Marketing Matters Featured

9:58am EDT July 22, 2002
Today’s sophisticated, high-tech world of voice mail, e-mail, electronic data interchange and overnight express shipments have helped bridge the gap between time and space. Today, you’ll find little difference in the service you provide to clients around the block or around the world.

But technology unwittingly may create a sense of disconnection with your customers, encouraging indirect communications instead of the personal, one-on-one approach that is still needed to really prosper.

One simple way to get personal with your customers is to host an open house. It’s an opportunity to educate your customers, suppliers, financial backers, local dignitaries and even your employees and their families about how your business works. It helps break down communication barriers and increases these groups’ understanding of, and appreciation for, your business and your products or services.

Create your own excitement

Among the secrets of effective marketers is an ability to create excitement out of the ordinary. While your daily operations may seem mundane to you, you should be able to identify many meaningful occasions for hosting an open house. How about celebrating a business anniversary? Or building an event around demonstrating a new piece of equipment or showing off the capabilities of a new computer system. Or holding a grand opening or rededication ceremony.

Without getting into the logistical preparations needed to pull off an effective event, make sure your open house location looks its best for your guests. Spruce it up. Correct any safety problems. Arrange for refreshments. Plan employee participation. And, perhaps most important, decide exactly what you’re going to show off to your customers.

For instance, say you’re a printing firm that has just made an investment in a new five-color press. Plan to demonstrate to your customers how this equipment improves your capabilities (quality, speed, cost, etc.) and how they stand to benefit.

If yours is a service company, say an architectural firm, showcase your best recent work. This could be in the form of a multi-media computer demonstration, or as simple as photos and drawings mounted neatly to office walls. As a retailer, point out your new or unique merchandise, varied displays and new approach to plan-o-grams.

While the open house may spur temporary excitement around your business, true success lies in your ability to sustain the momentum as long as you can.

That’s a lesson which one small mill owner didn’t learn. After investing heavily in new machinery, the owner decided to conduct a mill tour. The new computer-controlled machinery was in place and humming smoothly. The equipment supplier’s experts were standing by to answer questions. The mill was freshly painted, the weather cooperated, and even the employees’ work clothes were cleaner than usual. Everything seemed to click.

However, the mill owner never looked beyond that day. He never sent sales letters to remind guests about their visit (and his new capabilities). Since he didn’t take photos of the tour, he couldn’t include them in his print ads or brochures. He didn’t bother to publicize the open house in trade magazines. He failed to mention it in his company newsletter or on his Web site.

In short, he severely short-circuited the marketing potential of his open house efforts.

In contrast, a small specialty retailer closed three stores located within five miles of one another, consolidating operations into one single store. Instead of suffering from negative publicity, the retailer took the offensive by inviting the media to an open house, where they were shown how customers would be better served by the new, larger store. That’s the story that appeared in the newspapers, on TV and on the radio. To sustain the momentum, the retailer sent copies of the articles to corporate customers and key suppliers.

Open houses are a time-tested marketing tactic. It’s a way to bring your marketing tools — sales letters, brochures, advertising, publicity, etc. — to life. And with proper follow-up, it can lead a long, positive effect on your marketing efforts.

Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications Inc., a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications firm. Reach him at (412) 434-7718 or e-mail your comments and questions to contactus@krakoff.com.