By David H. Martin

One year ago, the nation was gripped by the uncertainty of who would become the 43rd president of the United States—not confirmed until more than a month after the election. If that seemed unsettling and a serious threat to our country’s beliefs, we never could have prepared for recent events.

Last December, water improvement equipment manufacturers and their dealers were forced to plan for 2001 in a very uncertain economic and political environment. One year later, a new world of terror has replaced one of temporary political chaos. And the economy is also more uncertain than last year.

How do you plan your 2002 advertising and promotion plan in an era “when everything has changed” and uncertainty threatens normal optimism and confidence? What marketing avenues should you consider to communicate, educate, motivate and generate leads in these troubled times?

Rethink what’s mailed
In an era of growing fear where bioterrorists are tampering with packages and sealed letters, marketers who mail to customers are wondering how they can reassure people that their mail-marketing pitches are safe.

Government and other office workers are being advised not to open sealed, mysterious packages and envelopes. In this fearful environment, make sure your business envelope mailings reveal your promotional intentions right on the envelope. This isn’t a good time to “tease” recipients with eye-catching envelopes or mailed packages that carry no return address or other company identification.

On the other hand, this is an excellent time to change your mailing vehicles from sealed envelopes to less threatening “self mailers” and color postcards. In some cases, you just might be able to lower your mailing costs as well.

Revisit web marketing
If you thought Internet marketing “flamed out” last year when many dot-com stocks went south, think again. Times have changed. Marketing experts—including Peter Arnell, of Omnicom’s The Arnell Group—say your website can play an important role in “calming consumer worries” about your company. They advise mailing companies to include their websites prominently in their direct mail campaigns to “help remove anxiousness” and build company credibility.

Also, consider the following from a recent Howard Kurtz’ column in the Washington Post: “You have to wonder at this point about the future of mail delivery, a massive, decentralized operation that suddenly seems so vulnerable to terrorist attack. We move 680 million pieces of mail a day—how do you protect all the people who handle the stuff? Email suddenly seems so much easier and safer, if you’re not waiting for magazines or the occasional check.”

If you thought e-mail marketing would only annoy customers who consider it spam, think again. Now things are different. People are now more nervous about opening “snail mail” than reading legitimate e-mail offerings with thoughtful messages. It’s an excellent time to resume abandoned e-mail efforts, perhaps starting with a helpful e-newsletter that offers tips on “protecting your personal environment.”

Reinforce your previous efforts to capture prospects’ e-mail addresses through special drawings at home shows and other community promotions. Develop a database that includes the e-mail addresses of all current and past customers. E-mail marketing might never replace your direct mail efforts, but it’s destined to become a more important part of the mix. Plus, it’s far more economical.

Think outside promotions
Shopping malls have been threatened by terrorists. People are wary of crowds.

As a result of this fear, you may experience a decline in attendance at fairs and home shows—two traditional ways dealers meet prospects and set appointments. Look for additional avenues to capture leads and sample product water. Why not approach local fraternal and religious-based organizations? Offer an educational program on “local water issues” as a forum to meet people and sample product.

Call or write the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) for a copy of “What’s Up With Our Nation’s Waters,” a new booklet designed primarily for middle-school children. It presents key findings in the USEPA’s National Water Quality Report and includes projects for school or fun—a water quiz, a glossary, and other resources for more information.

Form marketing coalitions
When times are prosperous, many businesses make the strategic mistake of thinking they are better off “going it alone” in their marketing programs. They become lazy and waste marketing dollars by overlooking logical cooperative advertising programs, in favor of more costly solo efforts. Solo marketing may feed your ego, but don’t make good business sense, especially when marketing dollars are short.

In times of economic uncertainty, look for compatible promotional partners at community events to share marketing costs and take advantage of synergies. Look into cost-effective “marriage mail” as a way to generate leads at less cost. Check out co-op advertising funds, available from vendors. Ask for additional support to promote vendors’ products.

‘One-to-one’ marketing strategy
Analyze and rate your key vendors and customers in uncertain times. Embrace computer-based technologies to establish more efficient databases for one-to-one marketing, whether by mail, e-mail or phone.

Remember that it’s three times more expensive to find a new customer than to retain a customer for repeat sales and qualified referrals. While nothing will replace personal attention, you need to use technology to help better understand your customers, meet their individual needs with targeted promotions, and make them feel valued.

Re-evaluate objectives?
For the short term, absolutely. Before the national tragedy of Sept. 11, you might have been targeting business growth of eight or 10 percent for next year. Expect some continuing disruption of business in the months to come. But don’t sell yourself short in the long term. Pay special attention to what products you’ll be selling tomorrow, not just the ones you’re selling today. Keep your eyes open for new opportunities as conditions change and be prepared to act accordingly.

Adversity as advantage
Thomas Doorley, III, CEO of Sage Partners, a consultancy specializing in strategic leadership, believes in the near term that worried people will seek alternative solutions to business air travel including e-mail, conference calls and video conferencing.

Indeed, video conferencing has been exploding, with more than 35,000 systems sold to businesses in the first half of 2001. Rapidly developing Internet protocol technology and dramatic price reductions in video conferencing systems are fueling 25-30 percent annual sales growth. For about $1,000, you can own a desktop plug-and-play system; and for $5,000 to $10,000, you can own a conference room system that would have cost up to $40,000 just three years ago. This powerful interactive communications medium can bring together groups of dealers for product training and other purposes. It’s a format that’s secure, effective and affordable. That adds up to an especially attractive investment in times of national concern about business travel safety.

If you and your staff aren’t overly concerned about this, now’s the time to pick up a good travel package. Since the hospitality and travel industry—particularly airlines—have been severely affected by cancellations, a number of destinations now are offering drastically discounted packages as incentives to spur business. Many use patriotic themes such as “These Colors Don’t Run” beneath a waving American flag. And charter buses and trains are now in vogue as alternate ways to get you there.

If the “war on terror” goes on indefinitely, Doorley believes that concerns over air safety will diminish travel substantially and lead to permanent replacement with the help of non-travel communications technology. He and others believe that in uncertain times like these, people will spend more on technologies that help them keep in touch, communicative and safe. Cocooning—popular in the 1980s—will be “in” again as people withdraw from the threatening outside world. Highly discretionary expenditures, such as expensive travel, will be “out.” But basic industries and products that promote personal safety will tend to do well.

Water improvement product manufacturers and their dealers should rethink their marketing strategies and tactics in planning for a highly uncertain year in 2002.

Be ready to embrace high-tech ways to communicate with other groups of dealers and vendors in an era of diminished business travel and lowered public confidence in some traditional media. Look for cost-effective ways to promote when consumer confidence is compromised. Practice one-to-one marketing and promote reassuring themes such as “protect your personal environment” and “new security for your home.”

About the author
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing, of Oak Park, Ill., a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, email: or website:


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