The Passages of Life

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

If you’re a manufacturer of pet care products, what’s the best way to grab additional customers? Would you rather entice someone to switch to your products, probably by offering coupons or other discounts, or would you want to grab consumers before they even leave the pet store or the pound?

Or say you’re an aspirin maker. Would you rather try to entice 50 people to switch to your brand for occasional usage or grab 10 cardiac rehab patients who must take a tablet a day for the rest of their lives?

While the answers to the above questions aren’t hard, finding the programs that can put your products before consumers just when they are primed to act, isn’t that easy.

In comes a life stage marketing expert like Glen Greissinger, president of the Pennington, NJ-based The Dialogue Company. His company does life stage marketing programs for major packaged goods manufacturers that sell products for cats, dogs, cardiac rehabilitation patients, and women’s health programs.

To Greissinger, initial sampling is the key: “The marketer takes advantage of being in the places where his product can intercept the customer just at the moment that customer is going through some kind of major change.”

As an example, Greissinger says when selling pet care products, he will look for people who have a pet just entering the household.

As a first step in his marketing program, households with new pets will be targeted, using databases and other information. Next, Greissinger uses pet care professionals to hand-distribute nationwide free packets of dog or cat products from various vendors. In the case of a young cat, the packets would contain an assortment of “special free gifts” for the new owner, including Whisker Lickin’s Treats, made by Ralston Purina, a flea control program by Novartis, Merials’s Heartgard flyer explaining how to prevent heart worm disease, and a book entitled Welcoming Your Cat to Your Home, put out by Tidy Cat litter products.

The handouts would be distributed, not only to new owners, but to animal shelters, humane societies, or, in the case of dogs, to various obedience instructors. Each handout contains coupons or other special offers that trigger initial purchases after trial.

Another expert Geoff Gropp, founder and owner of LifeStage Marketing, says “We develop programs based on clients’ needs that are designed to reach the manufacturers’ best-paying and most attractive prospects at that point where they are most vulnerable to hearing our clients’ message.” He’s a former senior vp for The Senior Network and vp group publishing director of Welsh Publishing Company. The clients of LifeStage marketing have included Procter & Gamble, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, Pillsbury, and Sears Optical.

Both Gropp and Greissinger say they believe the needs of the customer change as the events of his life alter the focus of his attention. “A person driving down the street may never before have paid attention to what kinds of cars people are driving until they are thinking of buying a new one themselves. All of a sudden, what’s out there, the models and styles the prospective buyer sees, become of great and immediate interest,” Gropp says.

In other words, tell me what you pay attention to and I’ll tell you who you are.

Last year, Greissinger’s kitty products marketing program distributed 200,000 Kitty Packs nationwide. Combined with his company’s 500,000 Doggie Bag and 300,000 Dog Obedience Trainer kits, Dialogue’s Total New Pet Owner Access Program reached and influenced one million pet owners in one year, he says.

Because of targeted delivery, the program focused only on “the prime, most likely prospects.” And, by taking advantage of key timing, the brand was able to receive the maximum amount of exposure and exert its most persuasive influence. Since previous advertising and coupon promotion had already built brand awareness and identity, the packets, including their coupons, resulted in increased revenues and sales for the manufacturers, Greissinger says.

(Dialogue and the packaged goods makers work from the basis of an annual contract, the conditions of which are the exclusivity offered by product category and right of first renewal granted for future participation.)

But once the relationship with the customer is begun, it has to be kept up. Through databases, Greissinger is able to maintain contact with customers over time, the idea being not simply “to have a consumer, but one who will be a repeat buyer, and one that would be likely to buy a considerable quantity,” he says.

Gropp agrees: “In most of these programs, the manufacturer is interested in a consumer buying in significant quantities.” He adds: “Each brand wants to find out who they’re trying to reach in order to refine their strategy. In other words, what are the key trigger points in the client’s life cycle that would spur them to buy that product.”

In setting up his programs, Gropp maintains that good targeting is critical. Whether the method is mail, person to person, or in groups, specificity is key.

“For instance, we’ve posted consumer events that have gone to trade shows like expos in order to target specific consumers,” Gropp says. Direct mail is a good mechanism for reaching specific markets at home, while in the case of seniors, he used an approach where contact was made at senior activities centers “where you had people who are like-minded, and shared the same interests.”

To Gropp, the initial volume that customers buy isn’t as important as making sure a program reinforces the equity of the brand, setting up an environment in which future purchases are almost inevitable. “What you’re building is the brand’s heritage,” he says.

Gropp stresses the importance of “getting in there early,” making customer contact when the customer is most susceptible to the message. If the customer is going to remain a long-term buyer, it’s important that “you’re the first to win that share of the mind battle” and capture customer interest early, he says.

Cranbury, NJ-based MarketSource Corporation’s director of youth marketing, David Marcou, agrees. MarketSource, the largest youth marketing group in America, targets the huge 15 million U.S. college student group. Says Marcou: “The key to college is that you’re just out of high school – you really haven’t established brand preferences yet. So you have to move. Now is the time to reach this group.”

MarketSource takes advertisers’ products onto campuses as free samples that are given out by the company’s sales force or advertised “in a widespread way” using the company’s own “proprietary media vehicles.” Another avenue to reach students would be the Internet. Since college students are the most wired generation, the Internet is a good tool, Marcou says.

“We try to build awareness of brands through promos – sweepstakes on Internet, sampling (done hand-to-hand), coupons, the works.” MarketSource also reaches students through the more traditional venues – college bookstores, dormitories, and the like. In each case, the use of coupons, rebates, free samples, and direct response offers are key to the marketing campaign.

MarketSource judges the effectiveness of its return on investment by the rate of repeat purchase. Says Marcou: “We do pre- and post-distribution measuring, and we consistently show high rates of conversion.”

MarketSource says that its direct response companies “repeat with us year after year.” Whether it’s a music club or magazine offers, “these programs have been in play over a long period of time.”

A critical benefit of college market is its efficiency. “When it comes to students, you know where to find them – they’re on a campus, all in one place. They’re a captive audience.” With TV advertising, “it’s hit or miss. There’s a large audience segment that you’re not going to reach,” says Marcou. But with the college market, “advertising is very efficient. There’s no waste – not on a campus.”

Although he declined to name any of MarketSource’s clients, Marcou says it comprises “virtually every category of packaged goods.”

Like Greissinger, Marcou also emphasizes the importance of maintaining the customer relationship. “Once we’ve got it started, it’s up to the client company to keep it going,” he says. “You wouldn’t send your child to college for one semester and expect them to get all the benefits from it. You send them for four or five years. Well, for a brand it’s very much the same. You have to send your brand to college for a long enough time for you to win their loyalty, to build a lot of momentum for future sales for your product. And you can only do that by your continuing commitment to market.”

Gropp points out that more sales forces for major marketers are being required to “do these tactical types of life stage programs” to reinforce the key brand message.

According to Greissinger, product sampling is critical because it creates “a highly relevant trial situation” which is reinforced by print advertising – all of which adds to the weight of the brand message. Coupons are a key element because they trigger initial purchases following the trial. The product literature, with its detailed descriptions of product benefits, is a crucial agent in spurring purchasing decisions by patients. The brand impact is further reinforced by classroom wall posters and flip charts.

But again, the secret to having impact is the life event. Says Greissinger: “A man may scoff when he sees ads for Lean Cuisine, but after he has chest pain or a heart attack, you’ve got that man’s attention as you’ve never had it before. That’s when the customer has changed his whole perspective about himself and his world. That’s the time to deliver educational materials and the appropriate product samples – right there in the hospital.”

Gropp agrees: “There are a number of core life stages that can be critical, and that’s when you want the marketers to meet that customer. That’s the optimum time.”

The range of products for Dialogue’s Cardiac Directions marketing program display an amazing amount of customization and marketing savvy. For example, a cardiac rehab patient in a hospital would have delivered to her or his bedside: Alberto-Culver’s Mrs. Dash, a salt substitute; Astra Pharmaceuticals’ Toprol, a high-blood pressure medication; Morning Star Group’s Second Nature egg substitute; Lay’s Wow potato chips with Olean; General Mills’s Total cereal; JR Simplot’s Micro-Magic French fries; Block Drug Co.’s Beano anti-gas tablets, and Ecotrin Safety Coated Aspirin, a SmithKlein Beecham product.

According to Rick Kocur, Ecotrin associate brand manager and a Dialogue client, the ideal customer for Ecotrin is someone who has just survived a first heart attack – a cardiac rehab patient who requires a product that thins their blood and protects their stomach, and a product they must take every day for the rest of their life.

A program like Dialogue’s Cardiac Directions, “allows us to target that group very specifically,” he says.

Not only will Dialogue keep track of the number of people who receive Ecotrin sampling packages, “we can get an idea of the number of patients we have reached with our message,” Kocur says.

Dialogue’s research also includes tracking repeat purchases and the “intent to purchase,” says Kocur.

The fact rehab patients “begin by taking your product is a good start,” says Kocur but he admits that it’s no guarantee they won’t break to another brand. But once the dialogue with the customer begins, Kocur says his company works hard to keep it going, reinforcing it with coupons, rebates, and other special offers. Plus, once consumers send their names to Ecotrin’s database, the patient will regularly get a company newsletter related to cardiac care. Ecotrin will also do other mailings that contain strongly reinforcing messages that “will hopefully get them into the store” for repeat purchases, says Kocur.

For its Cardiac Directions program for 1998-99, Dialogue plans to intercept 400,000 heart patients at 1,700 participating hospitals nationwide at the diagnosis stage or following an “event” – even in the aftermath of surgery. The materials provided by Cardiac Directions, to be issued by the hospital medical staff, will act as teaching aids to help patients improve their diet, exercise, and change their overall lifestyle.

As in the kitty program, highly personalized delivery to patients of sample packages with gift coupons and free offers will be done by professional cardiac rehabilitation staff. Greissinger plans to send out 200,000 such kits in August of this year to be followed by another 200,000 kits early next year.

As planned, all will reach the target audience precisely when they are most susceptible to the product message and the need to change their lives, he says. It is at that time that health-related product information is most highly relevant and best received by patients, he says.

The hospital environment also enhances the impact of the message, and its delivery by medical educators provides implied endorsement, Greissinger says. The educational setting merges with the product information to achieve positive changes in lifestyle such as the taking up of exercise, improving the diet, eliminating smoking, or making some other constructive improvement.

In the case of Ecotrin, Dialogue works with the company on the basis of an annual contract, renewed on the basis of “results and performance,” says Kocur. Its conditions include exclusive product category, right of first refusal based on future participation, and detailed marketing research.

Kocur describes Cardiac Directions as a high performer for Ecotrin. “When you’re getting a coupon redemption rate of 20 to 25 percent, you’ve got a good program,” he says

So far Ecotrin has been with Dialogue for the last four years. “You could say it’s working,” says Kocur.

“The critical thing,” says Greissinger, “is to recognize in various audience groups how they might benefit from the product that you’re selling and try to reach them in the right environment. That means intercepting them in the right place at the key time.”


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