December, 2014
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Advertising Opportunities

ALAN CARSON

ADVERTISING OPPORTUNITIES by: Alan Carson – Carson, Dunlop & Associates Ltd.

In our last article, we looked at advertising methods that tap into your existing marketing tools. You can apply these methods in any ads. In this section, we’ll look at some advertising opportunities that may not be as straightforward as they first seem.

A REAL ESTATE AGENT’S NEWSLETTER

Beware Real Estate Agent Newsletter

Some real estate agents write their own newsletters to send to previous clients and prospects. As a way to defray the costs, some agents sell advertising spots to suppliers, like home inspectors.

In terms of an advertising opportunity, this is clearly focused on the real estate agent even though the ad is directed at the homebuyer. The opportunity to reach homebuyers is not great for a home inspector, but that may not be the point. If a real estate agent refers 20 or 30 clients per year, it’s hard to say that you don’t want to spend $100 every quarter to advertise in his or her newsletter. The money you spend is not really for advertising at all; it’s for maintaining a relationship. We are often told that if we don’t take the opportunity, another home inspector will.

If you have 50 agents who refer business to you, and all of them write a newsletter and tap you for advertising money, you may be in trouble. You will probably have to be selective if you do this kind of advertising.

You have some options for dealing with this kind of advertising: You may choose to stay out of it altogether, negotiate the deal, or ask for more benefits or opportunity. You may offer to submit a column that will make the newsletter even better. The same column, or series of columns, can be used for any agent. You don’t have to write a custom column just for this agent. And the column doesn’t have to be long. The agent would rather have your advertising dollars, but your article may be attractive as well. The article has the added benefit of putting you in the role of an expert rather than an advertiser. The column can also be used on your Web site and in your information packages.

Ask for Something in Return

You may want to try to get more out of it for your money. Following are some things you can ask for:

• Ask for an exclusive. That means no other home inspectors will get their business card in the newsletter. Tell the real estate agent that it’s not worth $100 if other inspectors buy ad space next to yours. In many cases this is easy to get. It may even be offered at the outset as an inducement.

• Ask the agent to refer you exclusively to their clients.

• Ask for an endorsement. Maybe just above your business-card-sized ad, the real estate agent can write an endorsement of your services or tell a testimonial story.

• Ask the agent to help you set up a presentation at his or her office. Clear the way through to the office manager or the broker.

• Ask for an introduction to other successful agents.

• Ask for a testimonial you can use in your other advertising.

• Ask for a link from the agent’s Web site to yours.

Beware Real Estate Agent’s Business Card

Some real estate agents have a laminated business card. They may have advertising on the back to cover the cost, and they may come to you for advertising on that space. Once again, this may not be good advertising for you, but you may want to maintain a relationship. Remember to ask for something more.

DIRECT MAIL

Direct Your Efforts to the End-User

The official term for advertising to the end user is direct marketing. But because most direct marketing campaigns involve direct mail, especially in the home inspection business, we’ll refer to this strategy as direct mail. Direct mail may be addressed to real estate agents or to consumers, but there would usually be a different piece for each group.

Direct mail looks for a response directly from the customer. But it has specific applications.

For instance, contacting your past clients directly by mail is effective for offering an ancillary service. On the other hand, direct mail to the general public offering a home inspection may not make sense. To decide if a direct mail campaign is worth considering, it should have at least a few of the features discussed below.

Identify a Target Market

An example from the world of home inspection is to mail to people who have a home for sale. There is a good chance they will be buying another home in the community and need your services.

Know the Time Sensitivity

For home inspectors, the critical time to reach prospective homebuyers is right when they need your services, but the chances of your mailer reaching them within that narrow time frame are slim to none. Pre-purchase home inspections are time sensitive, whereas indoor air-quality inspections for homeowners can be done anytime. Sending a mailer for indoor air-quality inspections to past clients might give the homeowner a sense of urgency about hiring you (because they are concerned about their health), but you are not under the gun to deliver the mailer at a critical time.

Make It Easy to Explain/ Measure Response/ Track and Test

A direct mailer has to offer something people can grasp in a few lines. Easy-to-measure response. Measurement is critical in this kind of campaign. When you are dealing with large numbers, you have a good opportunity to experiment. For example, you could do a mailer with a particular offer, then do another mailer to a similar area with a slightly different offer and compare the response rate. You may find that reducing your fee from $325 to $299 increases your response rate by five times. If that were the case, it would make sense to reduce your fee. We will talk more about testing later.

Here are two areas in the home inspection profession that respond well to direct marketing:

1. Inspection of new homes

2. Ancillary inspection services targeted to past clients

The main reasons for the successful response is that these two markets are easy to target and there is some time flexibility. They also meet the other criteria we have outlined above. You may come up with other things you can offer using direct mail.

This article completes our discussion on discretionary advertising. In a future article, we will discuss other advertising opportunities.