Drab to Fab

Marketing Makeover: New and Improved

The fallout from Silicon Valley's depressed economy has certainly affected local businesses-and Innovative Installers Inc. in Fremont, California, is no exception. Founded by siblings Mirzett Evans, 43, and Glenda Heldris, 58, the company provides a variety of services related to office space and relocations, including installation services for modular office furniture, space planning and layout consultation, office moving and setups, and furniture repairs and replacements based on an ergonomic evaluation. Launched in 1992, the business banked more than $2 million in sales for 2003.

But because of economic concerns in the area, Innovative Installers has decided it needs to ramp up its marketing efforts. Though there are some signs of an uptick in the financial fate of the region, Heldris believes the service sector will be the last to rebound. It's especially frustrating because, according to Heldris, "Businesses are looking for ways to save money, and if we could show them how we could save them money, we could do well."

Innovative Installers uses a mélange of marketing methods, including a Web site, cold calls, direct mail, a brochure and Yellow Pages advertising. To date, its most successful tactics have been referrals, cold-calling and the Yellow Pages. The company's main objectives for its marketing are to achieve greater name recognition, to leverage its satisfied customers to get more clients, and, of course, to make more money. The target market for Innovative Installers' services includes midsize to large companies, schools, hospitals, city and state offices, and research facilities, as well as government contracting.

Making It Better

We assembled a top-tier board of experts to diagnose Innovative Installers' marketing missteps and make recommendations for solutions. Here's a roundup of their recommendations, based on an evaluation of the business's current marketing strategies.

  • Brochure: Innovative Installers uses a rather nondescript and homemade-looking tri-fold color brochure. The front cover shows a photo of the company's headquarters with the inexplicable headline, "We blend in . . . to stand out." This headline in no way intrigues a prospect or even indicates what Innovative Installers has to offer.

Although Innovative Installers professes to work with several large companies, its marketing materials, especially the brochure, lack the aura of a polished company. According to Marlee J. Ehrenfeld, president and creative director of MJE Marketing Services LLC in San Diego, a firm that provides advertising, PR and marketing services, the brochure doesn't project "any level of sophistication or knowledge of what big business is looking for." Ehrenfeld believes the company should completely revamp its image with a new name, logo and collateral materials. She also suggests including some "glamour shots" of successful projects. The tag line "Exceeding your expectations is our goal" is utterly generic and could be used by just about any company.

Sam Parker, co-founder of Justsell.com-a Web community for sales and marketing professionals in Richmond, Virginia-and co-author of the e-book 50 Ways & Places to Find New Business, is a bit kinder about the brochure, noting that it "attempts to address the benefits of working with Innovative Installers," includes all service offerings, and lists multiple contact methods. But Parker concurs that the tag line should be removed, and the front cover-including the headline, logo and photograph-should be completely overhauled.

  • Web site: The company's site, is clean and easy to navigate, but panel experts noted that the "Request for Quote" link is inoperable. Parker suggests that a more descriptive and easier-to-spell domain name might make good marketing sense. (It's a breeze to have several domain names pointing to one site, so Innovative Installers would not have to give up its current URL.)

Miki Dzugan, chief marketing guru for Rapport Online Inc. in St. Paul, Minnesota, a company that helps clients use the Internet as a business promotion and relationship-building medium, praises the site for its great graphic appeal and the no-frills copy. Dzugan recommends that Innovative Installers use descriptive marketing copy on its home page because it helps make the site easier to locate on the Web when matching terms are typed into search engines.

Bob Phibbs, aka "The Retail Doctor" and author of You Can Compete: Double Sales Without Discounting (Brixton Manor Publishing), notes that the site is too generic overall and could benefit from photographs showing people rather than just office environments. Phibbs disagrees with Dzugan about the site's copy-he thinks it's too formal and suggests "plain speak, please."

  • Sales letters: Innovative Installers uses sales letters for "cold" mailers to prospects. Heldris scans the business pages and sends a congratulatory letter to those noted for professional achievements. The good points of the letters are that they're short, to the point and mention well-known customers. The letters could stand some editing, though, and some rethinking about calling a cold prospect by his or her first name. Phibbs suggests describing a similar project that Innovative Installers has recently completed-to show prospects that Innovative Installers has experience with a particular type of job.
  • Public relations: Innovative Installers works with a PR firm and has had success with placing articles with publications such as the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal. Alyson Dutch, CEO of Brown & Dutch Public Relations Inc., a Malibu, California, company specializing in high-profile brands and bringing entrepreneurial ideas to the mainstream, suggests that the company develop a positioning statement, which can be used throughout all its marketing efforts, including advertising, signage and PR.

Dutch also advises Innovative Installers to make a list of all trade publications, business journals, consumer newspapers, magazines, and radio and TV outlets that reach prospects. Examples of media to target include the Los Angeles Business Journal, the San Jose Mercury News and National Public Radio's Marketplace.

It's important for any PR initiative to have a trendy hook-for example, a pitch on how a badly designed office space can psychologically affect employees, or what kind of impact it can have on a company's bottom line. The return on investment of a well-executed PR campaign is compelling: Dutch's firm has recorded results of 150 to 1,500 percent ROI, which is almost impossible with paid advertising.

After meeting with our experts, Heldris and Evans couldn't wait to start implementing changes. Check out "So Far, Looks Good" for the lowdown on how Innovative Installers likes its new look and how the makeover aided sales.

Update: So Far, So Good
When we first approached Innovative Installers about allowing our panel of experts to critique its marketing plan and offer recommendations for improvement, the company fearlessly allowed us to dig around in its marketing nether regions. After evaluating the company's sales letters, brochure, Web site and corporate identity, some of our advisors were in the friendly "keep up the good work" camp, while others took a blunt "this stinks, you've gotta change it now" stance.

Sister and brother Glenda Heldris and Mirzett Evans wasted no time putting the panel's advice into action. Since getting its marketing rehabilitation prescription, Innovative Installers has hired a sales and marketing manager, redesigned its logo, updated the copy and look of its brochure, and revised its Web site. The company is also building a database of contacts for telesales and direct-mail efforts, and continues to work with a PR consultant.

Prior to the makeover, Heldris explains that the company knew it needed to make changes but was in "the mode of doing business and hadn't concentrated on what everything looked like." With the economic malaise in California, Innovative Installers admitted it needed to pay greater attention to the look and feel of its marketing. Heldris and her team are using the experts' advice to focus on the specifics of brand building and plan to "aggressively tackle the campaign in 2004."

Kimberly L. Mccall is Entrepreneur's "Sales Force" columnist.

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This article was originally published in the April 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Drab to Fab.

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