What Marketing Support Do Trade & Service Businesses Need?
As B2B marketers, it’s important to understand what businesses in service and trade industries need from us. What marketing support could help operators, contractors, dealers, brokers and owners better sell our products?
“What’s stopping companies or manufacturers from saying, ‘Here are some ads that have done well for us. Here are all the assets you need. Here’s a package that you can use to sell our product.'”
Mark Wilson—Marketing Manager at Fire & Ice Heating and Air Conditioning—shares his insights. He talks about the importance of products with brand equity, support that fuels his company’s marketing efforts, local activations from manufacturers and more.
Highlights From This Episode:
- Inbound marketing for local businesses
- Manufacturer support that can fuel local marketing efforts
- Importance of products with brand equity to local service businesses
- Local activations and how they support local sales
- Basic marketing support businesses expect from vendor partners
Watch the Live Recording
Full Episode Transcript
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Tessa Burg: Hello, and welcome to another episode of “Leader Generation,” brought to you by Mod Op. I’m your host, Tessa Burg. Today’s topic is wildly interesting. I think we as B2B marketers have not spent enough time finding out what operators, contractors, dealer networks and brokers really need from our brands and from our marketing.
Tessa Burg: Today we’re going to talk to Mark Wilson from Fire & Ice Heating and Air Conditioning, and he is doing the marketing at a trade company directly to the consumers our brands wish to influence.
Tessa Burg: This conversation is going to cover what Mark does as a Marketing Manager at Fire & Ice Heating and Air Conditioning, as well as what has benefited his company the most from the brands, including how he uses the media library and their brand partnerships and brand activations that support their local presence. Thank you, Mark, so much for being our guest. I’m excited to dive in.
Mark Wilson: Yeah, absolutely, happy to be here and thanks for having me.
Tessa Burg: Yeah, so we met at MAICON, which is put on by Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute, and something that really caught my attention is when you were talking about the fact that Fire & Ice does content marketing and digital marketing successfully to reach customers. So, I want to dive into that. Because I think the assumption is that if you are sort of a local business, you just need to rank in Google or just be on Angie’s List and that’s the extent of the marketing. Tell us a little bit about what your approach is.
Mark Wilson: Right, so, your initial assumption isn’t necessarily wrong in terms of what the historical approach has been within HVAC and a lot of service industries. It’s not that there aren’t digitally savvy companies, but at the same time, I think a lot of those standard strategies have been the norm. And there are many who don’t go too far outside of that. So, one of the things that is a differentiator for us is the fact that we leverage our content marketing so much.
Mark Wilson: Now, content marketing is you can’t tell Google, “I want only rank in these areas.” You can generate content to help with that. But a lot of times robust inbound strategy and content marketing strategy is a national strategy and it happens to work locally for us as well. So, there is national traffic that we get for people who aren’t going to be customers for us, but it also manifests as local traffic and local leads and eventually revenue for people that are finding us through the same way, because it is a little bit more of a broad strategy.
Mark Wilson: It is supplemented with, we do still have paid efforts. The idea is that our website is our best lead generator. And so, the majority of our focus is on that content side, but by the same token, we have to fill in some of those gaps with the paid side, where we do see a lack, whether that’s a lack in a particular market or customer base, or a lot of times it’s seasonal just because HVAC is such a seasonal industry. And so, there’ll be times of the year where we have to supplement our content marketing efforts with many of the other digital channels that people are very familiar with.
Tessa Burg: And how does that compare to your competitors? Like, are a lot of heating and cooling companies really focusing on inbound like you are, or what other marketing tactics are they using? And what’s the level of success they’re having there?
Mark Wilson: I think there’s probably some understanding of inbound principles on the surface level, but the dedication to it and the execution is wildly different. You’ll find a lot of websites that have blogs, but very few that generate consistent traffic. And that’s because they’re not digging deep into how to actually be successful with some of those strategies and some of those efforts, or for example, instead of having like an in-house writer working with subject matter experts regularly, they’re outsourcing to a third party who’s going to write something coherent and usable, but it’s not necessarily going to be deep value-adding content just because they’re not as absorbed in the industry. So, that I think is a differentiator for us, which isn’t to say you can’t use outside vendors for some industries and for some content, which we still do on occasion. But I think that’s really the difference. So, it’s not that there isn’t an understanding. It’s a difference of how much you’re committing to that strategy to keep growing website traffic and leads that you generate from that.
Tessa Burg: Yeah, I think that’s a good point. You are the marketer at the service company. So, you are closest to that customer, but how do you identify what topics are most important? I see a lot of trade companies sort of struggle with like, what should they be writing on their blog? And what topics target people and engage them in a way where, one, I am getting local traffic, and two, I’m getting people who are likely to buy. How do you determine that content tailor of that topic mix?
Mark Wilson: Yeah, that’s a good question. There isn’t one answer. There’s no silver bullet to here’s what people are looking for. There are, of course, tools that you can use to find like, search volume for topics within your industry and what your company does and prioritize from there. Though the issue there is that it’s not always going to be high buyer intent and, you know, it might just be informational. There might be some other purpose to that search, even if it has a lot of volume. The easiest thing, I would say, and one of the first things that we did when we started this strategy and when I got brought on board to start our content marketing efforts and start to build a team around that is we just went to the people who are in the company who are talking to customers. That’s your service techs, your installers, your sales reps, however your company’s structured, those forward-facing and customer-facing people. And then you ask them, what questions do you get? Write a big old list. And then you’re answering those. Not every question is going to be a blog topic or a video or an ebook or something like that, but you’ll start to see some themes and trends and that’s a good place to start.
Tessa Burg: I like that combination of you’re using some digital tools, but you’re not working in isolation. You’re talking to the people who are on the ground and trying to track how customers’ issues or perceptions are changing and then produce an answer for that. You sit in this very interesting seat in that you’re close to the customer, you’re marketing to them, but then you are also customer yourself. So, you have vendors and suppliers that are selling to Fire & Ice Heating and Air Conditioning. And what type of support are you getting from them to fuel your own marketing efforts?
Mark Wilson: Yeah, the answer is a lot in some areas and very little in others. We work with some great manufacturers who provide our equipment. So, the big two that we work with are Trane and Carrier for heat pumps, furnaces, air conditioners, Mitsubishi for ductless mini-splits, and then AprilAire for our indoor air quality products. That’s your filters and dehumidifiers and things like that. They have large dealer networks and are trying to provide resources and we have representatives with them and there’s a lot of communication with them and that’s all great.
Mark Wilson: They have a very broad audience, more so than us because they’re oftentimes marketing to contractors, not to our customers, the homeowners. And then within contractors, there’s those who do commercial and residential, sometimes both. We’re only residential, residential and multifamily. So, which gets a little bit into commercial-style business relations. But in any case, we’re not doing commercial. If they’re marketing to the end user, they’re having to expand their audience again beyond just who we as Fire and Ice are marketing to. So, a lot of their efforts are a bit more broad and aren’t gonna be specifically for the people we’re targeting.
Mark Wilson: That being said, we have access to some media tools here and there that they provide for us and print materials and information on their equipment so that we can then turn that around into, sometimes we’re using the Trane brochure, other times we’re just adapting that information into our own materials to market to our customers. So, yeah, I’d say there are some opportunities for additional collaboration and support, but there’s certainly a lot of communications there as well.
Tessa Burg: So, Trane and Carrier are not like small brands. Like, I’ve heard of those and I would say I have very little interaction with the air conditioner in my own house. So, how important are their brands in your marketing?
Mark Wilson: Depends on the customer, but relatively so. As you say, those are known brands and there are some people who are brand loyal as they are with any product type. And so, sometimes they’ll say like, “We’re a Trane household.” And so when it’s time for them to get a new system, they’re going to call the Trane dealers in town. And so, you have to know who you’re up against in those situations. And we know who our competitors are for both of those companies for people who are Trane or Carrier loyal.
Mark Wilson: You have a lot of others who are more agnostic, they’re just going to go with, they might be price-motivated. So, they’re going to go with the cheapest price, or a lot of times we sell on value. We’re rarely the cheapest option. So, it depends on the customer a little bit, but we definitely don’t hide the fact that those are the brands that we install. And part of the reason we work with them is that we think they’re reliable and they’ve been good partners for us. And so, the actual ease of use of installing the equipment, servicing it, how reliable it is and how good those communications are from the manufacturer directly affects who we work with.
Mark Wilson: Fire & Ice has been around for about 20 years, you’re not gonna work with too many… You have to be able to leverage economies of scale. So, you can’t work with too many different manufacturing vendors, but there have been companies who have switched manufacturers because they’re not getting the support that they need, or there are too many issues with repairs or recalls or what have you.
Mark Wilson: And so, all of that affects what we do. We can’t hide some of that if the brand is dropping the ball. Fortunately, we haven’t had to do that. So, those have been nice long relationships with us. I’d have to ask the owner if we’ve been working with both of those for the full time Fire & Ice has been around, but it predates my time with the company and it’s been quite a while.
Tessa Burg: Well, and that’s a part of your brand. Like, people trust that Fire & Ice is doing their due diligence and selling products that they believe in. And I like before we got on the call, you were giving me an example of how Carrier has done some brand activation through partnerships, I believe it’s with the Browns. How has your brand benefited from Carrier’s brand activation through something that feels a little bit more local, or at least, state local to your target audience.
Mark Wilson: Right, yeah, so this is somewhat new. It’s kind of the first thing that we’ve done along these lines, but the Carrier and the Carrier dealer network has a relationship with the Cleveland Browns. Obviously, we’re in Columbus, Ohio, not Cleveland, but there are a lot of Cleveland Browns fans here, among them our owner. So, I think he was excited at the prospect. So, we are partnered with the Browns through that network and get to leverage some of their efforts in marketing. Now, of course we don’t want like stadium signage or things like that because we’re going to be getting calls from people in Cleveland who we can’t service, but you can geo-target anything these days online. And so, that’s something where we’re able to get some benefit that the Browns are doing some things on behalf of the Carrier dealer network. That includes the ancillary contractors. And we’re the only one in the Columbus market doing that. And so, we’re going to get the benefit of a lot of those efforts throughout the season.
Mark Wilson: Now, I will say this is brand new. So, like, I don’t have a lot of metrics on what we’ve seen from this particular activation, but it is the type of thing that I think helps to leverage with your existing partners. Like, if you’re going to be working with someone for years on end, you’re going to have partnerships on both sides. And if you can cross those two over a little bit to help collaborate and expand both brand names, whether that’s Carrier, Fire & Ice, whatever, ideally, you’re both getting some benefit out of it because it’s mutually beneficial. So, we’ll see where that goes, but it is exciting because it’s something new and a little bit different than some of the traditional resources that we’ve gotten from these vendors.
Tessa Burg: Yeah, I mean, as a sports fan as well, I feel like there is so much emotion in sports and in fandom, when you can sort of leverage that, here with that for your own brand, it does make it sticky. Are there some things that you’re using the most today though, that are sort of table stakes in what you expect from a good manufacturing vendor?
Mark Wilson: Yeah, so we have used, and I think this speaks to something that I think a lot of manufacturers can help provide is media library, media library access. And so, we’ve used stock photography, some footage, various other branded assets from some of these groups because they have great photography of all of their equipment in homes or in a studio. Just something that you can cut out and put into another design element.
Mark Wilson: Now, we’ve created some from scratch here in-house. We’ve gotten some of that when we don’t have access to what we need, but we have a full digital marketing team. That’s not going to be the case at a lot of similar companies that don’t have those resources. And if they don’t get the media access from the company to be able to use in their advertising, they’d either not use it or have to pay someone else to go get it out in the community.
Mark Wilson: And so, when we’ve had access to those, that’s been great. I think there’s some, and I don’t if you want to get into this now too, but I think additional opportunities to share some of that information as well, information and assets that, again, as long as you’re branding it properly and not just outright stealing it and putting it into another use case that doesn’t quite fit. That you can leverage a lot of the work from one end to help the other end. Does that make sense?
Tessa Burg: I think it totally makes sense. I mean, as large brands, they’re investing a lot in research, they’re investing a lot in data. I mean, even the type of broad marketing that you were talking about before, they’re influencing the people you are directly selling to. Is there anything in that that you think would be valuable to have a little bit more visibility or access that could help power your marketing to sell more Carrier, more Trane, more product?
Mark Wilson: Yeah, it’s a good question. And there might be manufacturer side ideas that I’m not thinking of, but they have to have, or could have access to data on customer profiles and likely buyers that is at a scale that any individual company is not gonna have access to through their own data. And so, we have a decent idea of who our customer is, who our customer profile is, but that doesn’t change too much between products. So, what’s the difference between like, what’s the customer base for a ductless mini-split versus traditional home HVAC system. I don’t have great answers for that, but I bet that that data exists out there and could be shared to help build audience profiles for things like, what if you’re doing ads on Google or social media, or even just doing different designs with your like TV ads or something as simple as a billboard. That could inform the types of things that make it into those channels.
Mark Wilson: I mentioned that the media library access. At one point, we actually sort of redesigned. We made some social ads that were basically, we recreated Mitsubishi ductless ads because I liked them. Like, I thought they did a nice job. And I said let’s do this and make it our own. And what’s stopping companies or manufacturers from saying, “Here are some ads that have done well for us. Here are all the assets you need for it branded properly so that it’s for your business as well and it isn’t identical to what else is coming out there or what we’re coming out with. But, here’s a package that you can use to sell our product.” I know for a fact that they have their digital teams putting some of these things together. I have the luxury of being able to talk to our designer and come up with ideas on our own and do that. But some other companies have to pay a third-party vendor or figure it out in-house with people who aren’t experts on this.
Mark Wilson: And so, just increased sharing. Like, “Hey, here are all the materials we’re coming out with. Here are the modular elements that you can take and mix and match to make your own in your own advertising efforts.” And that, to me, feels like it would help everyone involved. So, if it’s Trane creating a modular advertising package to send out to dealers, then they’re all coming up with their own spins on it, but they’re using branded materials that Trane has already prepped. That sort of thing is, frankly, it’s probably going to help companies that aren’t like Fire & Ice more so than companies like us. But at the same time, we’d probably leverage some of that too because that’s time that we can be spending on other things in-house.
Tessa Burg: You went on something that just sparked an idea, but it’s this concept of sharing. Like, have you ever talked to, or worked with any other Trane distributors or Trane businesses and gotten ideas like what are they doing? Like, I said, exchange ever taken place.
Mark Wilson: That would be a little bit more… That might be more of a question for our upper leadership like GM and owner. My guess is probably not, only because it’s a little bit of a copycat industry. And so, we’re not sharing too many trade secrets among peers. Like, I respect our competitors, but we’re not always sharing ideas with them, so. There could be. Yeah, see, that gets tricky. So, I suppose that, like, if you have large dealer networks and you’re not talking with people in your own market, that would be a little bit different, so.
Tessa Burg: Right.
Mark Wilson: Then there, you probably have, yeah, there you probably have a much different point. By the same token, some of our content marketing is so national that if somebody else started to do what we do, it might eat into our local revenue. So, I honestly don’t think that would be the case. I think there’s room enough for a lot of people to do some of this, but yeah, that would be interesting. I haven’t given that too much thought, but there’s probably more opportunity for that in ways that aren’t going to overlap with direct competitors.
Tessa Burg: Yeah, it pops my head because in the agency world, we also have an association, it’s called the Agency Management Institute. And marketing companies, we are all compete against each other especially on the local level. But what they do is pair you with owners who are not in your competitive set and not in your location. So, in that way you can exchange some ideas without being like, “Oh my gosh, you’re going to steal our customers.” And we met at an artificial intelligence marketing conference and it feels like, you know, at that brand level, if they can see that data where there is an overlap, those connections could be made for better support.
Mark Wilson: Yeah, that makes sense. And I will say, like, for example, we don’t have a set schedule, but like once a quarter, there’s a plumbing company out in California that I meet with their marketing manager and they do a lot of content marketing and we use some of the same systems since we’re both in service industries. And so, we do an exchange of ideas there and that’s been beneficial and interesting to get that different perspective. That’s far enough removed from what we do that there hasn’t been any fear of sharing industry secrets or anything like that.
Mark Wilson: So, yeah, I think finding where there’s enough overlap in approaches where you can share ideas and find actionable takeaways, but also where you’re not gonna then take that and use it to compete with the person who gave you the idea. Finding that Venn diagram overlap is important because yeah, I’ve enjoyed those meetings and have had some ideas coming out of that. And I’m sure, I can’t speak for them, but I know that they’ve gotten some ideas from us as well. So, it’s been good.
Tessa Burg: Yeah, and you made another important point that not all trade companies have marketing managers. So, do you have any ideas on how can manufacturers make their data, their assets, suggestions on best practices as accessible as possible for businesses that maybe don’t have a “you” in it?
Mark Wilson: Yeah, and of course, like, I don’t think… I think our department is somewhat unique. I mean, there are even within Columbus here marketing individuals, even if they don’t have a full team, who are doing really good work and really strong work. They might not have all the same marketing resources, but there’s still a lot of intelligence there.
Mark Wilson: So, I think at this point, most companies of any size are going to have some marketer or marketing presence. Somebody who understands these things, they just might not have all the tools and resources to do everything they want in the myriad different areas of digital marketing.
Mark Wilson: So, in terms of making it accessible. I mean, communication and listening first off, just because if you go to a contractor and you say, “What do you need from us?” That’s something that doesn’t always happen, frankly. Like, the manufacturers might have an idea of what the contractors need and use, but might not always match with what the contractor’s idea is of what would be useful to them.
Mark Wilson: So, there are regional reps. We’ve generally had good ones who are communicative with us. That hasn’t always been the case in the company’s history and where we’ve had people who are our rep, and it’s like pulling teeth to get them to respond to an email, let alone, say come into the office and have a sit down meeting to see where those things are. So, making sure that there are a lot of those touch points between the two groups is the first thing. And it sounds simple and basic, but a lot’s going to flow from that.
Mark Wilson: Yeah, outside of that, just seeing what areas the company is doing currently because I don’t think you’re going to be able to go to a company and say, “Hey, you need to be doing x, y, z with your blog differently. And here are some strategies.” Or “Here’s best practices for Google display ads. And here’s a bunch of things you can use if they’re not doing Google display ads.” That’s a big ask. So, finding where they’re at and then finding ways to improve that.
Mark Wilson: I came from education, of all things, originally in my career. And one of the concepts I love from that is that you find out that there’s an end state that you’d love to be at when you want to get someone from point A to point Z. And sometimes you try to jump the line from A to G to T, and oftentimes all you need to do as frustrating as it may be, is get them from A to B, and that’s still pretty far from Z. And so, find out what they’re doing right now with their marketing efforts, and then say, “How can we make this better? What do you need? What support do you need from us?”
Mark Wilson: I do think it’s going to overlap because our brand isn’t just our brand. It is AprilAire’s and Mitsubishi’s and Trane’s, and people search for that. Not everyone even knows what a ductless mini-split is, but if they’re searching for a brand, it’s probably Mitsubishi. So, that sort of thing, there is brand equity there. And so, being able to cross over a bit between those two and turn one brand’s equity into the other and vice versa can reap benefits over the long haul.
Tessa Burg: Mark, this has been a fascinating conversation. I’ve written down so many ideas on how B2B companies can leverage that brand power to help support and better listen to their businesses that are actually selling their products. I mean, you are like a wealth of knowledge being so close to the actual customer.
Mark Wilson: Well, thank you. I don’t always feel that way. Sometimes it feels like I’m just trying to react to the latest thing, but hopefully, there’s a few insights that you and your audience have been able to glean from this. So, from what I’ve gathered, it is a little bit rare to have… You’re in a field and in a company where a lot of people know these strategies and understand a lot of the large umbrella that is marketing and digital marketing. And when I came into the company, there was like an onboarding process for the company to figure out what this all meant. And that’s true in a lot of industries still. So, it means there’s room for growth though, and room for improvement, which is cool.
Tessa Burg: Yeah, and I love your takeaway about, like, we agencies know what Z looks like getting from A to Z, but for a lot of companies, and even for brands who wanna start out in better supporting their contractors and dealer networks, what does A to B look like? Where are your contractors and dealer networks at right now? And maybe don’t jump all the way to Z ’cause we know the brands have very sophisticated marketing.
Mark Wilson: Yes.
Tessa Burg: So, I love that analogy. Your background in education is serving you well.
Mark Wilson: Hopefully so. So, here and there.
Tessa Burg: Yeah, thank you so much for being our guest today. If the listeners have questions, how can they reach you?
Mark Wilson: Sure, so, probably the easiest is just via email. Our URL is indoortemp.com, and my email is just firstname.lastname@example.org. So, always happy to chat with people, whether it’s HVAC because I’ve learned so much there since I’ve come into the company, and service industries in general, more marketing, which is always fascinating. Like, all of this stuff is just fascinating to me and the number of amazing things people are doing and ways they’re pushing the envelope. Of course, we met at the Artificial Intelligence Conference in marketing and that expanded my mind even further into some of these possibilities. So, always happy to chat. And if anyone wants to reach out.
Tessa Burg: Yeah, we’ll have to do a follow-up on how you’ve begun to apply marketing and AI.
Mark Wilson: Yeah, we’re just starting the research process there with a lot of those. I think there’s a lot of potential, both quick, easy wins, and also sort of like the large-scale long-term things where we can mold what we do with our efforts and really, really fine tune them. So, it’s exciting to me, and yeah, we’ll be getting much more into that. I’ve got my first interview with one of the vendors that I talked to at the MAICON next week. So, from there, I think it’s just going to snowball, so.
Tessa Burg: Thank you, Mark, for being our guest. I think we’ve given B2B marketers and B2B brand marketers a lot to think about, I love your point about going beyond the technical specs and beyond the technical materials for their contractors and dealer networks, and really starting to create those connections with what can their brands do to help you reach consumers? What data and insights, materials do they have that can really start to elevate those that actually sell their products. Great conversation, thanks so much for being with us.
Marketing Manager at FIRE & ICE Heating and Air Conditioning
Mark is a marketing communications professional with 12+ years of experience in the field. He has a wide array of project experience in team management, inbound marketing, lead generation and more. This experience is complemented by a robust technical skillset. Mark enjoys utilizing his skills to maximize the potential of those he works for and supervises.