Successful dealers in the water industry learned a lot in 2009.

They had to do more with less, perfect their marketing programs to reach out only to the best, most responsive prospects and drop programs that were not producing.

This year has started off with great optimism and we are seeing a lot of back-to-basics marketing as dealers have cut back on frills and are concentrating on the “meat and potatoes” of their businesses.

Dealerships who are evaluating their marketing outreach are strengthening their phone rooms, testing postcard mailings that target specific market segments and reworking their local display advertising and websites.

Reaching out

Water quality dealerships need to understand that they cannot spend their hard-earned marketing dollars reaching “everybody.” “Everybody” is not their market.

Renters are not buying an RO system, low-income households cannot afford a system and many families will not pass credit checks with the financing company.

Dealers need to develop a robust marketing program to reach out to different segments of their community.

The beauty of direct marketing is the ability to fine tune a program cost-effectively.

Dealers should only spend their advertising dollars reaching out to those market segments with a proven track record of buying water treatment systems.

Whatever group the dealers decide to contact, the key to a profitable outreach program is matching the prospect list for the specific demographic segment to the marketing message and premium.

In the back-to-basics spirit that we have been seeing, water quality dealers are continuing with the number one tried and true market segment — new homeowners.

And, depending on their budgets and expertise, dealers branch out to some of the “less traveled” paths by reaching out to key market segments through direct mail and telemarketing lists.

Water dealers who reach out to these more unique market segments can really score since they are marketing to homeowners that other dealers are ignoring.

Key market segments

New homeowners. Year after year, the new homeowner list has been the most productive segment in the water industry. That’s because the water never tastes the same in the new home as it did in the old home.

Some dealers insist that they need to be the first to contact the new homeowners and they are willing to go down to the county courthouse to collect the information themselves.

Some dealers copy the new homeowner transactions from their local newspapers.

Others subscribe to services that provide them with weekly or monthly lists of the new homeowners in their areas.

Some dealers mail; some telemarket. But the key to a successful new homeowner program is systemizing the process and maintaining an ongoing outreach program week after week or month after month.

Not every new homeowner will buy a system the first week they are in their new home, but in 2006, there was a one-to-one correlation between the number of new homeowners and the number of POU systems sold in the United States.

A continuous new homeowner program should always be a mainstay of every dealer’s marketing program.

Homeowners with new babies. Also available as a monthly subscription program, this list allows dealers to systemize their marketing outreach.

Clean, quality water is a necessity to this group. New parents mix formula, bathe the new baby, wash baby’s clothes and bedding and make cereal for baby’s first meal — it’s no wonder that they are a top response group in the water industry.

This group is best reached by mail. Your message should focus on concern and well-being, and the premium may be a no-leach formula bottle or diapers.

Homeowners with good credit scores. Nothing is more frustrating to a dealer than sending a rep out to do a water test and then making the sale to a prospect who doesn’t pass a credit check.

The dealer whose finance company requires a 640 or greater can obtain a list of homeowners with 640-plus credit scores.

While these lists are typically more expensive than others, most water dealers who use this type of list feel the cost is well worth it.

A note of caution — if your dealership is offered a list like this for under 10 cents/ name, beware. There are many lists in the marketplace that use aggregated or summarized credit data that are marketed as credit score lists, but do not provide the household-level data which is required by the credit bureaus to meet their requirements.

Homeowners with children. All parents want to make sure they are providing quality water for their family.

That’s why homeowners with children are another key market segment for water treatment dealers.

In the past year, parents all over the country have been bombarded with articles about contaminants in public drinking water, including the water fountains in school systems.

Messages should highlight safety, wellness and health as well as the dollar-savings that soft-water provides in regard to laundry, cleaning costs and longer appliance life. The premium may be a lunch box, sports bottles, soap or detergents.

Green or eco-friendly homeowners. This new market segment of homeowners has a distinctive mindset about their environment.

Their hot buttons are the tremendous waste caused by the millions of plastic water bottles filling our landfills and the run-off from chemicals and detergent into the groundwater.

Messages should stress a continuous refillable clean water source, low-flow faucets, the ability to use natural soap and more gentle detergents and smaller carbon footprints in terms of plumbing, heating and appliance use. Premiums may be pure, concentrated biodegradable soap, solar-powered flashlights and hemp dishtowels.

Affluent pet owners. Affluent homeowners dote on their pets. Once the kids are out of the house, this market segment spares no expense to provide their pets with nothing but the best.

In 2008, consumers spent over $50 billion on their pets.

Water quality dealers who feature pets on their website and marketing materials absolutely must reach out to this group with the message, “Doesn’t your pet deserve clean water?”

Premiums include natural pet shampoo or refillable mini water tanks.

Ailment sufferers. For homeowners who suffer from debilitating ailments, quality water is a must.

Dealers can market to individuals with diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, hypertension, cancer, kidney disease and psoriasis in addition to many other ailments.

Areas with high sodium content are dangerous for individuals with high blood pressure or heart disease.

Water in rural areas with a high concentration of arsenic from fertilizer run-off may be fatal for cancer sufferers.

There is no question that this group needs the services of a water treatment dealer.

Messaging and closing premiums should be health-oriented. This group responds well to material sent in the mail that includes case studies and statistics.

Ailment sufferers are also prime prospects for air quality systems, which many dealers also provide.

By fine-tuning the marketing outreach, selecting the key market segments that make sense for the particular dealership, matching the messaging to these segments and continually testing and tweaking for improvement, every dealer can have a successful 2010.


Dale Filhaber is president of Dataman Group Direct Mail & Telemarketing Lists, a direct marketing company based in Boca Raton, Florida. DataDale, as she is called in the industry, is well known in the water quality business and has been a guest lecturer at several WQA conferences and many national and regional conferences. She is also the author of “Ask DataDale,” a popular blog for the direct marketing community. She can be reached at dale@datamangroup.com.