For many security integrators, marketing is one of the last line items on a budget. More often than not, business owners, marketing directors and even HR teams have a shoestring budget when it comes to outside promotion of the company; however, even if this is the case, it doesn’t mean there are no options.
At this past summer’s ESX show, John Loud, President of Kennesaw, Ga.-based LOUD Security Systems, and Joseph Mitton, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience for Lancaster, Pa.-based Select Security, offered seven interesting marketing ideas and tips for both residential and commercial security integrators working on a shoestring budget:
1. Branding: There’s Never Enough
Whenever he is walking around at an event in his community – working or not – Loud carries a LOUD Security drink koozie, or a LOUD Security luggage tag, or some other giveaway. “So many times, people ask me if I have another one,” he says. “Why, of course I do! There are so many different kind of giveaways – although I have never bought pens, because everybody has pens. We're going to do something that can maybe differentiate us at times.”
Loud recalls someone who posted on Facebook that she landed safely at her destination, and there was the LOUD Security luggage tag. “When you give people something that is useful, they will do your marketing and advertising for you. Granted, it costs you money, but that is your brand, your logo, your image. Also make sure your stickers and signs are high priority that you refresh them regularly."
Mitton adds that giveaways can often be found at low cost online – especially on overruns of large batches of items like pens. He also recommends developing relationships with local printers, who might come to you with an idea for a new product/giveaway that they want to try out for a reduced cost.
2. Internal and External Referrals
“This is free money right here, but just like social media posting, there are a lot of untapped resources on our teams who we normally don't ask for referrals – such as technicians and accounting team members,” Mitton says.
Mitton adds that Select has an official program where they incentivize employees who bring referrals. Anyone in the company can refer a customer and be rewarded. “Our technicians and our customer experience people on the phones have relationships that should be leveraged,” Mitton says. “It was a matter of time and training and role playing to get them comfortable with asking, ‘Is there anyone else you know who could benefit from what we just did for you?’”
An example of an external referral would be to offer, for example, residential security system discounts to employees of your commercial security customers. “When we bring on a new commercial customer, we always ask to speak to the HR person, because we want to tell them about this wonderful added value bonus program, where all employees can get a free home security system,” Mitton says.
Another example of external referrals centers around networking with key influencers. “In the early days of my business, in my mind it was all about marketing, but I had to be really laser-focused with my dollar investment,” Loud says. “For me, that started with real estate agents. I developed relationships with a targeted group by putting together a 'gift of security' package to give to their customers at closings.”
In residential and even for small commercial, real estate agents are helping new tenants or homeowners adjust to a new environment, and providing this gift is a win-win for all parties. Once he had realtors preaching the value of his security systems, Loud turned to other key members of the home-buying process – home inspectors, insurance agents and mortgage lenders, who also began recommending systems. Eventually that track led Loud to network with home builders, which also vastly improved his reach among new homeowners.
In the end, taking a realtor out to lunch or offering a mortgage lender a low-cost security system will pay off in referrals from some of the most trusted people in the home-buying process.
“I want to make it very clear, that we don’t give (money) to the real estate agents or mortgage lenders,” Loud adds. “They just know that by partnering with us, we are going to make sure that we make them look like an absolute hero.”
3. Invest in the Community
Often, a marketing message can be strong when potential customers see company signage at places they frequent. For LOUD, local volunteer organizations offer a great opportunity to do good in the community, while also building a brand and a marketing message.
“So many local organizations provide vital services to our community and it is important for us as local businesses to support our local not-for-profits," Loud says. “Often, we will take care of their security system needs. There is value when people in the area visit all these different buildings and see that LOUD Security sticker and signage on display. It is a marketing play, but it also shows the importance we place on community support.”
Loud encourages integrators to find ways within their own communities to give back. “You would be amazed at how many potential customers say, ‘You know what? I have many different options of consideration for companies, but I see that LOUD is involved and supports my community. We'd like to give you guys an opportunity,’” he says.
“Everyone thinks of chambers (of commerce) and organizations like that when they think of marketing for a very simple reason – sales is all about relationship building, and one of the good ways to do that is to get out in the community,” Mitton adds. “At Select, we manage all of our chamber relationships for our 21 branches, and we have committed to the sales team that we will join any chamber, as long as they are active. That's the key – they need to be serving on a committee, whether that's an ambassador committee, going to ribbon cuttings, getting their picture in the paper – anything where they are actually building those relationships.”
Another way to be involved in the community is to look for local events that you can either sponsor or help with a presence. “Check with your vendors – a lot of them have free information and safety tips that you can print and hand out," Loud says. "Get some balloons. Get some candy. Get some ice cream. And for less than a hundred bucks, you can make a big presence in your community. It is a great branding exercise – people will see your brand, it shows you are involved and invested in the community, and you will make connections and relationships that will pay off in sales.”
4. Embrace Social Media Advertising
When people think of advertising, generally it comes under the heading of traditional advertising, such as television and radio commercials – usually options that go way beyond a small budget. Mitton recommends social media, where he points out that there are ways to do highly targeted and effective advertising.
“We use Facebook quite often, because you can target users and also have good measurement,” Mitton says. “If you run a newspaper ad, it is kind of hard to figure out how effective it is. You may see a bump in sales, but you don't know how many people are actually seeing it; in fact, it is hard to track the effectiveness with anything other than online social media. If you know who you are going after, you can really get granular, and you can really target on Facebook…and it is not complicated to use.”
Typical Facebook advertising campaigns enable users to target geography, for example, a distinct radius around a particular office. Advertisers can also target particular users, for example, young parents. “You can have your ad show to the right person at the right time in their life,” Mitton says. “The beauty of that is, not only is it a highly targeted ad, but you can also get reporting. You can see how many people looked at your ad and how many clicked it."
Mitton says Facebook advertising is not expensive, adding that a company can get a campaign of the ground for as little as a $50 investment.
5. No-Cost Social Media Marketing
While Facebook ads do cost money, social media posting only costs time. “The key to this, even though it doesn't cost money, is that you must have a plan,” Mitton says. “You have to know who you are – not just your company name and logo, but what you stand for. What is the image or message you want to get out there? This is where the I-don't-really-know-what-to-do becomes an issue.”
Mitton recommends exploring a summer intern – after all, today’s high school students are pretty crafty when it comes to social media. “They know what makes for a good experience online, and they can help you out, even if it's for just a couple months, in putting together, not just ads, and not just posts, but also a plan,” he says.
At Select Security, everyone – technicians, salespeople, customer care people – are encouraged to be involved in the social media campaign. Each Select technician, upon finishing an installation, takes a picture with the happy homeowner and the yard sign. “Surprisingly, homeowners like to do that – it makes them feel valued,” Mitton says. “We give technicians the power to post things, and we trust them to make smart decisions.”
LOUD’s social media plan usually consists of four elements: service or product offerings, co-branding with manufacturers or key local business brands, fun and playful things like challenges or contests, and security tips. “We are trying to make it fun and engaging,” he says.
This is another area where your vendors can assist with content creation – often, they have security tips and other types of posts ready for distribution to their dealers.
6. Online Reviews & Customer Service
Today’s consumer likely makes more than three-quarters of their buying decisions based on online reviews. Whether it is a product on Amazon or a service company like a security provider, the first thing people do is search the web.
“We don't often think of it as a marketing opportunity, but online reviews are a great way to get your customers out there in testimonial form to share their experience – which is a powerful message,” Mitton says.
Whether positive or negative, at the end of the day, online reviews increase awareness to your brand and valuable customer insights.
So how do you get good reviews and a way to use their customers to help tell your story? “Has anybody had a customer that maybe wanted a discount? Yeah, every one of them,” Loud says. “Your sales reps can grant the discount while saying, ‘After we do this installation and take care of it, can I count on you for a review?’”
It may be difficult for a business owner or marketing manager to get their arms around so many different platforms – Google, Yelp, Angie’s List to name a few. In that case, both Loud and Mitton recommend focusing on Google and Facebook primarily. And, of course, there are clear-cut strategies for dealing with negative reviews (look for an article from Mitton on this subject in the coming months in Security Business).
Hand-in-hand with online reviews is providing prompt and exceptional customer service – a no-brainer for a business owner in the service industry; however, Loud says he takes it to another level. "At speaking engagements, I have been challenging owners or managers to put their personal cell number on their websites," Loud says. "For all the years LOUD Security Systems has had a website, I have always had my cell number and email address under our Customer Care tab. To consumers, this shows them a level of commitment and accessibility which gives confidence in our systems, our service and our team members.
"With 10,000-plus subscribers, I do not take this commitment lightly," Loud adds. "If there is an issue a customer is having with their system, billing or monitoring services, I would greatly appreciate the communication before they cancel and address it expeditiously. I assure you, I receive more lead opportunities throughout the year than I get complaints. Don’t stick your heads in the sand and wonder what happened, be accessible and help cultivate a growing business – you might be delighted in what you will learn about your own business."
7. Be an Expert Source
“This is a big one that I think in the industry we don't really tap into because it can get a little scary and intimidating,” says Mitton, who was a television news journalist for 13 years before getting into the security industry.
“When I ran the assignment desk, I was always looking for experts to help tell a story,” he says. “When we have the experts on file, when I have those relationships, we would go to them automatically. We all have knowledge, and we all have expertise that they would absolutely love – they just don't know that you are there. Don't be afraid to approach them. Introduce yourself and try to form those relationships.”