By Karen E. Klein
Q: I am involved in a family business in the home-improvement sector. We do $1 million in annual sales annually, and we have developed a new product that we feel has the potential to take the company to the next level. We did a mass mailing to more than 10,000 suppliers nationwide and sent out samples to the 12% that responded. What else can we do to dramatically increase sales and production? -- N.N., Bergen County, N.J.
A:How about drumming up some interest in the product by generating publicity for it? Contact home-improvement TV hosts, authors, leading builders, architects, and remodelers. Tell them how terrific your product is, and why it surpasses the industry standard. Get them samples so they can see for themselves how well it works, and then ask for testimonials. Third-party endorsements from respected industry insiders will be an immense help with your marketing to retailers, the media, and your customers, experts say.
Brush up on your public speaking, or find someone in your business who's a natural in front of an audience, and start marketing directly to your target audiences. If you have a roofing product, talk about new trends in the roofing industry to builders groups. Don't forget to bring along samples to give away. You could also address condo and homeowners associations, city building department personnel, and developers.
Develop news angles to help pitch your product to the media. "Start by compiling a list of 50 to 90 target media people," advises Jessica Hatchigan, an Ann Arbor-based marketing expert and author of How To Be Your Own Publicist. Identify reporters who specialize in construction and the building industry, home maintenance and repair, interior design, or consumer how-to features, she says. To get those leads, survey a wide variety of media, from magazines to trade journals, e-zines, radio shows, and television -- particularly cable shows that concentrate on the home-improvement market.
"You need to present these people with news about this product that doesn't smack of 'ad language,' or of a 'same old, same old' approach. Don't simply pitch the new product with some variation of, 'Here's my new product. It's good, and here's what it does,'" she says.
Instead, add an unusual twist: Is your product different, amusing, extraordinary, or unusual? Is it the first? The biggest? The most environmentally friendly? Try to find something that stands out that you can capitalize on to make the product memorable. You can also hold a special event to introduce the product and get some media attention at the same time.
Hatchigan advises trying contests, award ceremonies, and open houses as special events. Here are some ways to maximize media interest in your special event:
Tie into a current event or trend. National trends related to your product might include more "cocooning" (people opting to spend more time at home), fewer people able to purchase their own homes, more couples marrying in their late 20's.
Be creative, maybe even funny. "When the Russian space station Mir was about to drop from the sky, Taco Bell floated a very large bull's-eye on the Pacific Ocean," Hatchigan recalls. "They announced they would give everyone in America a free taco if Mir hit the bull's eye. Of course, the Taco Bell logo was in the center of the bull's eye. They sent a photo of the floating bull's eye to the press and the quirky -- and timely -- humor of this stunt resulted in coverage on network television and in newspapers across America."
Support a worthy cause. "A home-improvement company might create a special event in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, or with a program like Paint the Town that paints homes for the poor and elderly in the inner city," Hatchigan says.
Tie your event. A home show, home-improvement fair, or regional festival featuring product booths would be a natural for your new product launch.
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