By David H. Martin

Today’s information overload calls for more personal contact with customers. Consumers are frustrated with media marketing. Many are tired of booting up their computers each morning only to find a slew of irrelevant emails. They’re 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 (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 90 percent of American have home Internet access. With the advent of wireless connectivity, the modern consumer can now purchase a wide selection of products and services, any time, anywhere. But messages have become ubiquitous, forcing consumers to pay the price for these communication conveniences. Recent statistics illustrate the staggering volume of interactions initiated by companies to customers: 91.5 billion pieces of direct mail are sent yearly, 19 billion outbound telemarketing calls are placed monthly and 1.5 billion spam emails are blocked daily.

Aggravated and inundated, customers are demanding that businesses reassess the channels they use and how they use them, a backlash that has spurred national legislation like the CAN-SPAM act and the US Do-Not-Call registry. Recently, Do-Not-Call was extended to private cell phone numbers.

While a dozen years ago, consumers may have been merely annoyed by this bombardment, today they resent the invasion of their privacy and time. Consequently, companies (including water treatment dealers) are experiencing a backlash. 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 purpose is two-fold:

  1. Raise local awareness and build credibility as a water quality expert
  2. Capture sales leads and set appointments

Raising your company awareness
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 ones in your immediate community. Join the local Chamber of Commerce. Offer to speak at their meetings about local water issues. Attend chamber socials and the annual banquet. Take advantage of their publications (including the newsletter) to tell your company story.

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 organizations, such as Kiwanis, Lion’s or Rotary Clubs. Don’t overlook non-traditional specialized clubs for small-business owners, home-based businesses or women entrepreneurs. Contract 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 on your own website, be sure to tout your availability as an expert on water quality issues as well 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 you 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.

All of these face-to-face networking and image-building activities will have a cumulative effect to raise your personal and company awareness as the local water quality expert.

While the results might 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. But how can you generate immediate sales leads without using traditional media?

Paid and non-paid participation
Other important alternatives to traditional marketing media for dealers include participation in local home shows and other sponsored events, including those involved in 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 far from free (with some dealers reporting spending $5,000-6,000 [USD] on booth space each year), the results can be rewarding and immediate.

Static product exhibits are passive and uninteresting in the active, exciting home show environment. To succeed at capturing leads, you need to compete for attention. To ignore this fact almost guarantees disappointing booth traffic and failure. Sweepstakes, product samplings and demonstrations are some methods that can contribute to the excitement—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 prospects on the benefits of conditioned or purified water, address their health concerns and accelerate their purchase decisions. Since the primary purpose of participating in a home show is to develop a body of qualified sales leads for immediate followup after the show, you need to use active techniques like these:

  • Stage a drawing for universally attractive prizes
  • Sign people up for a free, in-home water test
  • Offer 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 walks, marathons, 5K and 10K races or even health fairs sponsored by hospitals or health clubs. Like home shows, these are a great way to meet prospects face to face to enhance your company image. But don’t be satisfied with good will 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. 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 your dare) email addresses.

Conclusion
Growing consumer skepticism and resistance to advertising makes face-to-face networking and participation in home shows and community events more important than ever. More than ever before, it pays to get in their face! 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, Oak Park, IL, a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404 or by email at dmartin@lenzimartin.

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