By David H. Martin
Marketing is how you support sales, all year long. For decades, the techniques and strategies for promoting the water treatment dealer business hardly changed at all. That meant you could tweak last year’s marketing plan, eliminating what wasn’t working so well. But you were always selecting from the same universe of traditional media: newspapers, radio, TV, occasional mailings and a schedule of local event participations, from home shows to mall events to county fairs.
Now it’s clear there are other options to explore as you enter a new business decade. Most of these are technology-driven disciplines that promise better targeted marketing, affordable one-to-one opportunities to educate and influence, and better accountability than ever possible with the more familiar mass media. The important thing is to try something different this year to reach out to new prospects and to stimulate sales among old customers, and generate referrals. Get out of your comfort zone. Here’s a short list of ideas worth exploring for 2011.
Shift your focus from print to electronic media
Local search engines and internet yellow pages have both grown to offer dealers low-cost, targeted leads.
Old way: Many water treatment dealers traditionally relied on a combination of yellow pages and newspaper ads to reach out to prospects and stimulate sales.
New way: Research shows that today 63 percent of consumers and business owners go to the web for information — with 86 percent using search engines to find services they once looked for in the yellow pages.
Reduce your presence in print yellow pages advertising and start using online directory ads on Google and such online directories as Yellowbook.com and Yellowpages.com. Some dealers have even found business using eBay.com and craigslist.org. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
Paid local search engine advertising
Two ways to direct people to your website are through search engine optimization or organic listings — and paid search listings sometimes called pay-per-click. You need to understand and leverage both channels to attract maximum traffic to your website. Google and Yahoo-Bing are the leading search engines, with 65 percent and 14 percent penetration, respectively. Internet yellow page (IYP) sites are a distant third choice.
Executing a paid placement campaign in Yahoo and Google alone will position your Web site in front of approximately 95 percent of the Internet search population. With pay-per-click, a dealer pays a fee per keyword for each time his search result is clicked. Google and Yahoo, have instituted a bidding process, wherein companies wanting the same search term compete by paying a higher price than their competition for a selected word or phrase. The company’s listings are then displayed in the order of how much they bid for that position.
Internet Yellow Pages are owned by the print directory companies such as Yellowpages.com. IYP visitors are highly motivated to contact companies listed (75 percent contact a listed business). One advantage IYP has over search engines is no advertiser website is necessary. IYP sites also offer dealers maps, coupons, user reviews and ratings — and pay-per-call service. Yellowpages.com is pioneering video ads for small businesses that let dealers showcase their personalities. The cost per contact generated by a print Yellow Pages reference is just over $1. Paid search ads average 43 cents. The cost per lead for internet Yellow Page listings, according to The Kelsey Group, is estimated at just 14 cents.
Develop an email marketing list
Start by collecting the email addresses of all your past and present customers. Then collect email addresses of new prospects you meet at home shows and other community events. One easy way to get new addresses is to offer free drawings for attractive prizes in your home show booth. Using your lists, you can develop a valuable database for making promotional emailings. Consider adding a quarterly enewsletter with stories on community water issues. Leveraging email must be done with care to avoid offending customers who might mistake your messages for spam. At this point in time, purchasing outside so-called ’permission-based‘ email lists is not recommended by many marketing experts. Building your own custom emailing list is much safer and offers a far better means to build a productive customer relationship and solicit referrals.
Update your company website
By now, most dealers have a website. If you don’t, it’s time to get started developing one. Chances are, even if you have a website, you need to improve it by adding promotional offers, perhaps including online coupons. Every website upgrade should include professional search engine optimization to make sure you are getting your share of qualified visitor traffic. Recently, customer testimonials have become an especially powerful ’word of mouth‘ component that can give your referral program an elevated online dimension.
Video is today’s hottest online enhancement, thanks in large part to YouTube.com. Dealers are showing their personalities off with locally produced video tours, giving visitors to their website confidence they are dealing with a real person. It’s also a way to bring your customer testimonials to life for added credibility. Consider adding a company blog or company Facebook page to encourage more communication with customers and prospects who enter your site.
Start planning now
- The best way to assure you have a steady supply of sales leads all year long is to plan for it. Then follow your plan.
- Begin by detailing a concise plan of all your projected marketing activities for 2011.
- First list all the activities your plan to use in 2011 to promote your business and develop leads and sales.
- List all of your ‘Consistent Effort’ marketing activities, perhaps including newspaper, yellow pages, radio or TV advertising, direct mail, website, email marketing, search marketing or other techniques you plan to use on a continuous basis.
- Naturally your budget limitations will determine just how much Consistent Effort marketing your can afford. Assign ’Prospect’ or ’Customer’ labels to each activity in your plan, with an eye for balancing efforts between those aimed at new prospects and past or present customers.
- Determine a monthly budget for Consistent Efforts as part of your planning process.
- Next, list all the special promotions you can think of. Many of these will necessarily coincide with community events which afford the opportunity for you to promote quality water and service. They include home shows, health fairs, community art fairs, races, picnics and other venues that not only provide opportunities to develop sales leads – but create goodwill.
- Don’t forget to cultivate your reputation as a community water expert by offering to speak on contemporary water problems at fraternal and other meetings.
- Blend old media and new for an integrated marketing program that creates valuable synergy (2+2=5).
- Can you stretch your budget with low-cost promotions at local races and other community events where you provide quality drinking water for participants and spectators?
- Can you count on key vendors to supply you with quality marketing materials and cooperative ad funds?
Seen at Greenbuild…
The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) held its annual conference and trade show in Chicago for the second time in four years. As usual, water conservation products dominated water treatment on the show floor at November’s Greenbuild 2010. For example, Watts showed its water-efficient E-Treat no-salt conditioning system.
“38 billion plastic water bottles go into landfills each year”
— July 2007, Fast Company Magazine, “Message in a Bottle”
Of special interest, two companies showed POU systems that targeted growing concerns over throwaway plastic water bottles. Both Brita (through licensee Hawes Corp.) and Elkay introduced specially designed bottle filling stations.
The Brita Hydration Station comes in recessed and surface mount wall models for public or private indoor commercial/institutional building settings. Both models meet the Americans with Disabilties Act for easy wheelchair access. An electric sensor allows for touch-free hygienic operation. Surface components are silver impregnated for antimicrobial protection. 2,400-gal. carbon block filter is rated for taste, color, odor, and cysts. Filter is Brita Model 6424. Heavy-gauge steel mounting bracket and hardware.
The Elkay EZH20 Bottle Filling Station can be paired with an existing EZH20 ’EZ style‘ non-refrigerated water fountain. Or the combination kit can be easily wall mounted. Suitable for new construction or retrofit in existing buildings. An electronic sensor provides touchless, sanitary operation. Automatic 30-second shut-off. Silver impregnated surfaces prevent mold and mildew growth. 3000-gal. Water Sentry Plus #51300C filter. Also available: recessed in-wall bottle filling station (not shown).