Sell through a slump

The nationwide slump in housing has forced many home-related products and service companies to completely reevaluate their new customer acquisition strategies, which is proving to be a boon for direct marketing.

“Home-related companies that used to rely on broadcast advertising have had to pull back on those old strategies,” notes David Banko, presi­dent of Atlanta-based DART Direct Mail. “The dollars are no longer there, so what remains has to be spent more wisely and on more targeted approaches. That means more effort behind direct.”

That’s not to say direct mail is a cure-all for what ails the home/shelter industry. Traditional direct strategies — especially postcard mailers tar­geting particular areas or ZIP codes — are no longer as effective, simply because most consumers can no longer leverage the growing equity in their homes to fund things like remodeling projects or vacation homes.

“You used to be confident that postcard mailings for home remodelers would always pay for themselves and provide a reasonable ROI,” says David Alpert, president of Great Falls, VA-based Continuum Marketing Group. “Now half a percent response would be very good and a twenti­eth of a percent would be more typical.”

“[Marketers] can no longer pick a ZIP code and some creative and drop it out there and see what sticks,” adds Banko. “The sales cycle has tended to be a bit longer, which is forcing direct marketers to be much more aggressive in targeting, getting out information and educating con­sumers a lot faster.”

With push strategies not nearly as impactful, many direct marketers — especially those on the new home sales side — are also turning to online, especially search, to pull interested prospects through the sales process.

Kelly Cutler, CEO of Marcel Media, represents Ryland Homes and the home improvement company Aeroshade. “We make sure landing pages now speak directly to keywords,” she says. “If someone types in key­words such as ‘Moving to the Dallas area,’ our landing page will tout new Dallas homes that are immediately available.”

Alpert adds his clients are also putting more resources toward extend­ing and nurturing the relationship with current or previous customers.

“We send out a lot of newsletters or invitations to events because the people who are most qualified for a residential remodeling are often those who have done remodeling before,” he says. “This also helps our client stay top of mind with those customers and can really drive referrals.”

Sharon Goldmacher, president and CEO of integrated marketing firm Communications 21, notes some traditional advertising methods, such as outdoor billboards, are still used by both realtors and home improvement firms — but even those leverage direct marketing tools and pitches.

“Condos and communities now have billboards that say ‘Text us’ and with that they’re able to capture people’s phone numbers and informa­tion you wouldn’t normally get,” she says.

Regardless of the channel, Goldmacher stresses messages for home/shelter direct marketing campaigns need to be concise and always accompanied by great art.

“Video is still not quite where it needs to be in order to embed it in e-mail,” she adds. “But, especially on the Web, we find that we really rely on images to get people to sign up.”

Oldcastle Architectural: Contest

The goal of the 2007 “Ugly Patio” contest for building materials supplier Oldcastle Architectural was to drive both brand awareness and lead generation. Backed by an e-newsletter, postcards, a Web site and some PR, this seven-month campaign by Atlanta-based Communications 21 was able to generate more that 525,000 hits to the Ugly Patio Web site, with more than 20% of visitors staying on the site in excess of two minutes.

Gutter Helmet: Postcard campaign

This oversized direct response postcard campaign managed by DART Direct Mail for Gutter Helmet, a national home improvement company specializing in gutter protection, digitally tracked and recorded each of the phone call responses generated from the campaign. DART used the caller address tracking data to determine best response days, most active ZIP codes, and best overall zones in order to make secondary mailings more effective.

SilverMark: Newsletter

This ongoing print newsletter campaign was created and managed by Continuum Marketing for Minneapolis-based residential design/build remodeling firm SilverMark and targets a combination of previous customers and others who have expressed interest in the company. Containing seasonal maintenance reminders along with remodeling tips and trends, the newsletter has nurtured and extended customer relationships. It has resulted in a near doubling of SilverMark’s repeat and referral business since its launch.

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