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Marketing Revamp

Marcus Sheridan’s Web-based strategy revitalized River Pools & Spas

Flashback: 2008. Recession hit, and the banks and market collapse under the weight. River Pools & Spas co-owner Marcus Sheridan says his business lost 80 percent of its market because “homeowners just couldn’t get loans. No one had equity due to the housing crash. In an industry where literally anyone could get a loan for a pool just months before, it was a whole new world.”

By January 2009, River Pools’ sales had declined from an average of six pools a month to maybe two, Sheridan says. Customers scheduled for spring installations were demanding their deposits back. The company went through three weeks of bank account overdrafts.
“Bad times indeed,” Sheridan says.

River Pools no longer had the means to continue spending $250,000 a year on radio, television and Internet advertising. “The world was changing — the way people were shopping was also changing,” Sheridan says. “They were putting their trust in the Internet and, unfortunately, our site wasn’t giving them a reason to put trust in us. We couldn’t afford to advertise the way we’d always done it. It wasn’t working any longer, and it was way too expensive for the ROI. Content marketing really didn’t cost anything but our time. When your back is against the wall, you figure out ways to make things work.”

Sheridan says his approach to content marketing came down to one golden rule: They Ask, We Answer. Any question they were ever asked regarding pools became a blog post, with honest, transparent answers. The first question addressed was how much a fiberglass pool costs. Other companies would shy away from addressing it publicly because they wanted to get the customer in person and sell more products. As Sheridan explained to The New York Times in a February interview, a broad answer — $20,000 to $200,000 — was all it took because Google’s search engine was just looking for someone to address it, and doing so set River Pools apart.

“Within about 24 hours of writing that article, it was number one for every fiberglass pool, cost-related phrase you could possibly type in,” Sheridan told The Times. “And because I have analytics, so far to this day I’ve been able to track a minimum of $1.7 million in sales to that one article.”

Joe Pulizzi, founder of Content Marketing Institute, gets excited about how successful River Pools’ content strategy is. “They went from something like 15th in
their market to selling more fiberglass pools than any other company in the United States — just from amazingly transparent, authentic blog content,” Pulizzi says. “I’m in Cleveland and I believe they’re in Virginia, and if I type in fiberglass pools, their company comes up. It’s amazing.”

Sheridan even wrote a post on the best swimming pool builders in Richmond, Va. — and River Pools wasn’t on the list. “The moment I put my name up there, I would lose all my credibility,” he told The Times. “You vet all my competitors, and now I’m showing up for all their keywords. If you really want to understand the power of inbound marketing, it comes down to this idea: I want to have the conversation at my house.”

Another key to success with his content-marketing strategy is consistency. Since what Sheridan was doing was so innovative within the industry, it only took a couple months to see “huge results.” Phone calls started coming in congratulating them, and within three months website visits started to spike. Sheridan says the River Pools website is now “the most trafficked of its kind in the world. We’re on strong financial ground, and our brand is not just local, but nationwide.”

Pulizzi emphasizes the clear focus and ample time River Pools put into its content strategy. “They become the dominant player in the industry for selling pools,” he says. “And they did it through a blog. So it’s a really David versus Goliath example.”

Content Marketing Tips

Sheridan recommends the following for pool companies implementing a content marketing strategy:
• Every question that you get, answer it on your website. Be honest, brave and keep it real.
• Don’t ever expect perfection. Rather, just seek to improve.
• Embrace all forms of communication, especially text and video.
• Be relentless.

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