This is a test. Go to a search engine and type your company name; you should see your website at the top of the results.
Now type your company name and add the word ‘reviews’; you will likely see your company up there on the first page of the results, but ahead of you will be links to ratings and review sites including Yelp, Google Places, and Angie’s List.
Lastly, do a new search and put the word ‘best’ with your competitive set – ‘best Princeton, N.J. remodeler’ or ‘best siding contractor New England.’ Ratings and opinion sites, as well as coupons, images and demonstration videos will appear.
Here’s the question: are you happy with what you see when you run this test? Chances are you will not be happy with what you see. Chances are that those coupons, ratings, reviews, and videos will not be the kind of message that you’d like to see out there about your company. More likely, they will not include any reference to your company at all.
Social media applications like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, and others have altered forever the way remodelers and contractors market their services. For years now, many top remodelers have successfully used social media tools to extend their online presence beyond their own websites via Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and other Web 2.0 venues. But today it is no longer sufficient to simply extend a small-business brand using social media.
New demands have arisen from the way consumers – your prospects and clients – increasingly rely upon online ratings, reviews and comments to select products and services. Think of it as a large online conversation, one that springs from emerging behaviors and new ways of searching the Web for buying information. As a result, more professional remodelers are joining the conversation. They are reaching deeper and more meaningfully into their target markets, providing information, offering expertise, and in some cases rooting out negative reviews and comments.
To some, joining the conversation presents a daunting challenge. To others, online conversation is a natural extension of the way they have communicated for years. Those who embrace this new reality see an opportunity to burnish their reputation, create awareness for their companies, and ultimately to drive leads for business. They will certainly benefit from the effort. Meanwhile, those who resist social media and online conversation may find it harder to compete in an already tough remodeling market.
The zero moment of truth
Word-of-mouth has always been the No. 1 way for remodelers and contractors to gain new business. It works the old-fashioned way: remodelers with well-earned reputations for fair deals and quality work often get referred via neighbor-to-neighbor and colleague-to-colleague conversations. Many design/build and full-service remodelers in particular – those who require a few large jobs to fill out their work calendars – still boast of their ability to not advertise or spend money on marketing. They proudly rely on positive word-of-mouth to generate referrals and repeat business. But in today’s hyper-connected world, word-of-mouth has advanced well and comments at the end of informational articles have turned the Web into the World Wide Word-of-Mouth.
That is why it makes sense that last year, search giant Google led the way in researching how consumers use the web to gather information before they buy. In research co-sponsored by Shopper Sciences, Google found that the number of sources of information used by consumers to research the products they buy nearly doubled from 5.8 in 2010 to 11.2 in 2011. Google speculates that nearly all of that increase relates to searches from smartphones and other mobile devices. The phenomenon has even been given a name: The Zero Moment of Truth, or ZMOT. Go to a Web browser today and type those four letters and the top result will be a link to a 76-page book from Google called The Zero Moment of Truth.
Those who have studied marketing in college may recall that the textbooks teach a simple three-step model to all marketing. It is a model that has held true over the past 150 years. Step No. 1 is Stimulate. This step involves advertisements and other venues to create awareness for your brand. Step No. 2 is known as the First Moment of Truth. This is where potential customers get to the point of sale and make a decision on what to buy. Retailers often refer to this step as Shelf, because consumers are literally at the store shelf, picking between brands. Step 3 is Experience: was the customer satisfied enough to make them buy again or refer?
With ZMOT, Google is adding a fourth step to the process. Google’s top marketer, Jim Lecinski, who wrote the ZMOT book, asserts that Web search is happening just before the old Step No. 2, First Moment of Truth or Shelf. The Zero Moment of Truth is when a mom searches decongestants on her smartphone before heading off to the pharmacy. It is when an office worker searches prices online before heading to the office supply store to buy paper. Google and Shopper Sciences also found ZMOT searches happen further in advance from the purchase for larger-ticket items like cars and computers than they do for smaller-ticket, retail items like breakfast cereal and deodorant. The research found that for cars and computers, meaningful ZMOT Web searches occur about 6 to 12 months before the actual purchase. Buying decisions for retail items occur within hours or minutes of a purchase.
ZMOT author Leciniski says consumers are conducting these searches as a way to arm themselves for battle, particularly for big-ticket items that are roughly equivalent to embarking on a remodeling project.
“Today a customer will walk into a dealer and say, ‘I want to drive the Lexus 250h with the touring package, the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, dual-zone climate control and tan leather with seat warmers. I have seen the specs and read the reviews online. And I know that the MSRP is $37,125, but your real invoice is $33,686,’” says Lecinski. “What happened? ZMOT happened. If you’ve purchased a car lately, you have seen that woman in the dealership armed with a handful of ZMOT printouts, or showing her smartphone screen to the salesperson. Maybe that person is you.”
Researching remodeling searches
At Professional Remodeler magazine, we wanted to know when ZMOT occurs in the remodeling buying cycle. We theorized that it would be different for each type of remodeling project, depending on the amount of investment required. Because there was no research in the market to help us determine the answer, we partnered with RenovationExperts.com, a Web service that connects consumers with contractors in the United States. Approximately 200 consumers who had hired a contractor through the website from January 2012 to May 2012 provided responses to questions about their Internet searches leading up to hiring of a contractor. And, for the first time, we now have a sense how far out ZMOT occurs with remodeling searches. We also have a sense of the questions they are asking when they go online to research their projects.
It should come as no surprise that larger remodeling projects had the largest average lead times of searches conducted prior to decision time, when consumers reached out to a remodeler and signed a design agreement or contract. Other than searches by consumers looking to build new custom homes and outbuildings, kitchen remodel clients had the longest lead times in their ZMOT searches, with their most meaningful questions coming eight months to a year before they hired a remodeler to do the work. Decks and room additions came next. (See chart Finding ZMOT in Remodeling: lead time of web searches by type of remodeling project).
How to be a part of the conversation
Now that we generally know when consumers go to the Web searching for information about their potential remodeling project, it is equally important to know what questions they are asking at the Zero Moment of Truth. This is more art than science, but most remodelers with experience dealing with remodeling clients have heard the questions before – about colors, about timeframes, about the right appliances and, perhaps most significantly, about design trends. The reason that it is important to know the key questions remodeling clients are asking is that being a part of the conversation means that you’ve got to be the person answering those questions – in blog posts, in video walkthroughs of completed projects, in the captions on photos posted on your Pinterest boards. You may ask: is this really marketing? The answer is yes.
Top Tip: Ask for reviews upfront
Remodeler Mitch Anderson, a blogger for ServiceMagic.com, has developed a strategy of asking for online reviews from his clients before he gets started on a project. It is a pretty simple process:
Step No. 1: Contractor says to the client... “My commitment to you is to make sure that you are completely satisfied with my work. At the end of the project I will be asking you to post a review of my work. Can you do that for me?”
Step No. 2: Client agrees, contractor adds... “Please do me a favor. If at any time during this project you are less than completely satisfied, will you bring it to my attention so I can address it immediately?”
Step No. 3: Contractor completes job, verifies satisfaction and reminds customer of promise to write a review.
A number of positive things are happening in this conversation with a client.
1. Anderson is clearly signaling his commitment to making the customer happy.
2. He gained a commitment to take the time to post a rating and a review.
3. Anderson reset his own intention to satisfy.
4. He gained the client’s agreement to take ownership for bringing any issues to his attention.
5. He verified their satisfaction and reminded the client to follow through.
In the old days, when advertising was the only way for a remodeling company to get its brand and message into the market, the marketer controlled the message. And for years, the goal of good advertising was to interrupt people and get them to pay attention to an ad long enough to properly communicate the message. Today it is important to be seen as an authority who is consistently present with the right answers to key questions.
If a remodeling prospect goes online a year or six months out from embarking on a kitchen remodel, the questions they put into the search bar are likely to be about products and companies. A typical search a few years ago might be “granite” and “Milwaukee” and “Shorewood, Wis.” Back a few years ago, the search results would yield a list of websites of local granite fabricators and kitchen remodelers who used keywords to appear at the top of these queries. Today consumers are going to the web and throwing very long lists of search terms at the Google or Bing search bars. These ‘long-tail’ searches are becoming more common as consumers are realizing that the more they include, the more likely they are to get the information they want. The same search for granite today might be: “granite and remodeler and Milwaukee and shorewood and best and reviews.” Your website is not very likely to appear at the top of this type of search. Instead the consumer will see links to ratings, reviews, articles, blog posts, how-to videos – a plethora of interesting information. To be seen in search results increasingly requires the creation of applicable content in the form of videos, blog posts etc. It also means adroitly handling negative comments and reviews.
Don’t fear bad reviews
Research has shown that only about four percent of the reviews about any given company are negative. That means that 96 percent of all reviews are positive. Many remodelers and contractors are of the opinion that the best policy is to ignore those bad reviews and to let them stand. But social marketing experts do not agree. Instead, negative online reviews should be embraced as an opportunity to turn a negative situation into a positive one, to make it right with the prospective client or customer, whatever their complaint happens to be. The important thing, says Dayn Wilberding, who leads digital creative and digital advertising for Grady Britton, is to make sure that when you do make it right with the consumer or client that it is documented in the same ‘thread’ or conversation. That way people can see that you turned a negative into a positive.
“If you can manage to say, ‘We understand that you are upset,’” says Wilberding, “that has to be your first step. You have everybody looking at that review and you need to take the first step and respond. Then, if you end up turning around that situation into a positive, that, in and of itself, the bad review acknowledges that you are listening, and then turning around and making it right – that is way better than any advertising you would think about buying right now.”
“This opens some doors for the entrepreneur because playing in the Zero Moment of Truth area levels the playing field,” Wilberding explains. “Not all of us can afford a $100,000 TV commercial and play at that level. But a lot of us, if we know what we are talking about, can manage a blog and be an authority in that space. And that is the same level of playing field as your better-funded competition. If you can have those conversations, you can absolutely be a player in this space.” PR