The importance of early evidence in construction marketing

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A few days ago, I posted a skeptical blog entry questioning the assertions of a marketer wanting me to promote a service where contractors could attract leads through SMS phone code information posted on their lawn signs.  Reflecting my policy not to cause harm to individuals or organizations in this blog, I didn’t name names, but communicated with the service provider to see if I had missed the point.  Last night, he responded.  (I don’t have his permission to quote this email, but I’m not identifying him in any way.)

Hi Mark,

Thanks for responding.  While your post isn’t 100% positive it is certainly fair.

I didn’t provide any statistics because I don’t have any to report – this is a new service, and honestly I am getting that exact question from anyone who’s seen by banner ad on (ed: a public forum) or read a news story after my press release back in January.

I honestly feel that it’s an extremely effective method of eliciting a response from a nosy/curious homeowner when placed on a lawn sign, or from a casually interested homeowner when they hear the code at the end of a radio ad or see it on a postcard, doorhanger or truck magnet.  It’s being used very successfully in retail, real estate and for big brands on their packaging and TV ads.

And in the end, I suppose any PR is good PR, right?  I’ll be sure to follow up once we get a good base of contractors using the service and some testimonials to its efficacy.

Well, I’m not sure that “any PR is good PR”.  Bad publicity, especially for a start-up, is worse than no publicity, and can be the kiss of death for even a larger and well established company.  Fortunately, I’ve also learned that bad PR is generally not effective for any publisher which wishes to earn income from advertising sales.  We’ll certainly cover controversial and even negative issues, but I see little value in “naming names” when the news isn’t so good.  I can leave that sort of stuff to others.

Still, I’m scratching my head about this email — and service.  Why couldn’t the service provider validate his results for a service he started six months ago, which should have a rather quick turn-around time for value/benefits?  Surely, there is some measurable traffic or lead generation happening here . . . or not.  Could it be the the poor marketer is flogging a hopeless case?  Maybe.

I’ll be brutally blunt here.  While persistence is an important asset in construction marketing, as in any endeavor, you need to know when to cut your losses or shift direction.  And, in my opinion, you usually need to make this decision based on early evidence (and you should have a system in place to develop early evidence.)

One of the bet examples of this sort of early evidence dates back to the beginning of my business, in 1988.  I started a local trade publication for real estate agents.  The first issue, well, stirred the pot because unlike other trade publications of the day, I dared to publish somewhat controversial and contentious material (though I adhered to my policy of not publishing negative stories about individuals or organizations.)

I quoted the then-real estate board president about his frustration with Canadian federal competition branch authorities.  (The competition branch is the Canadian equivalent of U.S. anti-trust regulators).  Just as my paper hit the presses, police raided several real estate board offices (in other cities) as part of their investigation of price-fixing.

Readers, falsely associating our publication with the real estate board, were shocked to read the guy’s comments.  He wasn’t mad at me — I quoted him correctly and fairly (in any case, I had taped the interview) but offered to resign.  As well, the fur flied when real estate board members found that I had accepted a recruitment ad from one real estate broker who didn’t belong to the “authorized” real estate board.

I heard stories of fistfights in real estate offices, complaints to the real estate board, and general mayhem in the community because of my publication.  And I really thought my first issue was my last.

Then, cautiously, I went around to my advertisers.  I knew I had scored a hit when the person responsible for the pager company (cell phones were just coming into use then), said “Mark, I’ve never received such good response to an ad in my life.  I’m ready to sign a contract now.”  Then, the manager of one of the larger real estate companies told me:  “Look, if you can tone things down and maybe write some positive stories about some of our agents, we’ll contract as well.”  Maybe, indeed, I would be around for a while, I mused.  Thankfully, I have obviously have survived in business for a few decades, though the original real estate publication is now long gone.

I’m not saying every idea you have should be an instant hit and sometimes waiting is worthwhile (ask my wife, it took her — and me — 12 years to reach the stage when we were ready to make the marriage commitment; we’ve now been married close to 18 years), but usually you should be confident there is a spark of relevance and value in what you are doing and you can usually tell that right away.

P.S.  You might enjoy reading Brian Hill’s posting about the original blog entry about debunking pseudo-scientific marketing claims.

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