(written in Febriuary, 1995)
by Jim Heaphy
As a fabricator, like any other small business, you need to create a positive image that distinguishes your company from your competitors. Through marketing, you must communicate that image effectively to potential customers. While there are many ways to accomplish this, your marketing efforts are most likely to be successful when they are carefully planned, professionally executed, and evaluated for achievement of goals upon completion. Production and distribution of effective sales literature is a good example of a marketing campaign appropriate for most fabricators.
I recently had the opportunity to get some tips on how fabricators should go about producing sales literature from an experienced marketing professional, Paul Muller of Muller & Smith in San Francisco, a firm that specializes in marketing programs for construction products companies.
How should a fabricator go about finding a marketing firm to assist in developing sales literature? Muller suggests looking for effective sales literature from companies roughly the size of yours, and in a similar industry (although not a direct competitor). He then suggests that you call these companies to ask who helped them design and produce their literature. Invite from three or four of these marketing companies to make a presentation based on a preliminary discussion of your company's marketing needs and budget. Select the one with which you feel the best rapport - a company that shows that it understands your business, and presents a plan specifically designed to get the responses that you want.
During the planning stage, the marketing professional will help you come to an understanding of just what your current and potential market is. Together, you should evaluate your past marketing efforts, as well as your competitor's marketing. It is important to come to an understanding of what each of your target markets really want from a potential fabricator.
There are really only three ways for you to distinguish yourself from your competitors - on price, quality and service. The relative emphasis given to each of these factors depends on a careful evaluation of your target market. For example, many people tend to think that a low price is always the most important. However, when selling an upscale product like custom fabricated solid surface countertops, it can be a big mistake to overemphasize low, low prices. Customers may end up doubting your quality and service. It may be more effective to place greater emphasis on outstanding quality and impeccable service. In this type of approach, you may wish to highlight your many years of experience (if applicable), your successful completion of prestigious jobs, testimonials from prominent designers and architects, your commitment to providing prompt quotations, your record of on-time delivery, and so on. Be sure to let the marketing professional know about anything that distinguishes your company from your competitors.
It may also be advisable to associate your company's image as closely as possible with that of the solid surface manufacturers whose products you sell. The manufacturers have spent substantial amounts of money for years to create a favorable market impression, and you can benefit from that. One possibility is to emphasize that you are a certified fabricator. Just be sure, though, that any statements connecting you to the brand name of a solid surface material are accurate, and are within the guidelines that the manufacturer has established for the use of its trademark.
During the planning phase, you must agree on the format of the literature piece. Will it be a pamphlet, a folded brochure or a two-sided flyer? One good format for custom fabricators is a presentation folder to create a basic image, describing your company in general terms. The contents of each folder distributed can then be tailored to individual clients, with appropriate inserts such as a cover letter, contracts, price sheets, product information sheets, copies of letters from satisfied customers, technical data, or manufacturer's literature.
Be sure that customers can contact you as easily as possible. Your address, phone and fax numbers should be shown prominently. Include the names of key employees. Consider a postage paid reply card or envelope, which can improve your response rate substantially.
The size of the press run should be decided, based on the channels of distribution you plan to use. You should also decide on some objective goals that can be evaluated. Perhaps you will print 3,000 copies, distribute 1,000 within the first six months, and develop 50 new accounts from leads resulting from distribution of the new literature.
Good photography is critical to the final outcome. Commercial photography is expensive; so if the budget is limited, it is far better to have two excellent photos in your literature than plenty of fuzzy, poorly-lit amateur photos.
Once the initial planning has been completed, the marketing professional will write and design your literature piece. It is best to trust the skills and experience of the professional you've hired when it comes to matters of style. However, you should proofread the drafts carefully for factual and technical accuracy. Once you've approved the final color proofs, the literature is printed.
When the final product is delivered, implement your distribution plan. If you choose to distribute literature by direct mail, your marketing professional can help you select mailing lists, and can handle the bulk mail process for you. Be sure to institute a lead tracking system, to determine how new customers heard about you. Was it as a result of your new marketing efforts, or from something else you've done in the past?
Evaluate not just the quantity of the new sales leads, but the quality as well. Are the new prospects more or less likely than old prospects to buy from you? On average, are they spending more or less than old customers? Also, look for unanticipated results of your marketing efforts. Do customers seem to misunderstand your marketing message? Do they compliment you on your literature? Are they ordering countertops just like the ones in a photo you've featured?
This is the priceless information that comes from a careful evaluation of the success or shortcomings of your marketing efforts. From this, you can develop a deeper understanding of your market that can lead to even greater increased sales in the future.