These aren’t the easiest of times

Five poor summers in a row and a possible double-dip recession; in a climate like this you better not feel that you are in at the deep end with your marketing.

A sun drenched August has traditionally helped the sale of impulse purchase, above-ground pools and hot-tubs, and for the last five years our business has been denied that seasonal treat. Those buyers are often people who upgrade in later years or buy into other areas of wet leisure, so our future might appear to be under threat.

Under those greyer skies, we are faced with an economic downturn that seems to be in everyone’s thoughts and hitting everyone’s pockets. The temptation to cut margin and compete purely on price can easily look like the sensible option, indeed, the only option.

It would be foolish to think that price isn’t an issue. Of course it is.  Having said that, it isn’t everything. If you try and compete on price alone then you might succeed in making yourself appear cheap, but be warned, someone will always undercut you.

Offers that add value, promotions that appeal to your target market and a true understanding of what people really want will make your pool, sauna and hot-tub marketing in 2011 work as hard as it so obviously needs to.

Don’t see it as sink or swim.

 No doubt about it, these are difficult times; but think of some of the biggest companies in the world. Think of Apple, Tesco or BP. They have faced serious challenges and come through them to be bigger and better, and they’ve done it by sticking to sound marketing principles. In fact, companies that work harder at their marketing in a recession have consistently done better over the long term than those who have thrown in the towel and cut all the costs they can.

Your customers are feeling the pinch as well as you and they will respect someone who steps up and adds value, sees the world through their eyes and tries to help them.

Focus on the benefits.

Recessions don’t hit everyone equally.

Younger families may have increasing drains on their purse strings but in many cases the grey-pound stays strong. The baby boomers – people in their late fifties and early sixties – are often well provided and want to enjoy life. They are health conscious and they want to treat themselves to the things that they aspired to in their youth. A pool that can help them stay trim and provide pleasure for themselves and their family is still an attractive proposition – but selling to someone in their sixties takes a different approach to selling to an aspirational forty year old.

Baby-boomers can see the health benefits of a sauna as clearly as any ‘30something’, they just need talking to in a slightly different way and your marketing might have to appear in a different place to find them.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes; where do they go and what do they want?

Make friends, influence people.

We can’t just wait in our showrooms and expect the phone to ring or someone to open the door.

We have to go and find our customers or at least make it easy for our customers to find us. Old-fashioned salesmanship and the new world of Social Media Marketing are not too dissimilar. We meet people, introduce ourselves and often give them a little free advice. It’s from behaviour like that, that new leads develop and new customers emerge.

New customers are most likely to share many things with our existing customers. They might be friends; they might live in the same area or be members of the same club.

Social Network sites like Facebook understand this and in the online world a page for your business that connects your customers and allows you to share news and advice with them can be invaluable.

When you are not on the computer, similar advice applies. Have a presence at health clubs and swimming pools in your area. When you install a pool, take a little time to put up site boards and even drop cards through the neighbourhood doors. ‘Keeping up with the Jones’s’ might be an old-fashioned phrase but people are interested in what their neighbours have just invested in and they don’t always ask.

A sustainable market.

For a huge section of the population, green issues and sustainability have become a fact of life, a way of looking at the world.

The capital cost of a new swimming pool, for instance, is a given but increasingly people are looking at alternative energies and lower running costs. The more we talk about renewable energy and lowered running costs, the more we will be listened to.

There have been huge advances in these areas over the last few years in terms of chemical use and ways of heating a swimming pool. Marketing these advantages gives you a platform that people will be interested in and helps them overcome a number of barriers to entry. A pool that uses less energy, has lower running costs and is more environmentally friendly. These are potentially more powerful sales messages than cutting the initial cost by dropping your price.

Are we talking about price, or value?

The secret of selling, is knowing what people are buying.

Our business might be about selling wet leisure goods and services but our customers are buying something else. Whether it’s a pool, sauna or a hot-tub; they are buying health or relaxation. They are buying a place that their extended family and friends can gather around or they are buying something that says that they have earned some of life’s luxuries.

Price is going to be an issue. Of course it is. But if we understand our customer’s dreams and value them, then we are well on course for keeping afloat in these difficult times.