Stoking Sales in a Down Market

Jan 29, 2007  •  Post A Comment

By Adam Armbruster

Special to TelevisionWeek

We recently received a phone call from a home builder client that wanted our help in growing its market share in a declining local economy. Weekly traffic had declined 50 percent since the real estate boom days of 2005. Clearly this client had its work cut out for it.

We accepted the challenge and were able to generate significant market share increases, but not without drastic changes in both its media plan and its marketing message.

We all know that achieving growth in a growth economy is simple.

In a quickly growing marketplace you can expect to grow at the same rate as the marketplace.

But what do you do when the overall marketplace is declining and market share growth is very difficult to secure?

Since one of the major advantages of television advertising is the ability to target a demographic, a psychographic, a day, date and time, it makes it attractive to marketers seeking a turn-key marketing plan. This ability makes for a highly efficient and targeted campaign that eclipses the other popular media and is perfect to “amp up” results in any situation. Local broadcast television advertising is a marketer’s dream come true.

It’s worth repeating that to generate growth in a declining market, it’s not a case of “tweaking” a current media plan. If you really want to win in a marketplace where your major competitors are cutting price while complaining of poor market conditions, you must be willing to go back to the marketing drawing board and start over.

In the case of our home builder client, he was spending $200,000 per month, with most of the budget going toward full-page print ads in the leading local newspaper; $20,000 a month going to radio ads, and he also was spending on a monthly direct-mail piece and Google keywords to draw buyers onto his Web site. Over the previous year, real estate conditions had shifted, the client’s weekly foot traffic had dropped 50 percent and the morale of the sales team was slipping.

Quick and drastic action was needed, so we moved right in to establish clear business goals and then built a television and Internet plan designed to hit these goals within the first year.

When we design a market-share-building media plan, we begin with the following questions to the client: Are you willing to completely re-create your media plan? Are you willing to change your consumer message based on market conditions? Only when we get a positive affirmation to these questions do we move ahead.

So here are our methods to design and implement a plan to create massive market-share growth in a slow economic growth situation.

First, since you do not want to increase the ad budget, you need to have a more cost-efficient media plan than your competitors. In this case most of the competitive home builders were still using Sunday color print ads in the local newspapers. We canceled our client’s print ads and shifted that exact budget to local broadcast television. In doing this we achieved a 300 percent buying power advantage against women 35-plus; in other words, for the same budget, we tripled the number of local women who would see our ads.

Second, we timed our television messages to match the buying cycle of today’s new-construction home buyer. Major shifts in the way home buyers surf the net and then plan their home tour trips have changed the ways home buyers view home-builder television advertising.

We carefully timed the ads to reach the market on the highest Web surfing days, and then also aired messages on days just prior to the highest foot-traffic days of model homes. Also, by canceling the direct-mail and keyword ad budget, we were able to create an Internet budget large enough to purchase significant Web ads on the television station Web sites to generate more local traffic for less waste, and to create some secondary video segments for the home builder’s Web site.

Third, we added many key elements to the television message that were not included in the print ads simply because of the past print advertising’s failure to deliver an emotional consumer reaction.

Our television message was designed to create immediate emotional impact on the buyer. The intensity of the message was changed from a print ad featuring maps and phone numbers to a message that incited home buyers to visit the builder’s Web site immediately to secure additional home options included in the home for free.

As the campaign began the client was nervous that by not being in the Sunday newspaper he would miss out on possible traffic. Our response to him was that despite his spending $200,000 a month on the last marketing plan, his traffic had dropped 50 percent. Again, only when a client is seriously willing to make drastic changes in the message and media plan does this shift make sense. There is no “halfway” to success-especially in a down market.

The television message began airing in April 2006 along with the television station Web site banner ads and message units. These ads were all coordinated in terms of style, content and message. Immediately the client’s Web site spiked from 1,300 unique users a month to more than 4,000 unique users. Model home traffic was maintaining pace as local conditions worsened. Traffic was at a lower level than in the past, but at a much higher level than the competitive local home builders. Market share began to slowly shift to our client, since our messages were better timed to the interests of home buyers. (The competitive home builders in many cases did not respond at all to the campaign, and in some cases actually increased their print ads purchased in an attempt to compete with our television and Internet plan.)

By May, morale in the sales department was beginning to improve as customers began to comment on the television campaign and revealed that they had found our client through the TV messages and the TV station Web links.

By June the builder reported that although local market conditions were still down, its home buyer closing rates had improved from 10 percent to 30 percent and its Web site had maintained a 39 percent increase in traffic. At last check the builder reported a performance level 30 percent ahead of local market conditions and planned to double its television presence in 2007.

Convincing a client that local business conditions are not necessarily in control of their business and that business owners can spur significant consumer action with a superior marketing plan remains the challenge of all professional marketing firms. It’s our job to get a client to accept the reality that drastic changes are necessary and to create television campaigns that defy the marketplace and bring market share and profit success to its door.

Adam Armbruster is a partner in the Red Bank, N.J.-based retail and broadcasting consulting firm Eckstein, Summers, Armbruster and Co. He can be reached at adam@esacompany.com or 941-928-7192.