The Consumer Experience

During a dealer round table discussion last week at the WQA’s Mid-Year Leadership Conference, one of the topics that seemed to be laying heavy on the hearts and minds of members was how online shopping (e-commerce) is effecting local residential water treatment sales.

Let’s face it, Amazon and other huge online retailers are certainly hard to ignore when searching for water treatment products and services.

As a matter of fact, Google rarely sees these types of searches as local which means the first results page may be cluttered with Google shopping ads, Amazon & Home Depot ads, OEM sites, as well as the Q&A section for global answers/results. Check out the non-localized (no local city was added in the search bar) searches below for “water softener”, “reverse osmosis systems”, and “water filtration system”.


Water Softener Search Results
Reverse Osmosis Search Results
Water Filtration Search Results

Only by adding in local cities to searches do we typically see more local results and fewer e-commerce ads. In this search, we typed in “Water Softener Saline MI”.


Local Water Softener Search Results

So how many people typically type in a local city when doing a local search? While I was hard-pressed to find any aggregated national data from marketing research organizations, our team went through our search query reports and search terms report and found that most mirrored the results in the following image. As you can see, only two search terms in the top 17 contained a semi-local (state) modifier. We see this over and over again.

Why does this matter?

Because what the majority of people are seeing when searching for your products and services may be e-commerce and non-locally focused.

It tells us how we need to work to position ourselves in the marketplace as a local water treatment business.

Define Your Unique Value

Sometimes we tend to over complicate things – to try to beat our competitors through promoting advanced technical features, flow rates, resin capacity, and wireless technology. While all of these can be great selling points, think of your audience and what your product is being compared to.

Is it really resin capacity? Or is it ease of purchase, how well the system can solve their exact water problems, or if they are going to get screwed over on service after the sale.

All businesses and markets are different, however, my educated guess is the later.

Based on this, ask yourself, “how well do I communicate those important factors that set us apart from e-commerce & big box stores in every step of my marketing efforts?” From direct mail to Google ads, the initial call with the prospect to the in-home evaluation, how well am I positioning our company uniquely in the mind of our prospects?

While you may think that having a local certified professional water expert test someone’s water, inspect their plumbing, provide certified equipment that solves the challenges the homeowner is facing, and then having a licensed professional install the equipment and service it for years to come is obvious to people in your market, think again!

Most consumers have no idea that you offer this type of expertise. They see dollar signs because they don’t understand the value. Work to create a strong value proposition that you can use to educate and build trust with your local market. In other words – service, service, service sets you apart because you add the human element to the purchase.

A great way to come up with your unique value is to have each member of your team individually write down what they think sets you apart from your competitors. Have them dig deep and think of specific stories. Then come together and share your ideas, you’ll find a lot of overlap which indicates key ideas and a lot of new and creative thoughts too that will be worth testing.

Be sure to test different ideas and see what resonates with your local market! Don’t assume you know what’s best – none of us are mind readers.

For a detailed look into split testing value propositions and how changing up your messaging can have a major impact on the leads from your website, check out this video:


Define Your Strategy

A strong value proposition is only as good as the number of ideal prospects that actually see it.

If no one sees your ad, website, or speaks with your team, there will be little chance of long-term survival.

Showing up in front of your ideal prospects at the right time takes some strategic planning. From outlining your target market, segmenting them based on water quality, demographics (age, gender, income), and psychographics (interests, behaviors), and researching which channels of advertising – paid or otherwise – are best suited for each group, there are many steps involved. 

If you currently don’t know how or have time to create a strong market strategy, give our team a shout and we’d be happy to help you get started.

We know that many – if not most – searches on Google and other search engines are done without a local city in the search term and include products that search engines view as global e-commerce searches.  The key is to understand how to show up in search results regardless of whether Google displays local or global results.

Ideally, this is done through a strong PPC (pay per click) campaign that’s localized to your geographic area. The most effective platform for this is typically Google Ads. Let’s say you bid on keywords like “water softener”, “reverse osmosis systems”, and “water filtration systems”. If your budget, bid, and ad rank allows, your ad will show up in the top 3 spots of a search in your area, placing you in the running for attention and clicks against even the biggest online retailers.

Sure, your cost per click may be higher than a keyword bid for “Water Softener Saline MI”, however, if you’re tracking leads, appointments, and sales back to the keyword you’ll know if the keyword is producing a positive return on investment.  If you’re not sure how to set this up, let us know – we can help.

Organic rankings against such competitors as Amazon, Home Depot, and large manufacturers like Culligan, Kinetico, and EcoWater is nearly impossible for small businesses and certainly not cost-effective. Even if you did have a million+ dollar digital marketing budget, you wouldn’t want people from all over the globe finding your site and contacting you since you can’t serve them.

It’s best to show up locally through paid ads and deliver a killer value proposition that makes your prospect think, “Wow, I can’t get this from anyone else, anywhere else, at any other time, for the value they are providing”.

Localized search engine optimization, however, is a great strategy and one we employ with success for our water treatment dealers. It speaks to those searches which search engines do deem as local and therefore provides local business results.

Direct mail, social paid ads, and other forms of local advertising can also be effective when used strategically to target the right consumer with the right message that matches their water quality issues, demographics, and psychographics.

Serve Your Community

At the TWQA convention this year, I was blessed to hear Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale speak about his experiences starting, growing, and maintaining a furniture empire in Texas. Starting with $5,000 and a lot of grit, Mattress Mack went on to focus his energy on serving the local community and building a culture of service. The result is that he has built incredible trust and rapport with the locals he serves and has grown his business to over $200,000,000 in sales per year.

Even this week as heavy rains hit Texas, he’s offering shelter to those in need just as he did during Hurricane Harvey.  He even publicly provides his cell phone number during this Facebook live. That’s caring, my friends.

As his story shows, one of the most obvious ways to gain the respect of your local community is to serve them.

Amazon may provide easy peasy fast checkout and delivery options, however, you won’t find them sponsoring a 5K, donating water systems to veterans, letting people sleep in their headquarters, or building houses for local people in need.

When you serve your community there are multiple rewards. From the people you help to the culture it builds in your business, to the health benefits of giving time and resources to others, this is one of the best ways you can continue to stay top-of-mind in your local area and position yourself as the water treatment authority.

It doesn’t hurt to also employ Mattress Mack’s professional business tactic to strategically have cameras around when you are proactively helping your community. 

Assess Your Own E-Commerce Strategy

The old saying goes, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”.  Even if you successfully employ the concepts above and continue to grow your business, you may still want to explore adding in an e-commerce element to your marketing strategy.

Before you go all “but my OEM says…” this does not necessarily mean you have to actually sell your products online.

For example, you could have an “online store” section of your website that lists out all the different replacement filters you sell with pricing, noting that you are able to provide professional installation of these filters. Instead of paying online, you can allow people to select the filters they want in a contact form which notifies your team so you can contact the person to make the sale over the phone or set an appointment.

Depending on your OEM’s terms, you may also be able to set up an e-commerce store just for existing customers where they can log in with their account number and purchase through your site.

Lastly, if you don’t have any OEM requirements then you may want to test out Google Shopping ads as well as a shop linked to your site for those who prefer online shopping. Of course, you also will have the option to add on installation services.

All of these are varying degrees of allowing you to cater to the online shopping market while also touting your local, professional, certified service. And as we ALWAYS say with any new strategy, start small and then test, learn & improve!

Final Thoughts

Yes, e-commerce is growing leaps and bounds and it’s highly important we continue to adapt to fit the needs of our ideal prospects in the world they experience.

However, let us not ignore the fact that Amazon opened a bookstore in Seattle and acquired Whole Foods. Warby Parker, the eyewear company, opened its first store in 2013 and now has 61 nationwide. Bonobos & Blue Nile are also opening retail stores.

There are MANY benefits to having a physical location, service trucks, local salespeople, installers, and technicians. You add the human element online retailers lack, and when it comes to something as personal as having an appliance installed by a human in our home that provides better water for our families, having your local, trusted brand means everything.

Forty-six percent of consumers say they do online research 75% of the time before in-store purchases. This is highly important as it shows the necessity to have a strong online marketing strategy in place. You must always be testing your audiences, channels, ads, messaging, landing pages, and sales scripts to adapt to your hyper-local market and create marketing that resonates and builds value. Your brand is the aggregate experience of how well you deliver on your promises. Make sure your promises match consumer desires and your team delivers consistently.

To find out more about how we can help you develop, test, and improve a hyper-local marketing strategy, book a free strategy call with us today. With over a decade of experience in the water treatment industry, we know what works and how to help you grow.

If your team is already using online shopping to reach new prospects and grow your business, feel free to share your strategy in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!