By Ronald Y. Pérez, WC&P Managing Editor

Take any booth you pass at this month’s WQA Convention & Exhibition and you’ll discover one approach water treatment equipment manufacturers and multinational corporations use to promote their products and services. But what of those smaller operations that: a) cannot afford to buy booth space, b) are unable to attend due to time and travel constraints, or c) would rather concentrate on their own market demographics and have no interest in cultivating a “national presence”? After all, not many dealers have the annual budget to spend tens of thousands of dollars on TV advertising, multi-pronged PR campaigns or e-commerce websites.

This website review, however, hopes to provide a few answers for those on tight financial constraints who still want an effective means to attract customers. Recent federal restrictions that tightened the reigns of faxing and telemarketing strategies have been well documented within this publication. Herewith are some other marketing possibilities that may serve a useful purpose for the smaller water treatment owner.
We will begin with the most comprehensive marketing trade organization when it comes to business marketing—the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). Overall, this site is especially important if you plan on transforming your website into a sales tool. It has been my experience—through talking with dealers across the country—that most websites are strictly information centers only and not sales drivers. Nonetheless, a section labeled “Better Marketing” is a must-see for companies with an Internet presence.

Chock full of juicy buttons and headers, it’s difficult to select one or two that really stand out. Under the main buttons at the top of the home page is space devoted to the news headline of the day, which had to do with the postal reform debate in Congress when I viewed it. As such, the site is also an effective legislative tracker related to telemarketing, emailing, etc. On the same page, I saw items about telemarketer fraud, caller ID, spam bills, and even protecting your server.

To the left of the home page is a section of links called Favorite Places, which is broken down into “Bookstore,” “Do Not Call Lists,” “Job Bank,” “Join The DMA,” “Marketing Opportunities,” “Member Directory,” “News,” “Press Room” and “White Papers.” “Bookstore” allows visitors to order certain reports from the DMA on topics such as direct marketing, insurance and strategy, among others. Be sure to sign on as a member for discounted offers on reports. Meanwhile, “Marketing Opportunities” is a forum where the DMA’s vast resources can be tapped on everything from banner advertising and e-newsletter sponsorships to trade exhibitions. Similar to “Bookstore,” the “White Papers” link lists the five most popular topics and, to the surprise of no one, the “Can Spam Act of 2003” was the second most requested—just behind an email piece from the Association of Interactive Marketing.
In this case, RAB stands for radio advertising bureau so visitors can expect some of the ideas and suggestions within will be slanted toward this medium. A colleague turned me on to this site. On the surface, it looks like nothing to write home about. For many water treatment dealers, radio may not be the most ideal media to promote your business, but one mustn’t close the door on the idea altogether.

For those of you still interested, the key is to click on the Media button at the top center of the home page. Once there, select the link “Media Facts: A Guide to Competitive Media.” A 28-page booklet is available in PDF format for those who have Acrobat Reader, which is essentially everybody since a free download is universally available.

Besides radio, every imaginable media is listed in this report—TV, direct mail, the Internet, outdoor advertising (more on this later), yellow pages, etc. The main feature of the report is its comparative analysis of all media and their advantages as well as disadvantages. In addition, it makes the case for how radio advertising can complement each and very one of the media mentioned. It’s a sold tool for dealers to begin their search and determine what direction is best for their business and budget.
Alesco Data Solutions is “the partner with the… marketing and mailing expertise you’ve been looking for to increase your revenues, efficiently minimize your costs, and grow your business.” So this site promises on its home page. A rather long list of main buttons dominates the left portion of the home page including List Products, Marketing Tips and MarketShareOnline.

Under List Products, one finds various direct marketing lists broken down by a multitude of categories—retail marketing, residential, consumer mailing lists, lifestyle interests and email and fax lists to name just a few. For each category, additional information is provided. For example, by clicking on “Consumer Mailing Lists” allows the interested dealer to find out more about potential customers in his/her area by such characteristics such as income, age, education, occupation and whether they’re homeowners or renters.

Further down the main button list, Marketing Tips lists a Letterman-like top 10 list for driving traffic to your business. Some of them are run-of-the-mill but others may surprise you. A few ideas given are private invitation-only sales for your best customers; birthday or anniversary clubs; coupon calendars and referral programs. There’s also an additional section devoted to web traffic.

Finally, MarketShareOnline is a tool visitors can use to try out the goods before deciding whether to make a financial investment in Alesco Data. Once selecting the button, scroll down to the bottom and click on “See the Power” while using the provided user ID and password. Six categories are shown—consumer prospect list, business prospect list, new movers, new homeowners, proximity search and pre-defined lists for your industry. From there, you can narrow down even more by income levels, occupation, etc. One downside, however: Once you click on an option, you cannot return on a trial basis so make your choice counts.
Careful here not to confuse this site with the American Automobile Association as the acronym stands for Outdoor Advertising Association of America. (“Creative Marketing” columnist David Martin gave it some nice play in this month’s column). From the good-to-know department, the leadoff news item on the home page discusses how an OAAA foundation declared that billboards don’t inhibit drivers’ performances. Since billboards are a good deal about what this site is all about, I’m sure the organization sees this as very good news.

The main buttons run up and down on the home page’s left side and include About Outdoor, Creative Library, News and FAQ, which I found the most useful for dealers. The numbers-crunching part of the site can be found at About Outdoor. Spending on outdoor advertising in the United States is tracked in billions of dollars over the last decade or so, but the second graphic is hard to read. Good general information, nevertheless.

Creative Library is one of my favorite features here as you can look up any billboard you may have seen by keyword or year. I punched in “water” and “2002” and it gave me exactly… one ad. Congratulations, Culligan! Of course, not all water dealer advertising contains the word “water” per se, but it’s a great search function. News is divided into different sub-sections such as “Industry Revenue,” “Legislative” and “Marketing.” Lastly, FAQ lists many questions on the tip of many dealers’ tongues when it comes to the viability of outdoor advertising. Topics broached here include which advertisers spend the most on billboards, the effectiveness of outdoor advertising, and testing a design before it’s used.

Whatever your budget for advertising is for 2004, these sites hope to shed some light on what approaches may be best for your company. Perhaps you would like to try a different route this time around. Or, maybe there’s an avenue you haven’t considered that’s waiting to be discovered among these sites. After all, marketing is only rewarding if you stay ahead of your competitors and remain open to new ideas.

This is the best place to start for dealers seeking an Internet handle on things. But don’t become mesmerized. There’s a lot to see here and you could spend a good chunk of time on one or two buttons. Before moving on, be sure to peruse the Online Library and click on Research & Statistics. Moreover, register with the site to make for more accessibility.
Long commute to and from work? Stuck in traffic again? What are you doing? Yep, probably fidgeting for that right song on your Bose or Alpine. But more often than not, you hear only commercials. Maybe even yours. You won’t get an argument from this site since most of is directed at those selling radio time, and not buying it.
As I soon found out: If you want all the goodies available, then you better register first. And it’s worth it. Lots of numbers backed up with some analysis. Wherever you are, this site can track down your demographics, which will presumably allow you to better size up your “typical” customer. A free newsletter is also available.
Did you know what they call outdoor advertising’s biggest award? Give up? It’s the OBIE. OK, that really doesn’t help your business a whole lot, but there’s plenty here to scratch that itch for some outdoor advertising possibilities. And like the Internet, that billboard stays in front of commuters’ faces 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

EXTRA: How to Advertise… on the Net

ere are a few more sites not covered in this review that may conjure some ideas on where to put those all-important advertising dollars. Click away:


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