Editor's Note: In keeping with the electronic topic of this article, all interviews were conducted via e-mail and all images collected electronically.
More remodelers than ever are increasing their online presence and using technology to improve their brand awareness, keep in contact with past clients and reach out to new prospects early on in the buying process.
Through the use of enhanced Web site features, e-newsletters, blogs and more, remodelers are setting a professional tone for their business in innovative ways that can improve the return on investment for their marketing dollar.
"E-marketing is a great investment for remodeling companies because their clients are living in today's technology driven world," said Cindy Shearer, account supervisor at Henke & Associates, a marketing and advertising consultant in Cedarburg, Wis. "The worldwide community uses the viral Web 2.0 as its resource for information, searching and more. Without the use of online resources, a company would be behind the curve. E-marketing actually increases interaction with clients. It all leads to better relationships."
Companies like Henke, which offer complete design and creative marketing development services, are common everywhere in the U.S. nowadays. But it's important to go into the process knowing what your options are for building an online presence and improving brand awareness.
Here are just some of the ways remodelers are optimizing their investment and increasing their marketing reach online.
It's not enough anymore just to have a functioning Web site. More consumers than ever before are turning to the Internet as they begin the process of researching and making choices about remodeling.
Very often, they start the search for a remodeler by simply typing the words "kitchen remodeling Indianapolis" or a similar phrase into Google, Yahoo or MSN. The results that appear on the left-hand side are ranked in order of relevance using search engine optimization. The higher on the page your ranking, the more likely that consumer will click over to your Web site instead of the competition's. Needless to say, getting ranked high is a priority today, and any E-media marketing consultant can aid in this endeavor.
Francis Harvey & Sons, a residential remodeling firm in Worcester, Mass., recently revamped its Web site to include video. It now hosts videos of testimonials from past clients, case studies of completed projects, its ugly bath contest and more. It provides the type of experience online that helps set Francis Harvey & Sons apart from its competition.
"I wanted a site that would offer the level of electronic sophistication that our clients are used to," said Sheila Fitzgerald, marketing director for Francis Harvey. "In our part of Massachusetts, there are a high number of high-tech and bio-tech companies, along with a large concentration of doctors, with the University of Massachusetts Medical School being located in Worcester and all of the major Boston hospitals in our geographic range. All of these clients are very comfortable with the web and use it often."
Fitzgerald used a phone call tracking service to keep track of how many calls were coming in using a dedicated number on the Web site. She found that even though prospects claimed they found Francis Harvey through a friend or an ad, if they called the Internet only phone number, she knew they had checked out their Web site before deciding to schedule an appointment.
"This told me how important it was to have a Web site that was not only visually appealing but provided useful content as well," Fitzgerald said. "Some people say, 'don't have too much up there [on the Web site]; we want them to call us.' But we don't believe that. If you don't have a great site, they may just never call, and you've missed an opportunity. If we position ourselves as the experts and provide information the way these Web-savvy clients are most comfortable — video testimonials, blogs, etc. — I think they are more likely to call."
Steve Gray Renovations in Indianapolis is a three-year-old company that has made its E-marketing campaign a priority from the start. The site was voted Best Remodeling Web site by the Builders Association of Greater Indianapolis last December, and the team has entered into a partnership with the local NBC affiliate television station to host a related Web site that will link to Gray's site. The partnership has the potential to drive 700,000 visitors per month to Gray's site from the partnered site.
One of the unique features of Gray's site is the Flash Player videos and picture slide shows of current projects as they progress through production. This gives Gray the ability to show the professionalism, construction quality and attention to detail his company offers.
"We realize the importance of giving good, current, information, and we continually update the content and projects on our Web site," said company President Steve Gray. "We use Flash Player video to show what we do and how we do it. This gives us the opportunity to show people, in real time, how projects evolve. We are able to show the quality and craftsmanship that goes into every project we undertake."
Jake Schloegel, owner of Schloegel Design Remodel in Kansas City, began writing a blog for his company Web site five years ago. The strategy was conceived by a consultant who was working on his marketing plan and Web site, and now both he and one of his designers are writing blogs on the site.
"He thought that blogs were the future," Schloegel recalls. "He thought it would help us move up the chain on search engines, create a buzz since we would be the first remodeler in the area with a blog and help establish me as an expert in the field."
The blogs have helped Schloegel maintain the No. 1 position on Google searches for kitchen, bath and addition remodels in the Kansas City area. Schloegel handles his blog in a question-and-answer format, where he answers two to three real questions per week from visitors to his site.
"I do answer all of them, usually within a week," he says. "I have no idea where these people with questions come from. My gut feeling is that vast majority are coming from well outside our market area. I do not do it for any immediate results but rather to position my company and myself as a resource for homeowners who need to ask an expert any question on remodeling."
Riggs Construction & Design has positioned itself as one of the St. Louis area's premier remodelers based on the branding it does through its Web site. One of the company's missions is to build its brand by becoming an information provider to the public. By educating visitors to its site about the process of remodeling, Riggs not only builds trust with prospects but finds they attend the sales call better understanding what to expect when they do business with Riggs.
"Knowing that a substantial number of our audience is made up of busy people who are on-the-go, we wanted to give those folks a new and entertaining way to receive information," says Amie Riggs Swarts, vice president/sales and marketing manager.
Each of Riggs' podcasts focuses on a specific type of remodeling project, including second-story additions and kitchens.
"In addition, because I personally record each of them, the podcasts themselves begin the process of forming a relationship between the listener and Riggs," Riggs Swarts says.
Though the podcasts themselves are not expected to provide direct sales leads, she says the increased brand awareness and ongoing dialog they create with past clients has resulted in increased repeat and referral business.
Electronic newsletters are slowly but surely taking the place of more costly direct mail campaigns as the best way for remodelers to keep in contact with past clients as well as prospect new ones.
By collecting e-mail addresses of all past clients and buying local lists of demographically appealing prospects, remodelers can avoid the rapidly rising production and postage costs associated with traditional snail-mail marketing efforts.
Steve Gray has found it as a way to optimize the effectiveness of his Web site, driving traffic to the site with video links, a message from the president and more content. The newsletter goes out to roughly 7,500 addresses monthly.
"After receiving such great feedback for our Web site, we decided to implement a monthly newsletter," says Gray. "We wanted a way to stay in front of our clients, provide useful information and show off some of the cool projects that we do."
Bartelt Filo's e-newsetter just won the gold award from the Sales and Marketing Achievement Awards, sponsored by the Metropolitan Builders Association in Wisconsin. The Menomonee Falls, Wis., remodeler has put a lot of resources into its Web site, and like Steve Gray, found that having a strong E-newsletter was the best way to drive people to the site. Bartelt Filo staff collected many e-mail addresses at a local consumer home show to supplement its past client list and those in the "developing project" pipeline, a list of prospects they have talked to that are thinking of doing a project at some future date.
"The e-newsletter is just a better option to keep our potential clients engaged," says Sandy Borkovetz, marketing director for Bartelt Filo. "It will also save a few thousand dollars a year in postage. We currently have almost $9 million of potential work in our developing pipeline, so it is extremely important not to forget about marketing to them just because your active pipeline looks great. Marketing to that developing pipeline is as important as it is to capture that attention of a new client."
For links to the Web sites in this article and other resources on electronic marketing, visit www.housingzone.com/e-marketing.