Ready for another exciting To The Point series? We’re kicking off our 4-part series on a Trade Marketing Magic Playbook with CMO of Service Champions in Southern California, Katey Stern! Katey has been in the trades for 17 years, and is an expert on both traditional and print marketing.
Katey graduated from SDSU and worked for a sports marketing company for a number of years. During this time, her brother had joined Service Champions as an install apprentice. In 2005, he told Katey that the owner (Leland Smith) wanted someone to do his marketing, Katey was already looking for a new opportunity, as her current role wasn’t giving her the room to grow and expand that she wanted. She interviewed with Leland and 17 years later, she’s still running marketing! In that time, her brother has stayed on with Service Champions and runs the installation department, and Katey has helped the company grow from around 10MM to over 400MM alongside Leland Smith.
From newspaper ads to direct mailers, print advertising is exactly what it sounds like. In a digital world, many have disregarded print as an outdated, ineffective ad strategy relic. But as many of our listeners know, print is most certainly not dead. Katey knows that better than most!
Katey points out that Leland built Service Champions through direct mail. While they may not focus the same percentage of their total marketing budget on direct mail as in the past, it’s still a central part of their overall marketing strategy. They don’t use any shared service mail, and send out their pieces directly to homeowners.
Mostly, they are targeting prospective customers that haven’t used Service Champions before. But Katey points out that an often overlooked and untapped resource is your existing customer base. Your existing customer base – especially any club/maintenance members you have – is a pool of people you’ve already spent money on to call you before. They’ve already had a technician in the home building that relationship. Katey targets this pool of existing customers a few times a season.
Print media is a level you can pull just like digital marketing – a la PPC, for example. There are factors to consider like the season you’re in as well as the needs of your business. If the season is already creating demand or you’re already too booked out, it may not make much sense. Katey and her team tries to reach customers about three times a season to maintain consistency.
In years past, Service Champions wasn’t the size it is now. Being aggressive with traditional marketing didn’t make sense when they had less technicians. Now, it makes plenty of sense as they have the bandwidth to take on the calls. Some other things they do are cross-offerings, where they can tack on some additional service in addition to their usual target of maintenance. You really just want to be clued in to what your business needs at that specific time, and approach your print marketing based around those factors.
How does Katey know that direct mail is working? The same way we figure out if anything else is – you track it! They use call tracking numbers (CTNs) on all of their direct mail pieces. Especially with Leland having a strong accounting background, Service Champions is big on tracking and data. They also like to test things out; trying different pieces each season. Through the CTNs and some A/B testing, they can get a good picture of what’s working and what isn’t. When a test piece does well a few seasons in a row, it might get into the full mix the next year.
Of course, there are other options for tracking besides using CTNs. Some have found success using QR codes, for example. In the really early days, Service Champions would just put a name in the mailer. That way, when the customer called in, the CSR would ask the customer the name on their mailer so they could track it. They moved into using a code on the bottom right of each piece, and now, CTNs are their preferred method.
Traditional advertising is, well, “traditional” forms of advertising that includes radio, television, and billboards. Service Champions started in 2000, and using traditional advertising just didn’t make sense for a while. Television ads would have covered an area outside of their service area back then, and radio wasn’t a good fit until 2009. That year, they took a strategic look and found a radio station with a really loyal listenership. They also had the budget needed to create frequency.
The key here is considering traditional media marketing as branding. For Katey, it’s about getting their message out there. It’s a great thing when you have 30 seconds to tell a story. Now, they are having ads on TV as well as 3 different radio stations. Again, it has to make sense for where your business is at. Currently, billboards are not something that Service Champions is utliizing, but there are other brands in the portfolio that do use them to some success. It’s really situational, and never fully off the table. Katey is always looking at where they are getting the most bang for their buck with thier marketing spend. It’s about where they can reach the most people with the most frequency with the most effectiveness.
A lot of businesses fail to understand that great traditional marketing isn’t something you can just dip your toes in. It requires you to be playing the long game. It does pay off, but only if you can afford to go all-in and stick around long enough to see the results. It’s about having the budget to reach your target audience over and over again. It’s a long-term frequency game, and should not be considered the same as other types of marketing.
It’s a big expense, for sure. Your cost-per-lead (CPL) might be higher as well. Over time, though, the results speak for themselves. That’s especially true if your branding efforts have been successful. Branded leads are better across the board – from lower CPLs to significantly higher conversion rates.
Something Katey stresses is that at the end of the day, it all about operational excellence. You can get the phones to ring, but it’s what you do during the appointments that really creates success. It’s the Service Champions technicians in the home that are building the rapport. They are building the relationships with clients and offering them the options. You have to make sure that after the phone rings, you’re getting all the other pieces right or none of it matters.
Want to connect with Katey? You can message her on her LinkedIn profile!