You’d Be Surprised How Often Contractors’ Marketing Fails To Explain What They Actually Want People To Know
Here’s A Sales Letter That Tells The Prospects Everything EXCEPT What’s Actually Important.
(And It’s A Lot More Common That You Might Think.)
By Rich Harshaw
I guess the thought of writing marketing just freezes most people’s brains.
There is really no other way to explain why there is such a massive gap between what people KNOW in their brains and what they SAY when they sit down to type up a marketing piece.
This letter (below) is a perfect example of what I’m talking about: It’s well written—your 11th grade English teacher would probably give this an A. It’s coherent—it makes a decent case for what the problem is. And it has a call to action—it asks the reader multiple times to call for a free inspection.
But behind the beautiful prose lurks this letter’s dark secret: IT’S TERRIBLE, and it WON’T WORK!
It’s terrible because it tells the reader a bunch of information he THINKS he already knows, that he doesn’t think applies to him. Meanwhile, the truly important part of the discussion is completely omitted. That’s right: the #1 thing that will make somebody take action is not in the letter at all.
That’s where I come in.
Here’s the situation: On April 8, 2011, a massive hail storm blew through Rockford, Illinois. Lots of roofs were damaged, and as a result, lots of roofing companies replaced a lot of roofs on a lot of homes. Dog bites man.
The letter, below, was sent a year later and got practically no response. Read it and see if you can tell why.
- You tell me there are a lot of roofs being installed lately. So what? What does that have to do with me?
- You try to resell the benefits of a slate roof; I already have a slate roof and don’t need you to remind me that I made a good choice.
- You tell me that now is a great time to get a roof inspection, but you don’t tell me why that is the case.
- You’re telling me that if I sustained hail damage, insurance can buy me a new roof. But it’s a year later—if I believed I had a problem I probably would have already called a roofer.
- You offer me (again) a roof inspection and tell me you will discuss any damage with me. But again, if I perceived I had damage, I would have already called a roofer.
- You tell me it’s expensive to fix roofs, and I’d better take care of it now if there is a problem; but you give me no context to prove that is true or to explain why. Spoiler alert: It actually IS very time sensitive! (see below)
- The last paragraph just repeats what you already said for no apparent reason other than to fill the space you have in the letter.
All of that combines for a pretty weak, non-compelling letter.
So when I got on the phone to troubleshoot the problems with the owner of the company, I had a lot of questions. It seemed obvious to me that if a massive hail storm blew threw a YEAR ago that there would have been dozens (or more) of roofers pounding on every door in the area for months trying to get the reroofing jobs. People who had not taken action yet were probably not stupid—nobody willingly lives with a damaged, leaking roof. Instead, they were probably of the mindset that their particular roofs were not damaged, so no action was necessary.
The owner told me I was dead wrong.
As Paul Harvey used to say, there was “the rest of the story.” The important part of the story, it turns out.
The owner explained to me that it was very likely that roofs that did not sustain any APPARENT damage were actually damaged anyway. He told me that tile roof problems don’t always manifest themselves right away, and that minor—but real—symptoms would, a year later, begin to be visible to trained professionals at close range, but not to the average person standing on the ground looking up at their roof.
He further explained that if the homeowner did not file an insurance claim within eighteen months of the storm, that they were forfeiting their right to petition the insurance company for compensation.
Read all that again: There is very likely hidden damage. You can’t see it, but it’s there. And if you don’t file an insurance claim within eighteen months, you’re out of luck.
Why didn’t he bother to include all that important and vitally juicy information in his letter!?!?!?!?
Answer: (crickets chirping)
Sometimes my job is so easy. All I have to do is extract the juicy details from the business owner and then simply put them into the marketing piece. That’s exactly what I did here:
- The letter writer assumed people knew stuff that they would have no way to know (see the red bold sentence above the letter)
- The stuff the letter writer assumed people would know was actually the most important stuff to communicate.
- Instead, the letter writer defaulted to generic crap you might expect to see in any web copy, brochure, or advertisement about tile roofing.
- The specificity that the situation demanded was ignored in favor of platitudes.
- The letter did not work.
There are two key questions that I always ask when I sit down to write a letter or advertisement:
WHAT DO I WANT THE READER TO KNOW?
WHAT DO I WANT THE READER TO DO?
Sometimes I think we overcomplicate things by failing to address these two basic questions. Marketing (even roofing contractor marketing), in its purest essence, is just simply telling people what you want them to know and what you want them to do.
It’s the first and most critical step to avoiding brain freeze when writing!
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