One of the best methods for keeping the customer out of the competition pages is the tried and true refrigerator magnet. Consumers love refrigerator magnets. They never seem to get enough of them.

When a consumer has a magnet on the refrigerator, it soon fades into the background of their subconscious. They forget it's there, until ... they need your services. The refrigerator magnet is recalled as a quick way of finding your phone number. It's easier than referencing the Yellow Pages, and consumers tend to follow the path of least resistance. That's exactly what you want!

Why Be Stingy?
As inexpensive as the refrigerator magnet is, when ordered in quantity, some business owners tend to act as though the were made of gold. They hesitate to give them out. Why? If you're going to use magnets, give them out for gosh sakes.

Give Them Out At Every Opportunity
In other cases, businesses buy magnets, but don't seem to know what to do with them. I know of a Papa John's Pizza franchise that freely gives out magnets to their take out customers. They leave them on the counter. Consumers grab them because they like magnets and they like the convenience of having the number readily available. And there, they stop.

The restaurant has a booming delivery business. Unfortunately for the owner, the delivery customers never see the magnets. The drivers aren't given magnets to pass out with the pizzas they deliver. They should give them out like business cards, like coupons.

Be Creative
I've seen service companies place refrigerator magnets all over their trucks. It's not a customer retention device, but they note that when the trucks are parked at the mall, magnets are missing when they return.

Other companies attach magnets to door hangers and place them in targeted neighborhoods. People throw away the door hanger, but keep the magnet. It's the best of all worlds. They don't take advantage of the offer on the door hanger, but call you when they need your services.

Sometimes we try to get too sophisticated and clever in our marketing programs. Sometimes we need to stick with the tried and true. Have you reviewed your refrigerator magnet program lately?

Magnetic Attraction
This works in part because everyone loves magnets. Of course, that can create problems in its own right. The refrigerator becomes so covered with magnets that your particular magnet gets lost in the clutter. How do you stand out? And how do you ensure your magnet retains its sacred position when there are so many that might bump the magnet into a second tier position, if not the trash can.

Heavier Magnets Stick
First, don't buy cheap magnets. In fact, order thicker, heavier magnets. Thin magnets are less likely to hold that construction paper finger painting that Junior brought home from pre-school. If a magnet doesn't perform its primary function, it's a candidate for removal. Make sure your magnets are keepers by buying the thickest available.

The Magnetism Is In The Message
One of the best ideas I've ever seen for making sure the magnet remains in a prominent place on the refrigerator was by humidifier manufacturer, Skuttle. Every time I run across Skuttle at a trade show, they're passing out extra large magnets with a place to write emergency phone numbers (including the number of the Skuttle dealer, of course). Heck of an idea!

Take it a step farther and print up a list of numbers. Since most cities have 911 service, you might not need that number. However, you might put the number for the poison control center for your area (see www.aapcc.org for a directory). You might list the phone number for the local time and temperature; phone numbers for local civic information, the numbers for your congressional representatives, and so on. You could follow Skuttle's approach and leave blank areas where people can write in their own emergency numbers.

You could list emergency instructions, such as what to when someone's choking. If you do, be sure to source a government agency or not-for-profit to protect yourself. You could provide a checklist for babysitters if there's an emergency. Another alternative would be to list local websites of interest.

Another alternative is to make the magnet a picture frame for holding a snapshot of the homeowner's choosing. Whatever you choose, the idea is to make the magnet so important the homeowner will want to keep it front and center. And always, you will want your name, logo, phone number, and unique selling proposition on display.

A Magnetic Corporation
Magnets aren't just for the home. Refrigerator magnets are perfect for holding notes and memos in the office.

If you service or supply restaurants, retail, offices, or other businesses, have your employees leave a few magnets on the company's refrigerator in the break room, as well as steel file cabinets. You keep your name in front of your commercial customers, some of whom have no idea who actually provides some of the products and services the company needs to function.

Why does this matter? For one, employees are constantly shifting positions and changing employers. Your name recognition may be an important ingredient to continuity if your primary contact leaves and a replacement is scrambling to get up to speed with a new position.

There's often a natural spill over effect for the residential market. If you serve the residential market as well as the commercial market, magnets placed with your commercial customers will also build your name awareness among a group of consumers that might need your services someday.

A Magnetic Coupon
This is the last word on magnets for a while. I've already talked about how magnets can be used for more than a recitation of your name and phone number, including other useful numbers, helpful hints, and so on. Why stop there?

Why not print a coupon on a magnet? Turning a magnet into a coupon for 5% or 10% off will increase the value to the consumer. Not only is there the functionality of the magnet, but there's a potential for future savings. You're giving the consumer more reasons to keep the magnet and to remember it when the need arises for your services.

Matt Michel is president of the Service Roundtable (www.ServiceRoundtable.com), an organization dedicated to helping contractors prosper. Matt is also the publisher of Comanche Marketing, a free marketing e-zine. Subscriptions are available at www.ComancheMarketing.com. You can contact him directly at matt.michel@serviceroundtable.com. Or send your comments to Contracting Business at letters@contractingbusiness.com.