Water quality systems and the toothbrush test

Jan. 6, 2015

Direct marketing offers dealers the best ways to reach the right people at the right time.

Google’s CEO, Larry Page, uses the "toothbrush test" whenever he is faced with a decision about acquiring a new company. Simply put, the toothbrush test answers this question: Is it something you will use once or twice a day, and does it make your life better?

In the water quality industry, the toothbrush test makes a lot of sense. A new reverse osmosis (RO) unit is definitely something homeowners will use more than twice a day and yes, it will make their lives better.

But, how does a water dealership create that overarching value proposition that makes people believe they cannot live without a water treatment system? And, how do they brand their dealership as the one consumers must go to if they want the best?

Direct marketing offers dealers the best ways to reach the right people at the right time. Direct mail, telemarketing and email are all high-response direct marketing techniques that give dealers the edge.

Direct mail is the only medium guaranteed to actually reach the people you want to reach. It works year in and year out, and many dealers have been mailing for years. Telemarketing is still a high-response lead generator and email, while a very marginal stand-alone prospect medium, is becoming a strong companion to direct mail and an excellent medium for CRM and repeat business.

Since most dealers have been mailing successfully to new and longstanding homeowners for years, I want to concentrate this article on three thoughts that might improve dealers’ direct marketing response even more: Acing the toothbrush test, reach versus frequency and direct mail to millennials.

Acing the toothbrush test

Many water systems pass the toothbrush test. You are not just selling a water softener, you are selling a product than can be used all day/every day and will help to enhance people’s lives. In marketing, that’s the difference between leading with benefits versus features.

People will respond to your marketing if they feel you are offering them a relevant product that will make their lives better. It’s not about the features of your water system — it’s about how your system can make your prospect feel.

While I am sure that the type of salt, number of cylinders and maximum flow rate of your system are compelling, these features are not going to generate interest. Make sure the benefits are prominent. Make sure the copy has feeling.

Remember, you are not selling a water system; You are selling health and wellness, providing a safety net, making the world a cleaner place, preventing waste, preparing children for a brighter future and saving consumers from wasting money. With a water system, people will feel better, they will look better and they will live in a better environment.

Dealers may want to refine their homeowner lists and test mailing to homeowners with children. In that case, I recommend taking a second look at your mail piece and make sure you are leading with the right value proposition. Always remember the benefits your water systems can provide: The quality water children need for proper hydration, healthy growth, shining hair, cleaner clothes and a better future. That’s much more compelling than grains of hardness removed.

Reach versus frequency

Reach is the number of people you touch with your marketing message and frequency is the number of times you touch each person with that message. While it would be nice to have an unlimited budget and reach a broad group multiple times, dealers need to take a look at the budget they have and decide if their strategy is to go broad and mail to a larger population once or narrow the prospect group and mail and email to them multiple times.

Let’s face it, marketing is building a business relationship with potential customers. When was the last time you established a relationship with someone you just met once? A relationship grows based on contact over a period of time. It needs to be nurtured.

In "Permission Marketing," marketing guru Seth Godin uses an analogy of seeds and water to demonstrate the importance of frequency in a marketing campaign. If you were given 100 seeds with enough water for each seed once would you plant all 100 seeds and water each one once, or would you be more successful if you planted 25 seeds and used all of the water on those 25 seeds?

When I look at marketing campaigns across the entire home spectrum, I see businesses trying to grow all 100 seeds at once, rather than targeting the best 25 seeds and reaching out to them several times. When we sacrifice frequency for reach, we lose the chance for the relationship building that comes with multiple contacts.

The fact is that response increases with frequency. Multiple touches across different media increases branding and creates name recognition and reputation. Savvy marketers try to schedule their direct mail drops and companion emails to hit during the same window. And, since we still don’t have unlimited budgets, the key is narrowing down the prospect list to the best possible group and reaching out to them with relevant messaging and offers multiple times.

Marketing is not an event, but a carefully planned, well-thought-out program that takes into account your goals, your budget, your resources and your brand. While we love dealers who mail to new homeowners (and yes, new homeowners are the top response group for water dealer year in and year out), mailing to them just once is not the answer. In fact, the dealers that mail to them more than once are the ones who get the higher ROI. A new homeowner may not call you the first time they see your dealership’s name or even the second time; however, once they get to know you, well, you get my message — multiple mailings/multiple touches will increase response.

Since we know that response will increase with frequency, that is also why I suggested dealers consider narrowing the broader homeowner prospect market to homeowners with children. Targeting just families reduces the quantity and dealers can mail to them more often and stay within their budget.


If I had a nickel for every time a dealer told me he or she doesn’t want to mail to the "under 35 group" because they only respond to email, I would be a rich listologist. Look at these statistics (provided by marketingcharts.com):

  • 75 percent of millennials find the mail they receive to be valuable
  • 92 percent are influenced by direct mail to make purchase decisions as opposed to 78 percent influenced by email
  • When asked about whether or not they would prefer to continue receiving promotional emails or receiving the same promotional items but in the mail, 70 percent said email or other digital delivery and a whopping 90 percent said they would prefer postal delivery.

So, why did I think it was important to mention millennials? Millennials represent the largest demographic segment in the country — larger in number than the baby boomers. They will be the next buyers of water treatment products. They are environmentally aware and have been raised to know using refillable water bottles is a good thing. They want healthy options for themselves and their families. Even if something is expensive, if they want it — and you make them a good enough offer — they will buy it.

The water industry needs to get ready for this group. They will become a real force in the marketplace as their numbers grow in the housing market.

Dale "DataDale" Filhaber is president of Dataman Group Direct, a Florida-based direct marketing company founded in 1981. DataDale is an author, lecturer and listologist. In the past 25-plus years, she has trained many water quality dealers in direct marketing and lead generation techniques, ranging from direct mail to telemarketing to social media. In the water industry, DataDale has published articles in various industry trade magazines, including Water Technology, and is the author of Pure Water Profits, a biweekly blog on marketing found at in WaterTechOnline.com. She participated in Water Technology‘s webinar titled, "Perfecting the in-Home Sale," and is also a frequent guest lecturer at the annual WQA Aquatech USA conference.

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