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6 Ways to Market Your CI Business Like a Pro

Marketing is one of those things that confound many of us. How do you do it? Where do you start? How much should you spend? What’s the most effective approach? How much is too much? How do you track results?

Let’s face it, none of us likely got into this business because we loved accounting, inventory management, scheduling, or marketing. We likely got into this business because we loved music or movies, eventually became the local “expert” and started doing installs for friends and family, and the whole passion eventually grew it into a career. At which point we found ourselves forced into becoming “business people.”

And now that we are business people, we have to face facts that part of running a successful business involves marketing, which Wikipedia defines as being “about communicating the value of a product, service, or brand to customers or consumers for the purpose of promoting or selling that product, service, or brand.”

Marketing is one of those things that confound many of us. How do you do it? Where do you start? How much should you spend? What’s the most effective approach? How much is too much? How do you track results?

Unless you are a large company, you probably don’t have—and can’t afford to have—a specific person tasked solely to handling marketing duties. And for years you’ve probably relied on word of mouth to garner new business. And while there is no better referral than one from a satisfied customer, this might not be bringing in as many customers as you would like.

For years, our company’s biggest source of marketing was an ad in the Yellow Pages. We tried billboard advertising once; it was a multi-thousand dollar expense that produced zero tangible results. We’ve sent letters to people pulling building permits. Some companies do radio ads. Others TV spots. Others print ads in community newsletters. What’s best?

Having been involved in the journalism side of this industry for many years, I’ve come to know many marketing pros quite well. One of my favorites is Paul DiComo, who not only knows his way around a wine list at an Italian restaurant but has been involved in the CE industry for 40 years. Paul handled marketing for Definitive Technology and Polk, and now his agency CE Marketing Pros helps companies like NEAR, Mass Fidelity, Vandersteen, and many others.

I spoke to Paul a few weeks ago and asked what marketing tips he would offer to installers. So before you stick one of your techs out in the parking lot with one of those spinning arrows that says, “10% off next custom install!” try these six things Paul suggests!

1) Update Your Website

The odds are good that everyone you do business with, especially prospective clients, will look at your website at some point, and verily they will judge thee by it. As eyes are windows to the soul, so your site is a window to your business. When was the last time you updated your website? Does it look like it was designed in 2001? Are your latest projects highlighted there? Is your phone number in the header of every page? Are you giving visitors an opportunity to leave their email addresses on every page? We could write an entire article about website design best practices for retailers and integrators; maybe another time (check out this article from Ted Green for more on the subject.)

2) Build Your List

Do you have an email list of past and prospective clients? How about local designers, architects, contractors, builders, and real estate agents? Do you have these lists stored in a professional campaign manager platform like MailChimp or MyEmma? It is critical to assemble and constantly update a database of these key contacts so you can keep in touch with them (see next item for more on that). Using Outlook or Apple Mail to manage these databases for email marketing is not the right approach as they cannot measure opens and clicks, nor manage opt outs, signups and comply with anti-SPAM guidelines.

3) Keep in Touch

Now that you have your contacts up to date and on a marketing campaign manager platform, be like water on a rock: Keep in touch regularly with email newsletters. Monthly is the right frequency for most integrators, while bricks and mortar retailers may want to supplement monthly email contact with sale and event messages. Most people do not make major CE purchases every week; they may even go years between purchases. But when the customer wakes up one day and thinks, “Hey it’s time for a new [TV, audio system, home automation, security system, etc.],” you want the first name to come into their head to be yours. It takes regular contact to keep your business’ name at the top of their mind (or at least not buried deeply next to the name of their fourth grade teacher). Same goes for builders, designers, and other trade partners; they need to think of you first when one of their clients is looking for CE products and services.

4) Make Content Relevant and Interesting

There are email newsletters you open and there are those you ignore every time until you eventually opt out. What separates one from the other? Relevance and interest. If all your newsletters are doing is bragging and pitching, “Sale, Sale, SALE!!!” people will tune you out. Of course you want to promote your business with things like “Big sale on demos this week,” or “Our latest home theater project,” but if you mix in content that is educational and/or entertaining more people will look forward to reading your emails rather than deleting them.

“How to” content is always a winner, like “How to get the best picture out of your TV” or “What to do when your internet goes down.” Stories about entertainment are good too, like “Santana performing in (your city) this month,” or “Our five favorite movie scenes for showing off a home theater system.” Be sure to include content that piques interest in new products and technologies.

5) Don’t Forget Snail Mail

It is easy to forget about print media in this digital age, but you shouldn’t. Mail volume has dropped off so much in recent years that your flyer will stand out rather than being lost in a sea of junk mail as in days past. Work with a professional direct-mail house to target the right neighborhoods and demographics for your goods and services. Of course new homebuyers are prime targets.

6) Be Patient

Don’t expect instant results from direct mailers or any marketing effort. People don’t buy this stuff every day like groceries. The key is to be consistent (drops of water on the rock.) One integrator friend of ours told us that he had done a direct-mail campaign but didn’t keep it going because it didn’t make the phone ring. But he found that months later he got calls from people who were on the mailing list. It takes time. Drip, drip, drip…

Paul DiComo is the co-founder and COO of CE Marketing Pros, an agency that helps integrators, retailers and brands market themselves more effectively. If you want to utilize his professional advice, he can be reached by email at [email protected] or phone 410.458.3176.