By David H. Martin
Consumers are increasingly frustrated with media marketing. Many are tired of booting up their computers each morning only to find a slew of irrelevant emails. Exhausted by the constant stream of impersonal direct mail offers, they’re irritated by intrusive phone solicitations. Who can blame them? The sheer volume of messages—estimated at over 3,500 a day—creates an overload of information that no human being can process.
Message overload and why it’s getting worse
In today’s interconnected world, the speed of new technology adoption continues to escalate. It took the Internet just seven years to reach 30 percent of American households, while it took television 18 years to achieve the same penetration. Now, nearly 75 percent of Americans have home Internet access. With the advent of wireless connectivity, the modern consumer can purchase a wide selection of products and services any time, anywhere. But messages have become ubiquitous. Recent statistics illustrate the staggering volume of interactions initiated by companies to customers: 91.5 billion pieces of direct mail sent yearly, 19 billion outbound tele-marketing calls placed monthly and 1.5 billion spam emails blocked daily. Aggravated and inundated, customers are demanding that businesses reassess the means they use and how they use them, a consumer backlash that has spurred recent national legislation like the CAN-SPAM act and the U.S. Do-Not-Call Registry.
Consumers may have been merely annoyed by this bombardment five years ago; today many resent the invasion of their privacy and time. Consequently, companies are experiencing a strong negative reaction. CAN-SPAM, Do-Not-Call and technological safeguards are three of the issues water treatment dealers and other businesses need to overcome to effectively deliver their message to target customers. But this may take time.
So now might be a good time to focus your marketing efforts on activities that will get you in front of your prospects, face to face, in your community. The purposes of course, are two-fold:
- Raise local awareness and build credibility as a “water quality expert,”
- Capture sales leads and set appointments.
Raising your company awareness in the community
Don’t be shy. It’s time you asserted your local leadership in “water education.” You have the expertise and experience in water problems, especially those in your immediate community. Join the local chamber of commerce and offer to speak at their meetings about local water issues. Attend the socials and the annual banquet most municipal chambers offer. Take advantage of their publications (including the newsletter) to tell your company story whenever possible.
Your networking with other chamber members will pay off in building your commercial/industrial business, as well as your residential equipment and bottled water business. But don’t stop there.
Join one or more other traditional business-related organization such as Kiwanis, Lion’s or Rotary clubs. Don’t overlook newer specialized clubs for small-business owners, home-based businesses or women entrepreneurs.
Contact a local speaker’s bureau, often associated with a college or public relations firm. These organizations are often a resource for community groups looking for someone to speak on a specific topic. Ask the bureau to list you as an available speaker on their website—and if you have your own website, be sure to tout your availability there as well, both as an “expert on water quality issues” and as a leading supplier of equipment and services.
Write “letters to the editor” in response to published newspaper articles on local water issues, including water shortages, rising water bills and political issues relating to water. Leverage your chamber of commerce connection to gain guest appearances on local radio news and community affairs programs. Your local cable TV provider may offer your free time on their public access channel to discuss water quality and conservation.
Consider writing your own company newsletter, to be mailed to customers and members of the organizations you have joined. Keep it brief and newsy, not just a platform for promoting products and services. If you do write a newsletter, be sure to post it on your company website for even wider distribution. Not a writer? There are plenty of pre-packaged software programs to create such newsletters, or hire a local publicist or journalism student to put one together for you.
All of these face-to-face networking and image-building activities will have a cumulative effect of raising personal and company awareness of you and your firm as “the local water quality expert(s)”.While the results will not be immediate, remember, people like to do business with people they know. The better known you become in your community, the more potential customers you will have. How can you generate immediate sales leads without using traditional media?
Paid and non-paid participation in local events
For dealers, other important alternatives to traditional marketing media involve participation in local home shows and other sponsored events, including those attached to fundraising for popular causes.
For years, surveys of water treatment dealers have confirmed that fairs and exhibits often generate the most sales leads of any single marketing activity. While participation in a home show is costly—some dealers report spending $5,000 or more on booth space at shows each year—the results can be rewarding and immediate.
Static product exhibits are passive and uninteresting in today’s active, exciting home show environment. To succeed at capturing leads, you need to successfully compete for attention. To ignore this fact almost guarantees disappointing booth traffic and subsequent failure. Sweepstakes, product samplings and demonstrations are some methods that can contribute to the excitement—and make sure your booth has both the action and involvement to catch the interest of show attendees. In a single show, you can educate hundreds of prospective customers on the benefits of conditioned or purified water, address their health concerns and accelerate their purchase decision.
Since the primary purpose of participating in a home show is to develop a body of qualified sales leads for immediate follow up after the show, you need to use active techniques like these:
- Stage a drawing for universally attractive prizes.
- Sign up people for a free in-home water test.
- Offers samples of bottled or product water to prospects.
Taste-sampling is a proven way to engage prospects at both home shows and community events. In the moment it takes for a person to drink a cup of water at your booth or event exhibit, you have the opportunity to qualify them: “Isn’t that great tasting water? Wouldn’t you like to have it on tap in your home?”
Have you ever considered offering free drinking water at local events in your community? We’re talking about races, walks, marathons, or even health fairs sponsored by hospitals or health clubs. Like home shows, these are a great way to meet prospects, face to face, and to enhance your company image. But don’t be satisfied with goodwill and publicity. Set your sites on sales leads. When you approach the event sponsors, be sure to negotiate the right to capture names and phone numbers at the event, not just from the participants, but from the spectators as well. Then set up a table with free cups of drinking water, along with a sweepstakes drawing booth, pens and entry slips that solicit names, addresses, phone numbers and (if you dare) email addresses.
Growing consumer skepticism and resistance to advertising makes face-to-face networking and participation in home shows and community events more important than ever. The key is to plan your approach to each of these alternative marketing activities well in advance.
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:dmartin@lenzimartin. com or website: www.lenzimartin.com