SURVIVING THE SLOWER SEASON: COMPETITIVE RESEARCH & POSITIONING
Home inspection volume on a national level continues to be softer than normal compared to recent years around this time. Mortgage rates have nearly tripled since this time a year ago, yet housing prices remain high, and according to the National Association of Home Builders, which publishes the Housing Market Index, the housing market is officially in a recession.
As many of us brace for the chillier months of winter, countless home inspection business owners are bracing for future inspection volume challenges due to sustained issues in the housing market and an uncertain economy this year.
Starting off right
We all know the winter months are traditionally a slower period for most inspectors across the country. However, if they aren’t careful this quarter, they could easily see a sluggish season for their business turn into an economic blizzard.
Prognosticators of all sorts have already begun their speculation on what our housing market is going to do this year. And those guesses swing wildly based on any number of factors – many of which are still unknown. However, most seem to agree that things are going to be a lot slower in 2023 than they have been in the past few years. And yes, that downturn in our housing market will obviously have an impact on inspection volume. Yet, it’s what inspection business owners do during this downturn that will truly separate the success stories from the failed and forgotten. Here’s how to pivot right out of the gates this year and improve your odds of becoming a success story when the tale is told.
Differentiation and your market positioning
As incoming leads become scarcer and home inspectors are forced to compete more with each other, they must:
- Perform competitive research to better understand key areas of differentiation between your business and the competition
- Leverage insights from competitive analysis and refine brand positioning to generate more leads, and build a customer base
When the pandemic hit the U.S. in early 2020, it brought home inspections – and most business operations at large – to a near screeching halt. However, our economy slowly recovered. Inspectors adapted to the “new normal,” and just a year later, the housing market was positively on fire. However, as we all know now, the fever would eventually break, and the correction would follow.
When the housing market was going gangbusters, there was more than enough inspection volume to go around. Inspection business owners didn’t have to be as concerned with what the competition was doing or making sure that they were positioning themselves in the marketplace in a unique and differentiated way. However, as the housing market continues its correction to better fit with current affordability, demand and supply, inspectors are struggling to gain a competitive advantage in an increasingly competitive landscape. Making it a critical time to ensure you know what the competition is doing while differentiating your services and presenting brand in a way that will help you not only kick the year off right, but better position your business for the year ahead…and beyond.
Knowing your market: Research & analysis
From painfully slow to fever-pitched busy to now, when was the last time you remember running a competitive analysis for your brand? If the answer is “Never, I’m not sure, or before the pandemic,” then it’s time. If you’ve done one in the past year or so, was it efficient, insightful, and did it cause you to make specific and strategic adjustments that have paid dividends? Because if done correctly, it should.
What is a competitive analysis?
A competitive analysis is a strategy that involves researching other inspection companies in and around your area to gain insight into their services, sales, and marketing tactics. It also enables you to stay atop inspection industry trends and ensure the services you provide are consistently meeting (and exceeding) industry standards.
There are many methods and approaches for performing a competitive analysis, but the must-have benefits any analysis should provide include:
- The identification of your services’ unique value proposition and what makes your inspection services different from the competitors’, which can inform future marketing efforts
- of what your competitors are doing right – this information is critical for staying relevant and ensuring both your services and marketing campaigns are outperforming industry standards
- The identification of where your competitors are falling short — which helps you identify areas of opportunities in the marketplace, and test out new, unique marketing strategies they haven’t taken advantage of
- Learnings from customer reviews what’s missing in competitors’ services, and what you might add to your own services to meet those needs
How to perform a basic competitive analysis?
There’s no denying the value of business intelligence when it comes to your competitors. And the benefits from conducting a competitive analysis are many. However, while you can always engage a firm to assist in doing market research for your inspection business (ACC performs competitive research for clients all the time), here are some of the steps you can take on your own to get the ball rolling:
- Determine who your competitors are. Depending on the areas you cover, research what other inspection businesses operate in the same vicinity. Are they sole proprietors or multi-inspector firms?
- Determine what services your competitors offer. Beyond “inspections,” determine what additional ancillary services your competitors offer.
- Research your competitors’ sales tactics and approach to service delivery. Look at their website, social media, referral sites, and determine how they manage their lead process. Can you reach them right away via phone or text? Do they have a contact form on their website, a chat option, and/or a “schedule an inspection now” option? And how long does it take to get a response from any of their contact methods?
- Take a look at your competitors’ pricing, as well as any perks they offer. Are they more expensive? Less expensive? Do they bundle with other ancillary services or offer holiday promotions or special offers throughout the year?
- Analyze how your competitors market their services. What ads are you seeing from your competitors? What areas of their business are they promoting more than others? Do they do podcasts or participate in webinars? Are they featured in any articles?
- Take note of your competition’s content strategy. How much content do they produce each month? Is it good? Do people engage with their content on social media?
- Observe how they promote marketing content. How often do you see their paid or promoted content on social media? Are there sites that link back to their website? Do they lend their insights or voice to industry associations or vendors in the industry – on blogs, podcasts, and social media groups?
- Look at their social media presence, strategies, and go-to platforms. How many platforms are they active on? Do they have a lot of followers? What kind of content has gotten the most engagement and shares? How often do they post?
Knowing your market: Insights & brand repositioning
Once you’ve performed a competitive analysis, you can take the information and easily plug it into a simple SWOT analysis to fully inform and identify areas where your business has “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats” in your market and with your competitors.
There will likely be some obvious areas where you can leverage insights gained from your research and SWOT analysis and capitalize on specific “weaknesses” in your competitors. For example, a lot of inspectors choose not to answer a phone call or text while on inspections or after business hours, but also don’t utilize the services of a call center or have an alternate customer service option available. This allows calls to go to voicemail or texts to go unanswered until that inspector is available or ready to manage the lead. There are some obvious inherent risks in this approach, some of which we’ve covered in recent posts on Marketing and Lead Management and Customer Experience, but many inspectors still contend that this isn’t an issue for their business. It is!
Consider the following. How likely is it that someone who calls an inspection business and gets a voicemail will simply move on to the next inspector or inspection business on their list? The short answer is, “Pretty darn likely.” According to a study by Consumer Reports, 75% of callers who can’t reach a live person at a business will not leave a voicemail. Maybe this number is less for a bigger, more established inspection business, but do you think they really know what that lost lead number is? Maybe their repeat customers and agents are more likely to leave a voicemail, but will their new business leads? Nope.
The bottom line here is that after you’ve identified key areas of differentiation between your business and those of the competition and see gaps for opportunity, you can and must fill those gaps.
Brands are built with the purpose of making a business more memorable and appealing to a given audience. They achieve this by identifying unique points of difference and communicating that difference in a manner that resonates with that audience.
This is brand positioning 101.
“Repositioning” in marketing is the process a brand goes through to adjust or overhaul its perception in the market to better appeal to its target audience.
Maybe you feel like your home inspection brand is solid as a rock and doesn’t require any repositioning. That may be, but the reality is that with the dramatic changes in the housing market over the past 10 months, even the most rock-solid of brands need to alter their positioning to combat issues related to current conditions. The simple purpose being to reposition the brand in the mind of your audience, so they see your brand and its offering as a more viable option than your competitor. And this all rolls up into how we strategically fill those gaps we talked about.
Your brand’s position in the home inspection market, especially in your service area, is shaped by the perception people have of your brand. And this perception ultimately stems from the brand experience. How people “feel” when experiencing your business via multiple touchpoints: website, social channels, ads, customer service agents, the actual inspection, the inspection report, and follow-up emails.
After taking stock of your brands current position in the market, and then weighing it against the insights gained from the competitive research and SWOT analysis, you can begin to envision what modifications need to be made to your brand identity. Specifically, alterations or tweaks needing to be made to the personality of your business and the promise you make to your customers. Again, these changes help you fill those gaps of opportunity by amplifying core elements of your brand DNA that are NOT part of your competitors.
For example, maybe you conclude there is an unfulfilled need of your competitors’ customers and even yours. According to the 2022 Consumer Patience Study, more than half of all customers (52%) have willingly paid more when making a purchase to work with the business that responded FIRST. So, perhaps you recognize how much instant response to inbound inquiries can power business success and you decide to dramatically improve your brands response time to all incoming leads. Solid! Beyond that, you recognize that consumers are willing to pay an average of 19% more for “always immediate service.” (Consumer Reports) And similar to brands like Disney who have created paid options for its guests (Fast Pass & Disney Genie) to bypass long lines and skip merrily right to the front, you establish an option where a customer can pay more to get a same-day inspection or at a time that isn’t within normal business hours.
Whatever alternations you ultimately make to your brand identity to maximize those opportunity gaps, gain more leads, and close more business, they should never be at the cost of other positive aspects of your identity. Remember, these are strategic modifications, changes to messaging, enhancements to customer experience, tweaks to how you market your business, and more. Don’t give up the good to go for the expedient. Take a holistic approach and your brand will reap the rewards, both short and long-term.
ACC (America’s Call Center):
ACC is a fully integrated customer service and communication-handling solution exclusively for home inspectors – no matter if you’re a sole proprietor or a multi-inspector firm.
ACC has 25 years of experience and knowledge of what it takes to successfully navigate more challenging economic cycles. And when budgets are tight, it’s good to have a partner that has a history of producing an increase of 15% – 30% in revenue after inspectors begin services while only paying an average of $2 – $5 an hour for those services. That’s a big boost for such a small investment! We are inspectors’ smartest approach to growth and the essential partner that will make all the difference for your business. During this shift in our industry, make a shift for your business. Make a shift to ACC.