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Selling stair lifts in America

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Mike Altieri is VP-account services at SendTec Inc., a St. Petersburg, Fla.-based agency with expertise in direct marketing, multichannel, integrated campaigns. This year, SendTec won the direct marketing account of Acorn Stairlifts, a British manufacturer of stair lifts that is just entering the U.S. market. BtoB asked him to describe details of the campaign.

BtoB: What are the goals of your campaign?

Altieri: Our primary goal is to drive qualified sales leads for Acorn. Acorn is very keen on conquering the North American market, but it’s also about finding reps [known as “installers”] to support the consumer demand in a particular market. Most of them will be exclusive to Acorn, but some could also sell ancillary products in the category of home care. Acorn is aggressively looking for these in those markets. We’re also looking to do the same in Canada.

BtoB: So that’s the prime b-to-b aspect of your campaign, acquiring channel partners?

Altieri: That’s right, although that will be dictated by where we have consumer support.

BtoB: What tools are you using in the campaign?

Altieri: Acorn has been on TV for years in Europe and they know the power of TV across their entire business. We’re executing a multipronged approach, using TV on the front end to drive consumer leads and sales, and at the same time identifying what markets will be fruitful. We started in June with local broadcast purchases, which in turn will determine the best-performing markets, and subsequently how many reps Acorn might need in those markets.

As for our choice of markets, they include the top 50 DMAs. But in addition, we acquired data that showed us where people in the age 50-to-65-year-old demographic are living in two-story homes. We were able to reduce media risk this way, and it’s worked like a charm.

BtoB: And the call to action?

Altieri: We drive people to respond with a free info kit that includes a DVD, a book and corresponding materials, which outline the features and benefits of the product. The message is, “Call now for your free info kit.” We’re running those right now in about 25 or 30 markets in the U.S., purchasing media locally. We’ll be expanding to national cable once the timing is right, because media can be more cost-efficient on cable once we’re in 50 markets or so.

BtoB: What does your cable buys look like?

Altieri: We would look at the USA Network, A&E, the Biography Channel—the programs our demographic will be viewing. With national cable, we can reach 80 million homes with one purchase, versus having to buy 50 to 100 local markets. The local buys are just to establish a beachhead, although we may continue to use them strategically. For example, Acorn may come to us and say, “We really want to stimulate sales in the Northeast this month,” and therefore we may make a supplementary broadcast buy for New York, or Boston or wherever.

BtoB: What are your other media plans?

Altieri: In late December or January we’ll launch a print campaign, and also early in the year we’ll begin an online acquisition campaign, driving people to a Web site to sign up for the free DVD. We also leverage our large network of Internet publishers to drive online leads, so we’re building a program for Acorn to target specific buyers—say those who subscribe to an AARP newsletter. We may have an ad, or a text link or some other transaction-response mechanism to deliver them to an Acorn landing page.

BtoB: Since Acorn is a British company. What are some of the differences in a direct-marketing campaign for the company here in the States?

Altieri: There are some challenges in working with a foreign company. For one, some of the nomenclature is different. But mainly it’s the fact that stair lifts are a common household item in the U.K., almost like a washer-drier. It’s a real lifestyle product there, while here it’s been a very niche market. Since people in the U.K. already know about the product, ads there present stories about its use. Meanwhile, here in the States it’s more educational; we’re creating ads that set up a problem and then reveal the solution, which is the stair lift.

One of our creatives includes people sitting around the dining room table discussing the problem—for example, dad not being able to get to his bedroom upstairs. U.S. viewers are used to having that emotional tug, so this is a tried-and-true formula here. In the U.K. and in quite a few other countries where Acorn has a presence, the company has a lesser educational challenge since people are more used to the product.

BtoB: So, you’re really after three markets: Older people, their adult children and companies that can serve as reps?

Altieri: That’s right.

BtoB: Are you handling the followup or any other form of direct outreach?

Altieri: The client does that. Acorn has a very robust outbound phone operation in Orlando where they call the respondents to our ads to answer questions and set up appointments. They also use a supplementary third-party call center, LiveOps, to take inbound calls.

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