I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that you too believe the expression "Think outside the box" has been used so often that it's become a cliché. So it was refreshing to hear custom builder Deborah Malone utter "Think within the old box" during her presentation at the 2007 Custom Builder Symposium.
Of course, Malone didn't mean custom builders should keep on doing the same old things that don't work. She was simply reminding her audience that a marketing strategy need not be wild nor crazy nor cutting edge to attract new customers. Sometimes, looking at a time-honored method with fresh eyes can be very productive. "You have to keep reviewing what you're doing and do what works consistently," said Malone.
Malone is president of JP Malone Construction, a design/build firm based in Scottsdale, Ariz. JP Malone builds eight one-of-a-kind homes a year and also has a remodeling division. The company uses a variety of marketing techniques, including job-site signs, direct mail and Realtor referral programs.
One of JP Malone's most powerful direct-marketing tools is its Web site, www.jpmalone.com . It's easy to use, tells you everything you need to know about the builder and is chock full of photos. I have to agree with Deborah: some custom builders make their Web sites too difficult to navigate or too scanty on information (why not put everything you have online?).
Her advice is to pick a simple URL — preferably with the name of your company in it — and update the information regularly. Steer clear of components that require Flash Player or similar programs; they'll cause pages to load at a glacially slow pace. For the same reason, it's best to put low-resolution (rather than high-res) photos on your site, as long as they're good-quality images.
Another takeaway from Malone's talk: public relations can generate a lot more perceived value than advertising. Newspapers love to publish articles about local businesses that are successful and do good things for the community. Submit well-written, well-timed press releases and make yourself available for comment. Granted, this is a time-intensive process, and Malone strongly recommends hiring a local PR firm to manage it, but it's less costly than you might think. Agencies usually charge a monthly retainer ranging from $800 to $2,000.
Past clients are a great source of referral business. Send them updates about your company and your projects at least once a year — but not during the winter holidays when they're inundated with cards and letters. If you want your missives to be memorable, choose a lower-profile holiday such as Halloween or St. Patrick's Day. And if you win an award for one of your homes, share the experience with the homeowners. Invite them to the awards ceremony, or take them to lunch or dinner. Don't forget to acknowledge the trade contractors who made the award possible.
Is any of this rocket science? Nope. But it makes a lot of sense.
Susan Bady, 630/288-8194, firstname.lastname@example.org