Ask the Experts | Marketing for the Post-Summer Downturn

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Question: The season is very busy right now, but I know this will drop off in September. When would you suggest I start marketing so I can make the phone ring September 1st?

Weldon Long; New York Times Bestselling Author

This is a great question, it’s one I’m sure that Drew and Gary both have a lot of insight on. Because it goes to one of the real differentiators of what makes a company successful, and that’s being a good marketing organization, and knowing how to get the phone to ring, and to generate service calls and sales opportunities, that kind of thing.

My standard rule was I always wanted to be working a quarter out. So in September, I want to be working on January, the first quarter marketing plan for next year. I think I heard Gary one time say, even further out than that, that he will sometimes plan out marketing for various times of the year.

So my September 1 marketing plan should have been done several months ago, just as kind of a conceptual overview type of thing. In terms of what to do, it kind of depends on the market. I can speak to Colorado. So about mid-way through August, air conditioning season starts to slow down. It’s still very hot in August; in fact it’s probably our hottest month. But people have the mindset in Colorado that if we make it to September, air conditioning season is over, and we don’t even need air conditioning beyond August. So even though people are in August, it’s very hot, they think that they can just hang on for a few more weeks.

So what we started doing is in the middle of August, we would start a really heavy push on various incentives to buy an air conditioner. So we’d run those through September, so sometimes we could actually continue to sell air conditioners through September, even though it’s starting to cool off. And we’d do this by offering end-of-season incentives, and various free air conditioning offers. So one of them was buy our highest efficiency heating system – so even though it’s August, it’s still hot, people in Colorado are always thinking about winter – so buy our highest efficiency heating system and we’ll give you an air conditioning system absolutely free. Now the air conditioning system was the condenser and the coil, and we said right there in the ad “pay only for installation and miscellaneous supplies.” So we would give them a real basic, minimum efficiency coil and condenser, and then maybe charge them $1500 or $2000 for installation on top of the full retail on the high-efficiency furnace. So this is back in those days, so even that was probably fifty-five hundred to six thousand, this is 10 or 12 years ago. And then we’re going to add a couple of thousand.

So it’s a lower margin deal, but we had to do something to keep activity going at the end of August and into September. Another one we’d offer was buy our highest-efficiency furnace with a heat pump and get air conditioning absolutely free. Well, it’s a heat pump, so we’d market that as free air conditioning. With the offer I was very, very transparent, I’d just tell people you buy this high-efficiency system, invest in heating, and get air conditioning.

So you just have to get creative depending on the time of the season. So when people stop thinking about air conditioning, that’s the time you’ve got to offer them some incentives, and start that early on. We’d always start that in the middle of August – even though it was very hot – we would start that messaging in August and go on through September. And then October 1st we’d turn our attention to starting tune-ups, and then whatever incentives we had for heating season, so that type of thing.

So I think a key thing is to think out a quarter ahead of time. Be thinking about, you know the typical patterns, yes, there will always be exceptions, but you know the patterns in your market. Be thinking about what incentives and what needs to be in place three or four months down the road.

So with that we’ll toss it over to Drew. Obviously a lot of experience on the marketing side, Gary as well, and I’m anxious to hear what they have to say and get their perspective.

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