An interview with master marketer Marty Gould, president of Focalize Your Business and a frequent speaker at the Replacement Contractor Executive Conference.

Replacement Contractor: With so many venues for marketing and advertising, how can a small business possibly find and communicate with prospects?

Marty Gould: The environment is crowded and there are more ways now to communicate than there's ever been. The way around that confusion is to state a clear message about what you do and an offer that makes you meaningfully different from competitors. Talk specifically about the problems customers have and how your company will solve them. When you talk about their problems, and the solutions you can give them, you make it easy for them to find you. And that's what it's all about today. We have to find ways for them to find us.

RC: You've mentioned that traditional media is one-way, and new media is two-way. Could you explain?

MG: Before the Internet our purpose was to get a message out, direct it to people, and get them to take action. Now, with the Internet, they're able to participate in the conversation. Prospects are in control of the timing and rhythm of how the communication takes place. So it's crucial that we factor that into how we speak to them. They're going to tell us how they want to do business with us and they're expecting us to respond to them. If we don't, or if we don't in an appropriate way, they'll move on to someone who's more responsive.

RC: Is it possible that Twitter, Facebook, etc. are a fad, media that are here today and gone tomorrow?

MG: Whether or not any one particular media continues to exist is up to how that media responds in the marketplace. A few years ago MySpace was a big deal. Now Facebook has supplanted it. So it's not social media that come and go it's one specific form of social media. Social media itself will grow because we're all part of the infrastructure. There are 500 million people on Facebook. There are another 100 million with Twitter accounts. The way we're communicating now is in large part driven by social media. Nobody knows how that will change in the future but it will forever affect how we market and communicate. Social media will not disappear. There's no going back to the old way.

RC: Does that mean contractors have to be masters of social media to get new customers? Should they just forget about "old media" like newspapers?

MG: The demise of the newspaper is greatly exaggerated, especially in smaller markets where the paper is the principal source of news and information. I don't believe that in 5 years no one will be subscribing to newspapers or magazines. Newspapers and magazines will change and offer additional forms of marketing. But wherever you're advertising, you have to change what you say in that ad to be effective, because the reader, or viewer, or listener, is also on Twitter, Facebook and other forms of two-way communication. If you communicate by shouting about a special or talk in vague terms about how much better your company is than competitors, your message will be seen as boasting, exaggeration, puffery. What goes in the ad is much more important now than where it is.

RC: What are home improvement contractors missing by not being on Twitter/Facebook?

MG: They're missing an opportunity to have a dialogue with customers that could provide them enormous feedback on how to offer products and services to those customers. They're missing the chance to know, for the first time ever, what their customers are thinking, what's important to them and why. If you're really listening you're going to hear all kinds of things about their lives and their world that will inform the decisions you make as a contractor about the products and services you offer. So your involvement with social media allows a dialogue, a chance to connect with people at a much different level. Now they know you, not just the corporate entity. That gives them other reasons to do business with you.

RC: You believe that if contractors narrow their focus, customers will find them. Isn't that kind of a paradox? Aren't you trying to catch more fish in a smaller net?

MG: Marketing resources are finite. You only have so much material with which to create a net. If you want to build the largest net, then the holes will be very large and a lot of fish will swim through. On the other hand if you do some research and figure out where the fish are and what they like to eat and what time of day they are active, then you can make a smaller net and drop it strategically. That way you catch more fish and fish that are edible.