, consultants and other experts to find out what works, what doesn’t work and how remodelers can cut through the noise.
These 16 tips may not solve all your problems, but they should make the world of e-marketing a little easier to navigate. The biggest opportunities are in social media, so the majority of these tips have at least some social media applications.
It’s a relationship building medium
Most remodelers are rightfully proud of their high rate of repeats and referrals. Whether its 50, 70 or 95 percent, those leads are coming from the relationships you’ve built through quality construction, good customer service and networking. Social media is merely the latest extension of networking.
“It’s akin to what all of us do day-to-day in our businesses locally,” says Christopher Wright, president of WrightWorks, a full-service remodeler in Indianapolis.
Just like he wants to be in the community groups and other organizations his potential clients belong to, Wright says it’s important to do the same in the digital world.
“Those kind of relationship concepts are very translatable to social media,” he says. “You get to know someone and hopefully by getting to know someone you get access to their own network.”
Educate the client, don’t sell them
Well before they contact you directly, the average client has done hours of research online about the products they need, whether its windows or faucets. Establishing yourself as an expert can pay dividends, especially in a price-conscious category like window replacement.
“We don’t compete on price — we are usually at the high-end,” says Jake Zahnow, president of WindowPRO, which has four locations in Ohio and Michigan. “We have to have an informed customer to differentiate us.”
To that end, WindowPRO posts information on its website and Facebook pages that is relevant to the client, whether or not they hire the company, such as information about tax credits, energy efficiency and the current regulatory environment.
“Obviously, our goal is to create a page that increases sales opportunities, but also is a reference for people looking for industry information,” Zahnow says.
Harness the power of review sites
Just because you choose not to participate in social media doesn’t mean the Web is going to ignore you. Review sites like Angie’s List, Yelp and a plethora of other national and local ones give clients the opportunity to spread the word — good or bad — about your firm.
These sites tend to be highly search optimized, so those reviews will show up pretty high in search results, especially if you’re not participating in a lot of online activities. That makes it doubly important to address any complaints.
“A lot of times there’s a way to respond to the customer directly and publicly, so you can resolve their issue where everyone can see you’re giving them good customer service,” says marketing consultant Rob McChane. “Don’t worry about one or two bad reviews … you just want to publicly resolve those things so people can see that you take care of issues.”
Know your keywords
You can’t outsmart Google — there are people trying everyday — but you can take advantage of the search behemoth’s resources to improve your search engine optimization.
Google AdWords’ free keyword tool allows you to see how popular a search term is. This can help you decide what words to use in your blogs, social media posts or on your website. For example, in November more than 10 times as many people searched for “remodeling” versus “remodeler.”
That’s just one example of the free tools Google offers. Still, search engine optimization can be a full-time job, so it may make sense to …
Hire an expert
Google is constantly changing its search algorithms. Most remodelers don’t have time to keep up with it, and getting help is pretty inexpensive.
“It got to be pretty challenging,” says remodeler Chris Landis, who used to manage his own SEO efforts before hiring an outside consultant. “There’s a lot to keep track of and how to optimize it.”
Landis Construction, a design/build firm in Washington, D.C., generates 30 to 40 percent of its leads from its website, which has been in place since the late ‘90s. The company spends about $300 a month with its SEO expert, a minimal investment for the traffic it generates.
Just make sure you hire the right person. Don’t assume the company that designed your website can also handle your SEO. Just like remodelers, every Web company has its specialty, Landis says.
Boost your SEO with social media
Sharing links to your site directly benefits your page ranking (the likelihood clients will find you) on Google, Bing and other search engines. The more you can post on Twitter, Facebook, etc., and have those links shared, the higher weight the search engines will give your site.
AK Home Renovations in Atlanta extensively uses social media to drive traffic to its website and President Ed Cholfin’s blog.
“We have found that social media has helped us as far as our search engine ranking,” says Emily Smith, the company’s marketing communications manager. “When you search, a lot of our social media stuff comes up.”
The search engines also give it more weight if the person who “retweets” the article is more influential – i.e. has a lot of followers. So if you can just get Ashton Kutcher to post about your remodel, you’re golden.
Encourage external links
Whenever possible, try to get links to your site from other sites. Whether it’s a post on a local blog about replacing a faucet or an article about your latest project on HousingZone.com, those external links not only give potential clients more places to find you, they also boost your SEO rankings.
“All of those things get indexed out there,” says Wright. “I’ve seen my search engine results benefit from links that I get from industry sites, from articles that appear in magazines. The more positive things that are about you and link to you, the more likely you are to be delivered to someone by a search engine.”
Separate the personal and public
When getting started with social media, think long and hard if you want to mix your personal and business lives. Many people choose to have two separate accounts on social media sites – one for friends and family, one for their professional lives.
Understand the power and problems of social media
Social media is an easy, inexpensive way to market your firm. But it’s also a very unforgiving medium. Anything you post – or is posted about you – can show up in a Web search, even years later.
“All of these things exist forever, so you have to be very careful,” Wright says. “Joking around, making a little comment, you never know who might see it.”
If you wouldn’t want your clients to see it, don’t post it, says Walt Denny, president of Walt Denny, Inc., a public relations firm in Hinsdale, Ill. Denny says his own company made a decision not to hire a potential account supervisor after checking out his Facebook page.
“Watch out what you put on there,” he says. “Pictures, words, still come up on a Google search years later.”
Have a social media policy
With No. 9 in mind, a remodeling firm should think about implementing a social media policy for its employees, for both corporate and personal accounts. Even on their own time, you don’t want employees making derogatory statements about your clients.
Denny relates the experience of a business associate of his who runs an aviation company that sells and leases airplanes, where an employee embarrassed the company by posting on he personal Facebook page about the “snobs” she had to deal with as customers.
“Employees are probably using social media from a personal standpoint and they need to remember that part of their agreement with that remodeling company is that anything they put on their Facebook page or tweet should be in line with a policy — you’re positive, you never say anything disparaging about a customer, you maintain the customer’s right to privacy,” Denny says.
Take advantage of free advice
There is a ton of free information out there on improving your SEO or your social media strategy. When AK Complete Home Renovations was trying to ratchet up it’s SEO, the employees took advantage of a number of free webinars. A lot of the information was repetitive, but there were also some good nuggets of information, Smith says.
“If they offered anything free, we would do it,” she says. “We would do that with many people, and if someone really had something different to say, that’s what we wanted and we could talk to them some more.” (Try going to Google and typing in “social media webinar” for a wealth of options.)
Create video testimonials
It used to be that the only reason to make a video of your clients was if you were running an expensive television campaign. Now, with a simple Flip camera and YouTube, you can send your video message out to the world. Having satisfied clients record a short message can be an easy way to spread the word about your company.
“The sign in the yard in the ‘90s, that’s the video testimonial today,” says Denny.“That’s a tremendous way to participate in social media. The people that are 40 and under, they’re used to seeing all of their peers on television as they find their first house or they flip their second house, so they’re probably going to pretty open to that.”
Run a sweepstakes
A good way to leverage social media to collect customer information is to run a contest. WindowPRO runs a quarterly sweepstakes where the company gives away $10,000 worth of Marvin Infinity windows.
“Clearly, we get names and people that come to our site or our Facebook page … get a positive impression of WindowPRO,” says Zahnow. “We find that offering a contest gives us an opportunity to talk to some people.”
The company doesn’t do any cold-calling, only “permission-based” marketing, so collecting those names is an important goal. The leads that come from the contest are actually good quality, Zahnow says.
“Usually the person that enters in the contest has a need,” he says. “Now whether they can afford it or whether our product is a good fit, we can’t totally qualify.”
Put away your sales pitch and join in the conversation online. People don’t want to hear a marketing message. If you do good work and have good people working for you, that message is the one that will come through
“The things that I’ve seen that have been the most successful are people being who they are,” Wright says. “Over time, you really do get a sense of who someone is and the more genuine you are, the more it connects. The biggest thing for me is to try to project, to be who we are.”
Have a plan
Remodelers should have a strategy about what they want to put out through social media and how it’s going to get done.
“We have to be creating content constantly,” Smith says. “We try to think about it in advance and set it up strategically so it doesn’t take too much time.”
Denny recommends having one person who is the point person for social media efforts. If that person is not the company owner, they should be meeting with him or her on a regular basis.
“The owner would always want to have a supervisory role even if he or she is not tweeting or posting,” he says. “They should … always know what’s going on, because it’s a reflection of the business whether it’s good or bad.”
Hiring a recent college graduate can be an inexpensive way to execute a social media strategy.
“They understand the tactics,” Denny says. “With a good, savvy marketing director who understands the industry and the principles of building brands, that’s really a good combination.”
You can’t do everything
It’s nearly impossible to do everything in e-marketing without devoting an incredible amount of resources. All the remodelers we talked to are doing a lot, but have made choices about what to do and what not to do.
“There are so many new sites all the time and so many new things popping up, there’s definitely a mentality of ‘We have to be on Twitter, we have to have a Facebook page,’ as opposed to looking at your business strategically,” McChane says. “You can get social media overload, doing five, six, seven different things poorly rather than taking one or two and owning them.”